Challenging Human Trade in Sub-Saharan Africa: Reconstructing the Narrative of Human Trafficking for the Creation of a More Enabling Environment in 2037

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Journal of Futures Studies, September 2018, 23(1): 37–54



Challenging Human Trade in Sub-Saharan Africa: Reconstructing the Narrative of Human Trafficking for the Creation of a More Enabling Environment in 2037

Ricardo-Raymond Schnug, Tamkang University Taiwan


This article puts the transnational crime of human trafficking in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa and its quickly growing youth bulge. Through Causal Layered Analysis of various alternative future scenarios as well as the identifi- cation of the core narrative surrounding the international discourse, it illustrates more deeply the forces that underlie trafficking and what change is possible. With the provision of a reconstructed narrative that avoids the current blind spots, this research points out the need for a new leadership paradigm that allows for a more holistic and future-ori- ented inquiry about socio-economic and political change and what it entails for human trafficking.

Keywords: Human Trafficking, Sub-Saharan Africa, Ubuntu, Leadership, Scenarios, Causal Layered Analysis, Emerging Issues.


As of 2016, the International Labour Organization (ILO, 2016) estimated that 21 million people around the world are victims of forced labor2. Meanwhile the number of actual human trafficking victims remains largely unknown due to the underground nature of the crime and reliable data being scarce. The trade in humans, according to the ILO, generates illicit profits of around 150 billion USD each year, which ranks it one of the most profitable transnational crimes, along with drug trafficking and the trade in firearms. At the same time, reporting on the issue in popular media is rather rare despite a significant increase in the last decade (Gulati, 2010). In November 2017, videos from Libya emerged where migrants and refugees were auctioned off and sold as slaves, causing an international public outcry (Al Jazeera, 2017). Thus, while awareness is common, international action against crime networks and affiliated people outside such networks that operate this trade does neither show a promising future of decreasing numbers of victims nor a sufficient understanding of the crime’s dynamics.

The third biennial Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (2016) by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) provides arguably one of the most insightful and reliable presentation of trends in this regard. In this report, the UNODC reveals numbers on trafficking and addresses the drivers that underlie the various forms as well as what potential forms may emerge in the future. It is valuable as it enables a better understanding of the dynamics of the crime and demonstrates the varying drivers and cultural aspects that complicate and very much influence human trafficking. In this respect, and to introduce some quantitative data, the trade in humans that the sub-Saharan African region experiences differs greatly in forms and drivers from the rest of the world. Globally, the most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation (54%) with forced labor (38%) coming in second. This global perspective also shows that women are the most vulnerable to victimization, with 51% of trafficked people globally being women. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) on the other hand, forced labor dominates the trafficking market (53%) with sexual exploitation and other forms only constituting 29% and 18%, respectively. In this region then, 39% of trafficking victims are boys, whereas female adults and girls make up 27% and 25%. These numbers can be linked with the fact that heavy-labor industries such as mining, labor on cocoa plants, fishing as well as the exploitation for begging and recruitment of child combatants are much more prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNODC, 2016). When investigating the underlying driving forces, it becomes apparent that human trafficking in the region not only roots from the common push and pull factors. Economic disparity, a rise of international conflicts as well as a demand for workers through globalization and the possibilities of higher standards of living (Shelley, 2010) certainly are more severe in Sub-Saharan Africa, however, regional factors play a significant role in the facilitation of the crime too. The ancestral family structure, voodoo as well as “Cultural prac- tices, such as forcing young girls into ritual servitude, Trokosi (slaves to the Gods), Wahaya (fifth wife), Ukuthwala (kidnapping girls for marriage), payments of dowry, male dominance, female genital cutting, witchcraft, and child marriage, perpetuate the crime of human trafficking.” (Msuya, 2017)

International human trafficking, as identified by UNODC’s aforementioned report, is subject to constant change as the driving forces of the crime are diverse and dependent on regional factors and stakeholders’ involvement. Having put values and belief systems that are common in Sub- Saharan Africa into the context of trafficking on the continent as well as in the international sphere, it illustrates the need for a deeper understanding of underlying causes and narratives that surround the crime. However, as reliable data and research is scarce and does not inform policy actions very effectively, such an endeavor proves to be increasingly difficult too. This is reflected in legal frameworks and in actions taken on the international and regional level (Shelley, 2010). While the issue itself has continuously gained more and more attention and also improved in the way it is more encompassingly addressed, language remains ambiguous, leaving gray areas and the possibility of non-action and deflection (Gallagher, 2010). The local acceptance, enforcement and ownership of actions towards the eradication of human trafficking lacks behind. Two international agendas that experts and leaders turn to regarding the creation of a better future and are vital for the discourse surrounding human trade, are UN’s global Sustainable Development Goals and the continental Agenda 2063 by the African Union.

The Two Agendas

As one of the major multilateral action-plans against human trafficking, UN’s 2030 agenda with its Sustainable Development Goals appears to have broaden the outlook on global challenges as opposed to its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals. However, the eventual effectiveness of these goals regarding human trade remains subject to speculation since their distinguishing features in the fight against factors that systemically cause human trafficking are mostly of a semantical nature and will have to stand the test of time in terms of its local and regional implementation and how much of a difference it can in fact make. This is due to the fact that the essential value and vision of two of the trafficking-relevant SDGs – SDG 5 and 8 (gender equality and economic growth) – were already existent 15 years ago, whereas SDG 16, which focuses on access to justice, did not have any similar equivalent in the predecessor goals (UN General Assembly, 2015). The main difference between the predecessor goals and the SDGs then, lies in the bottom-up approach through localization (Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, 2016). In the same vein as the UN’s agenda to transform the world, the African Union in 2013, rolled out its own vision and set of aspirations which are however, strictly targeted at the continent itself (African Union Commission, 2015). While the grand vision of this agenda may differ from that of the SDGs, many of the goals and aspirations overlap. In fact, Agenda 2063 also includes specifically human trafficking as one of the issues that need to be eradicated, although its apparent understanding of the crime according to the first ten-year implementation plan, seems rather incomplete (African Union Commission, 2015). It writes, “Since the guns would have been silenced and primary and secondary education will be compulsory, child labour exploitation, marriages, trafficking and soldiering would not be seen or experienced by children born after 2023” (p.46, 2015), illustrating a shallow understanding of, and a reductionist approach towards, trafficking.

Without a doubt, the urge to understand and react holistically to this issue requires a multidisciplinary scrutiny of a much broader environment, of drivers, trends and particularly emerging issues. An aging society and a lack of sustainable policies serving towards this problem, terrorism and conflict causing the displacement of people, economic migration and urbanization, as well as automation are just few developments (Rotberg, 2013; Shelley, 2010) that currently, and in the near and far future will drastically reshape the dynamics of human trafficking and potentially organized crime too. With these factors in mind, this article executes a closer look at Sub-Saharan Africa as it stands out as a region that, regarding human trafficking on a transnational level, has not yet sparked the necessary interest of international politics and policy-makers. It appears that some of the the most important stakeholders have not made the connections and have so far failed to see implications of the regions rise with regards to the trade in humans. While these rapid developments on the continent may mostly be reflected economically if done right, it first and foremost will constitute a rise in population, as Sub-Saharan Africa’s birth rate remains the highest rate worldwide (He, Goodkind, & Kowal, 2016; World Bank, 2016). As such, it creates an extremely opposing force to global trends and will challenge best practices in a region that is heavily burdened already. The urgent need for action is illustrated clearly when consulting Graham Molitor’s Emerging Issues Analysis (Molitor, 2010) for the purpose of timing the problem – it then becomes apparent that the issue is not merely an emerging one but already well developed, which is supported by empirical data and various regional studies that demonstrate the possible implications that are detailed later on.

Feeding text-based research data according to the STEEP taxonomy into the s-curve shown in Figure 1 made it possible to relate institutional trends and emerging developments to the issue of human trafficking regionally as well as globally. Social realities paint a picture of a growing youth bulge (CIA, 2016; UN, 2015) with continuing high numbers of unregistered births in most parts of Sub-Saharan Africa (UNICEF, 2010) as well as the problems of a fast-paced urbanization for which public services are provided too sparsely (Rotberg, 2013). In addition to that, HIV/AIDS further complicates the trade in humans by already in present times shifting supply and demand regionally (Shelley, 2010). These social trends create many challenges. Challenges that if not met with strategic policies, create vulnerability through youth-unemployment, migration and the lack of rights and social protection. Technology promises some opportunities, however, while mobile phone/internet use and leapfrog technologies may suggest a better future with job creation and ways to fight trafficking more effectively, it also adds complexity and new channels to the trade. In the economic realm, Sub-Saharan Africa experiences great change with increasing FDI, growing intra- African trade, and a growing middle-class as well. To utilize these opportunities and further expand the regions global competitiveness and their independence from aid however, SSA is required to change their employment model – an issue that is paramount for future growth opportunities (Fox, Haines, Munoz, & Thomas, 2013; Gyimah-Brempong, 2013). Lastly, none of these developments are exempt from the impact that the political landscape in Sub-Saharan Africa has. While the number of democracies is growing, best practices in good governance need still be incentivized and solutions to the current intrastate violence and wars ought to be found (Radelet, 2010). With a tendency towards regional integration, Sub-Saharan Africa is slowly developing an alternative worldview in which Africa the continent stands more unified, however, not all implications of free movement of labor are yet explored.

To conclude, in the current narrative of a quickly changing SSA, the region faces a great number of threats and opportunities. The complexity of coping with these strategic issues requires a deeper analysis of ongoing developments and the creation of a new narrative which engages strategy and policy-actions that better integrate opportunities and threats for creating not only a preferred future but also a feasible one.

Alternative Futures for Human Trade in Sub-Saharan Africa – 2037

The following three scenarios could be derived from assumptions that were made, based on the previous analysis of emerging issues and trends. Two main reasons exist for the chosen time frame. Firstly, the growth of SSA’s working-age population, in direct opposition to aging societies elsewhere, will take time and should definitely be scrutinized 15-16 years from now, when millions of children more have reached the minimum legal working age, may enter the labor force and will have lowered the average citizen’s age dramatically. Secondly, the aforementioned SDGs are set to expire in 2030 (UN, n.d.) and are deemed as a great landmark for achievements and remaining challenges. It is relevant then, to so see how the resulting scenarios will have played out a few of years beyond 2030 and what strategic implications this might have for further actions.

Causal Layered Analysis (CLA), as will be seen in the following tables, enables to look deeper into the narratives and apply critical thinking, where conservative ways of inquiry would usually prevail. To better understand this process of deconstruction and analysis, the first table briefly introduces the characteristics of each layer. Thereafter the method is directly used to assess the scenarios.

Table 1. A brief introduction to the layers of CLA (Adapted from Inayatullah, 2004)

Litany The official, unquestioned view of reality.
Systemic The social causation level […] the data of the Litany is explained and ques- tioned at this second level.”
Worldview Deeper, unconsciously held ideological, worldview and discursive assump- tions are unpacked at this level.”
Myth / Metaphor […] the unconscious, emotive dimensions of the issue.” (p.8, Inayatullah, 2004)

Table 2. The Long-Road scenario

Litany Trafficking numbers up, SSA as major supply region; transregional and transcontinental trafficking on the rise; immigrants to EU and MENA increased, causing stricter border controls; disenfranchisement of youth; discrimination of minorities and continuing intrastate conflicts causes displacement (Elahi & De Beer, 2013); new forms and channels of trafficking: webcamming/broker (debt bondage); stalling FDI in many nations
Systemic Lack of jobs and social welfare; ‘slumification’; xenophobia in urban SSA; ‘gangification’ and terrorism; conflicts; easy smuggling through regional economic communities (RECs) to trafficking hubs/migrant smuggling hubs in the West, North and East; connectedness of SSA through internet
Worldview Economy needs labor supply

Globalization as a problem and as a solution Leadership is dead in SSA

Human security only for the rich

Myth / Metaphor I am because I want to be like them.


Scenario 1 – the Long-Road tells a story of Sub-Saharan Africans looking elsewhere as the region itself has turned into a toxic environment without prospects for its own people. The dominant metaphor here is “I am because I want to be like them”. In this desperate attempt to make this move away from Sub-Saharan Africa and even fit into the new world that they are pushed and pulled into, people meet their fate of vulnerability, eventual exploitation and an unclear, mostly dark future. On a worldview level, it can be said that policy-making and governance has failed to see the mutual dependence of economy and people, while the latter need to be provided with security and a feeling of integration that enables a harmonious society. Leadership in SSA unfortunately could not establish the transition of employment and creation of jobs. The massive unemployment and underemployment thus, spurred vulnerability and anger among citizens who not only turn against minorities and targets of usual discrimination, but they also turn against their own roots and lose their African link and connection to their home. The litany itself gives away that this scenario is not a desired one for most stakeholders. It is a disowned future (Inayatullah, 2015) – a possible future that has been pushed away and ignored by decision-makers and leaders for long enough to have turned into reality. One that tells of a paradigm shift in which the cultural and socio-economic environment has put traffickers and organized crime in the position of power over the future African diaspora.

Table 3. Borderless scenario

Litany Unified Africa sees rising economy and strong urbanization; ‘slumification’; trafficking numbers highest ever; shift in forms of trafficking appear on researcher’s data; more sex trafficking, more begging, less heavy-labor industry trafficking; intergenerational- and ethnic trafficking on the rise as well as social stratification issues and possibly new, intra-African slave trade
Systemic Use of pan-Africanism as silver-bullet to economic problems, while discounting corruption and freedom of movement implications = easy trafficking; middle-class rise brought economic disparity = enslavement and discrimination of minorities (incl. elderly); xenophobia
Worldview NIMBYism

Economy > the people Capitalistic ‘anocracies’3

Africa requires young and urban leadership Elbow-society

Myth / Metaphor I desire, therefore I am


In scenario 2 – Borderless illustrates a future in which a top-down approach caused Sub- Saharan Africa to sacrifice its values and belief systems for the sake of a more Western-rationalist view, in which the mantra goes according to “I desire, therefore I am” – one that very much reminds of Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”, but adds a capitalistic component to the story. By creating a borderless pan-Africa, the continent has lost touch with its multitude of cultural identities effectively being forced into one. This sort of cultural globalization on a regional level was inherently un- African. The reasoning behind such a paradigmatic, progressive shift is a worldview that continues to incentivize trickle-down economics and problem-solving through top-down approaches with a silver-bullet mindset. Here, the economic well-being has been put over the well-being of people, while the stakeholders in power convinced themselves that it is indeed meant for the people, but neglecting obvious cultural and societal obstacles that stand in the way of betterment. As free movement of labor and the prioritizing of economic growth intended to establish a competitive edge for the global free-market and solving other ills incidentally as they come up – similar to what the Schengen treaty did in Europe – the complete integration and unification of the continent merely gave agency to the people, who in fact, were most in need of leadership. People were led into a used future (Inayatullah, 2015) – one that may have succeeded elsewhere but does not fit into the local context of Sub-Saharan Africa. The pan-African vision is a leader-induced, shared vision on paper, but it is not the shared vision of the people.

Table 4. Preferred Future scenario

Litany Trafficking and displacement of people low; out-migration/economic migration and brain drain resolved (Goldin, Geoffrey, & Balarajan, 2011); SSA rises to catch up with the Global North; tendencies towards gender equality and human rights as national priorities across the region
Systemic Region-wide conjoint operations to fight & enforce law on trafficking; climb out of poverty; employment transition and diversification with future- proof industries achieved; education focuses on diversifying; little to no conflict (intrastate); crack-down on corruption in local governments and law enforcement; succession of old rulers by younger rulers and further rise of democratization (Arnould & Strazzari, 2017)
Worldview Economy is for the people

Transnational problems need transnational solutions Root-cause leadership / SDGs (localized) – bottom-up Ubuntu as a social philosophy

Myth / Metaphor I am because we are; and since we are, therefore I am


Finally, scenario 3 – the preferred future, as seen from the point of view of NGOs and multilateral organization that are dedicated to the fight against human trafficking, shows a different Sub-Saharan Africa. In this scenario, the story depicts a sharing-culture with humanity at its core – sharing not only of resources and positive developments, but also sharing problems and challenges, creating a more collective and holistic mindset for the approach towards a better and preferred future. The leading metaphor here relates to the South African philosophy of Ubuntu, which dictates a community-centered and humanistic way of living that can best be captured in Desmond Tutu’s quote “I am because we are; since we are, therefore I am” (Ngunjiri, 2016). On the worldview level, it is not about a causality dilemma along the chicken and egg narrative – here, the story plays out as the acceptance of the fact that the economy is for the people, implying the mutual dependence and complementation of the two. However, as opposed to the borderless scenario where labor supply is also recognized as a necessity, the fundamental difference lies in the bottom-up approach and empowerment of people with a collective sense of sharing as the maxim of one’s actions. As opposed to Western philosophies, Ubuntu as a social philosophy here, is intrinsically African and suits local cultural believes. In such a future, trust and equality are premises for a functioning society where every stakeholder works jointly towards the same end and dividing factors are bridged democratically and respectfully.

Challenging the Core Narrative

Together with the Emerging Issues Analysis, these three alternative futures showcase overlapping and recurring patterns in the discourse which allows the identification of the core narrative surrounding human trafficking in Sub-Saharan Africa from a solution-oriented point of view.

Table 5. Causal Layered Analysis of the core narrative

Litany Human security; no vulnerability; no human trafficking An integrated, prosperous and peaceful continent4
System Gender equality; sustained economic growth; access to justice and legal frameworks; reduced poverty, inequality and improved education

Three pillars: Politically united, good governance, people (women & youth)- driven (African Union Commission, 2015)

Worldview Pan-Africanism – unification is destiny

Ethos of Sustainable Development Goals/Agenda 2063; global challenges vs. continental challenges

Humans can change the world

Combination of classical, visionary and organic leadership paradigms (Clark & Murray, 2012)

Myth / Metaphor “We are one” (The United States of Africa)


On the litany-level, the discourse revolves around the assurance of human security. As a means of achieving a world in which there is no vulnerability to a crime such as human trafficking, the ultimate vision is one in which trafficking is fully eradicated. Gallagher’s “The International Law of Human Trafficking” (2010) arguably presents the most comprehensive and complete view on the legal frameworks for human trafficking and shows that governments, policy-makers and legislators as well as (I)NGOs already have adopted such a human-centered approach, with the key premise being the protection of human rights and achievement of human security. The African Union’s vision on the litany-level is an integrated, prosperous and peaceful continent (African Union Commission, 2015).

The systemic layer explores how the litany is affected and, as the litany here mentions a specific end state, also how this state ought to be achieved. On this level then, the main focus lies on push and pull-factors that facilitate the crime and on specific visions that ensure that these factors, or drivers, will become an issue of the past. The suggestion and implication here is, that with a gradual movement towards achieving these goals, human trafficking can be effectively fought through removing underlying causes and supply and demand. Essential pillars from which such an achievement can be realized are political unity, good governance and development driven by the people.

On a worldview-level, this translates into the ethos of the aforementioned Sustainable Development Goals. This global agenda with its shared set of goals focusing on drivers in the system-layer shapes the core narrative as one that is collective, global and of highest priority. The SDGs concomitantly function as values for positive change and incentivize global action to put an end to human trafficking and other ills in the world. In this worldview the power to change lies within the people, and it is the core belief that humans can change the world. In addition to this global agenda, Agenda 2063 is one that focuses on the development of the continent and on challenges it faces. The continentally-shared aspirations of this agenda are not only acknowledged and supported by the 2030 agenda of the United Nations, they also overlap in many ways with SDGs and as such, can inspire in a complementary fashion, the end of human trafficking. Pan- Africanism is at the very core of this worldview which is also reflected on the aforementioned first and second layer – not only as the dominant political and economic worldview, but also as believed to set off the so-called ‘African Renaissance’. As will later be explored in more detail, the manner of leadership in this narrative follows a combination of the classical, visionary and the organic model (Clark & Murray, 2012).

The worldview is better understood through a layer four analysis. The metaphor here is “We are one”. This metaphor refers to the African continent and all its people being unified and work conjointly together for “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.” (African Union Commission, 2015). This narrative of an African renaissance under pan-Africa, doesn’t imply that every country and every African is the same, however, it does encourage the acknowledgement and acceptance of each other. It is possible to add to this metaphor “the United States of Africa” which would refer to the capitalistic and ambitious goal of global market participation and the escape from being marginalized from the same. Such a metaphor then, details the underlying driving forces that are mostly of a political and economic nature, while according to the agenda’s vision, it indeed is people-driven, implying that people are standing behind the very same vision.

The Core Narrative’s Dilemma

The Sustainable Development Goals have been deemed much more inclusive now, following a more bottom-up approach as opposed to its predecessor goals (Sengupta, 2016). The way in which these goals ought to be achieved is through the localization of SDGs. The Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments (2016) made a comprehensive report on how to successfully localize the 2030 agenda. According to this report, some of the essential aspects of implementation are the raising of awareness of the SDGs on a community level, local ownership of the goals, decentralization of government as well as a prioritization of actions and the continuous monitoring and evaluation of indicators of change. While this new approach will likely prove to be more inclusive than previous MDGs, the same can’t be said about the Agenda 2063.

In their paper on the African Union’s agenda, DeGhetto, Gray and Kiggundu (2016) question the real inclusiveness and bottom-up nature of the agenda, which was drafted without the involvement of over 50% of the population, excluding mostly the poorer and more vulnerable Africans from the process (2016). While certainly an issue that needs to be addressed in further adaptations of Agenda 2063, the mutual complementation of the two agendas does enable improvement and may compensate for shortcomings of either one. Important is however, to avoid drafting action plans that are counterintuitive to this symbiotic relationship, and instead exploit the benevolent visions and frameworks that have been created in this endeavor.

Nonetheless, the cornerstone of Agenda 2063 is its high regards for pan-Africanism or, a united Africa. As mentioned in the worldview previously, according to the African Union Commission and their surveying of African people, a united Africa is the Africa that is needed in order to set off the African renaissance. When revisiting the scenarios and the possible consequences of a large- scale integration, such a core belief gives the impression of it being mostly rooted in economic and political aspirations that promise sustained development of the continent and its eventual rise to become a global player. The problem that arises from such a rather rational and capitalistic, yet Afro-optimist worldview, is that it creates tunnel vision. The narrative puts a unification central (African Union Commission, 2015) and thus, makes believe that Agenda 2063’s core vision is a panacea for the continent’s problems.

Because the pan-African concept is a rather political and economic one, and little is explored in terms of implications for society, there is a major lack of ownership when it comes to the aspirations of the agenda. DeGhetto, Gray and Kiggundu argue that treating Africa as a single unit of analysis can be dangerous as the Agenda 2063 is interpreted differently throughout the continent’s nations and inspires different change on different levels and regions. For this reason, the current core metaphor “We are one” is not one that should be taken as a foundation for moving towards a desired future, as it ignores the differences among nations and further neglects the prioritization of some of the more burdened ones over others, regarding their emerging issues and challenges in general.

Lastly, the real importance of UN’s agenda and Agenda 2063 lies in their implementation on the local and regional level, as both intend to work from the bottom up. Implementation is key to success and can only be effective if leadership allows for it. However, the question of leadership is mostly ignored in both agendas. The mentioning of transformative leadership being needed does not suffice in times of complex problems and emerging issues when conceptualizing agendas for a more sustainable world. As the current core narrative revolves around two agendas with a set of globally- shared and continentally-shared visions, leadership must be rethought so that action plans can be effectively followed through with.

The Reconstructed Narrative – Challenging the Leadership Paradigm

Table 6. Causal Layered Analysis of the reconstructed core narrative

Litany Human security; no vulnerability; no human trafficking Inclusive, prosperous and peaceful
Systemic (I)SDGs – Gender equality; sustained economic growth; access to justice and legal frameworks; reduced poverty, inequality and improved education

Three pillars: Good governance, empowerment of communities, and research and monitoring of the relevant ills across the region of SSA

Acknowledgment and analysis of emerging issues – local and regional challenges that have potential to go global

Worldview Ubuntu as a leadership & social philosophy (organic) Humans together can change the world

Alignment of ethos of SDGs/Agenda 2063; global challenges and continental challenges

Myth/Metaphor “I am because we are; since we are, I can be”


Because layer three and four dictate the systemic and litany layers and how change is being driven, the reconstruction of a new story begins on the metaphor-level. Having analyzed the core narrative, it was possible to determine where the narrative had to change exactly, and thus, formulate a new story. From the current core narrative “We are one”, the core metaphor of the path towards a truly desired future becomes “I am because we are; since we are, I can be”. This metaphor shifts the story from one where power structures remain, global and continental challenges are not completely aligned in our approach towards them, and one that lacks a needed discourse on effective leadership, to one where power is more fairly distributed, and leadership is central to the achievement of the visions. It is a story of co-dependence and reciprocity within a local context, where ownership of challenges is taken throughout all, individual, communal and institutional levels. In order to achieve a better understanding of this narrative, it is important to realize that the metaphor is a quote, rooted in the essential principles of Ubuntu, an African, social and leadership philosophy (Ngunjiri, 2016).

This philosophy has been previously mentioned as part of the preferred scenario and its relation to the metaphor there too. In that scenario, while the majority of the SDGs are relevant to Sub- Saharan Africa, they do not provide the people and communities with the feeling of having been involved in its creation. At the same time, Agenda 2063, despite being more African in its origin, also could not incentivize large-scale ownership, as economic and political disparities were too strong for bridging the gap. Thus, while the implementation of Agenda 2063 and the localization of SDGs increased the overall success of fighting human trafficking in that scenario, many nations remain left out as the agendas either felt foreign or constituted a different meaning and priority there. The major underlying reason then, for the previously preferred scenario not also being the most desired future, is that Ubuntu is merely practiced as a social philosophy to live by, by the people, but the implementation of Ubuntu principles in leadership is not internalized. The rather western looking form of leadership that results, may indeed realize some positive change, but for a more effective approach to change that truly improves the situation from the community-level up and not marginalizing people or nations, a more African and communal leadership needs to be applied. This means that both, social and leadership dynamics are supported by the same principles. The philosophy of Ubuntu, while often said to originate from South Africa, plays a significant role across all Bantu people and is therefore a very common and well-known one in the region of Sub-Saharan Africa (Khomba, 2011). As the metaphor has already suggested, the essence of its principles is best understood through the African proverb that Desmond Tutu translated into “A person is a person through other people” (Tutu, 2011). In his assessment of the Ubuntu philosophy for his PhD-thesis, James Khomba writes: “Practising the Ubuntu philosophy unlocks the capacity of an African culture in which individuals express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, humanity and mutuality in the interests of building and maintaining communities with justice and communalities” (2011, p.129). Here, the humanist nature of Ubuntu is highlighted and shows how people, when they work together in harmony and according to the very pillars of Ubuntu, positive change can be achieved. Khomba goes on and writes:

The Ubuntu philosophy believes in group solidarity, which is central to the survival of Af- rican communities. […]An African is not a rugged individual, but a person living within a community. In a hostile environment, it is only through such community solidarity that hunger, isolation, deprivation, poverty and any emerging challenges can be survived, because of the community’s brotherly and sisterly concern, cooperation, care, and shar- ing.”(p.128, 129).

Not only does Khomba’s statement confirm the community-centered approach of the philosophy, it also disparages the effectiveness of top-down ideologies in terms of their benefits for the people themselves. According to Ubuntu then, communities and the solidarity between people are the seed for change – the seed for a preferred future. Thus, while a pan-Africa and the allegedly resulting African renaissance are the main worldview and vision in the old narrative, the new one suggests the non-inclusion of such. Central here, becomes a new leadership paradigm, which with the help of the two agendas, a better alignment of their ethos and visions and a complete and holistic translation into action, will more effectively fight human trafficking and other ills. The reason for the necessity of alignment and utilization of the complementary nature of the two is the fact that SDGs by themselves may, by some nations, be merely viewed as ‘imported’ goals (Persson & Nilsson, 2015) that are non-African and would therefore create the possibility of competing agendas gaining momentum and a growing divergence between nations. Contrary to the non-inclusion earlier mentioned, Ubuntu does in fact support pan-Africanism. According to Ncube, “Ubuntu rec- ognizes the genuine otherness of all people” (2010), which expresses the acceptance of diversity, other ethnicities, languages and even cultures and belief systems. While for Ubuntu as a worldview, the community is central, in a unified Africa such an acceptance too, is key for a harmonious society. Although the African renaissance may appear as an elitist vision that was created with little consideration for the majority of people of Africa and forced onto them from top-down power structures, according to some authors, Ubuntu philosophy supports and enables a move towards, at least a similar vision to that of an uprising of Africa – “At the heart of the African Renaissance beats the pulse of ubuntu” (Kessel, 2001, p.48). However, there is a significant difference between the role of pan-Africanism in the current core narrative and the role of it in this reconstructed one. In the old story, pan-Africanism is seen and perceived as an ultimate state within a desired future.

It is a vision that has been previously identified as being based on economic and political interests, but not social or cultural ones. The reconstructed core narrative on the other hand, puts central, the leadership and social philosophy of Ubuntu in order to create a preferred future that is indeed open to pan-Africanism, but doesn’t treat its potential emergence and effect as deterministically as it has been in the previous story, where it is seen as the silver bullet. The reason for Ubuntu needing to play such a central role for a desired future is not only because of its African and benevolent traits, it is because it represents the missing link, not only between the two agendas, but also between the agendas and the people themselves. After all, Ubuntu supports the bottom-up, community-driven change that truly puts people first. In this worldview, the belief still remains that humans, or more accurate, communities and humans together can change the world. Essential is, that the worldview moves from people being connected based on political and economic ideologies that may result in a used future – to one where communities and solidarity become the glue of society based on cultural values and the acceptance of one another.

For approaching a challenge such as human trafficking, Ubuntu as a social and leadership philosophy is one that from the core and through its values and principles has the power to give guidance to the African people and collaborate from within, as a community, and eventually eradicate human trafficking. Such leadership supports an integration and alignment of the African and the global agenda which has the advantage of creating a more holistic vision in which not only responsibilities can be shared, but also the resources needed for them, while incentivizing action as part of the African way of life.

Although the central focus of the reconstruction of the narrative has been on the worldview- level, changes on the systemic one will become visible too. However, both agendas and their respective goals and aspirations are not officially tentative and now rely completely on the implementation by the member states who subscribed to them, which once again, emphasizes the importance of Ubuntu leadership. In table six, in order to distinguish the old core narrative and the reconstructed one from each other, the new SDGs have been rebranded into (I)SDGs, emphasizing the need for inclusiveness and the localization of the goals through leadership on a regional and local level. This narrative pushes ownership of these goals as they have intrinsic value for communities’ future. As for the African Agenda 2063’s core vision, which in the old narrative was revolving around political unification, good governance, and people (women & youth)-driven, the systemic drivers of change have become slightly different as well. The three major pillars identified for this layer are good governance, empowerment of communities and research and monitoring of the relevant ills across the region of SSA. Reasons for these particular pillars culminated throughout the deeper exploration of human trafficking dynamics and trends earlier on. Good governance in addition with leadership, as previously stated, is essential for successful guidance and implementation of strategies. Whereas the previous focus in the core narrative also identified this as an important pillar, the emphasis here lies also on the sort of leadership that is more enabling. Furthermore, the empowerment of communities, as prescribed by the Ubuntu worldview, much like the localization of SDGs, demands decentralization of governance and actions rooting from the community-level – bottom up instead of top-down. Such an approach is more inclusive of local and regional factors and can tackle issues as they are emerging and before they trickle across and eventually turn into challenges on a national or transnational level. Finally, essential is the continuous monitoring and research of the environment as well as the change that is achieved, through key performance indicators that factor in the community level and relate them with corresponding indicators on the national and global level. This requires more diligent and ambitious efforts in conjoint research and data accumulation. With sufficient and reliable empirical data, either local advocacy groups or government bodies can provide reports on the status quo of hardships felt on the local and regional level. This information does not only provide the essentials for a path towards a truly desired future, but it would also enable to identify and analyze possible emerging issues and trends that may become global – thus, practicing foresight in a so far multidisciplinary, underexplored field of crime.

The transcending of the metaphor throughout the layers which illustrate the community-centered approach with inclusive and aligned, global and African, sets of visions and the consideration for local and regional values has created a systemic layer that can improve action for the eventual achievement of the litany ‘headlines’. In these headlines, human security is high, vulnerability low and the crime of human trafficking indeed fading away.

Discussion and Conclusion

In the discourse about leadership, Clark and Murray (2012) identify four major leadership paradigms – classical, transactional, visionary and organic. These types can be situated in personhood, position or the process, and have a certain focus and a manner in which leadership is practiced. When trying to fit Ubuntu as a leadership philosophy into one of these typologies, it most suits the organic paradigm. Clark and Murray also argue that the organic way of leadership, in which leadership is perceived as a process rather than practiced through position or a person, will be the future of leadership as it continues to grow in importance. An organic leadership emphasizes relationships, participation and a shared collective responsibility and it is where reciprocity and interactions are the major focal points. This very much correlates with the ideas and principles of Ubuntu. Such organic leadership, say Clark and Murray, shifts the underlying question of “who leads” to “how leadership is practiced” instead. They further argue that “sustainable improvement can not be achieved by a single leader” and a “collective and ethical nature of this leadership as- sures checks and balances in the leadership process.” The latter is an important aspect in a political environment where democracy is a relatively new concept of governance, such as Sub-Saharan Africa.

Lisa Ncube’s assessment of Ubuntu (2010) as a transformative leadership philosophy points out many important aspects of it that positively distinguishes it from the Western leadership paradigm. She writes,

[…]Ubuntu invokes traditional cultures. Scholars of leadership now recognize the im- portance of including traditional cultural perspectives of leadership. Although Ubuntu is more than a cultural practice of the Bantu people, as a leadership philosophy it balances the past (by learning from it), the present (by examining immediate and pressing con- cerns), and the future (by providing a vision).

illustrating how such a leadership approach might be particularly important for diverse regions as is the case in the African context, and emphasizing the inclusion of futures thinking in its principles. Not only does Ncube suggest that openness towards diversity and the integration of indigenous perspectives are key parts of this philosophy, she also explains why the Western paradigm should not always be seen as a universal solution to great challenges by stating that “Not all knowledge resides in the north, to be transferred to the south as necessary; there is richness in cross-cultural fertilization.” On the one hand, Sustainable Development Goals can be seen as Western approaches through Western leadership, despite localization of global problems. On the other hand, Agenda 2063 conveys a narrative of pan-Africanism that is not completely rooted in the peoples’ visions, but reflects a rather imported and capitalistic mindset with focus on economy and politics as the panacea for the continent. In the realm of Ubuntu leadership, Ncube explains the process as one where

Leaders search for opportunities to initiate change through people. Rather than being forced on people, change comes through a process of openness and transparency; people come to accept change. Decisions to change come by consensus rather than polling, and there is circularity in the decision-making process (2010).

This notion coincides with the reconstructed core narrative in the way that it proposes change from within. This implies change from within the community, and therefore, change based on African values and belief systems, rather than on the responsibility that is created by a leadership paradigm that does not support the openness towards diversified cultures, their empowerment and local participation.

For a Huffington Post article, Ichak Kalderon Adizes (2017) considered leadership in terms of management in the professional world. Here, he uses a metaphor for leadership when referring to the quest of finding translations of the verb “to manage”, arguing it is a one-way flow of energy and often resembles the handling of cars or horses. Adizes’ “I am leader and you are hereby led”- narrative shows the power structures often present in leadership when it is situated in personhood or position. With such hierarchies in place, visions are often biased towards benefitting those at the top and can’t function effectively from the bottom up. Moving away from such a paradigm and embracing the process-driven one changes the narrative and the metaphor becomes invalid – exactly the point of what Adizes also argues, needs to happen.

When revisiting the creation and supposed implementation of the two agendas and how they inspire change, it becomes evident that leadership is not only for the most part left out of the discourse but is also incoherent. It has been established earlier that both agendas officially intend to approach the global and continental issues in a decentralized manner, despite the African Union Commission having neglected a large part of the continent’s citizens during the creation of the vision. The UN’s agenda to transform the world on the other hand has proven to be indeed much more inclusive of regional and local developments, particularly considering the range of these global challenges. Overall, it appears that in the current core narrative, the two agendas combine the shared sense of collective responsibility from the organic paradigm, with the classical power and authority model, and a possibly over-ambitious, transformative, visionary leadership. Based on the arguments that have so far been made with the aid of scenarios and Causal Layered Analysis, the business-as- usual path and leading through power and personhood are considered to be secondhand and obsolete approaches and need to be replaced by moving to a wholly organic leadership model which fully supports Ubuntu as a way of life and guidance towards creating a desired future. Clark and Murray (2012) argue that, when structuring leadership according to a collectivist mentality, it encourages teamwork and a noncompetitive environment. A competitive environment, as could be seen in two of the three scenarios, affects the people on the local level in a way that is counterintuitive to the way of life dictated by Ubuntu. The collective has to become more important than the individual leader or a small elitist collective at the top. This is necessary for creating a climate in which positive change can be accelerated and said change will reflect the value of the African people.

When taking a closer look at the path that leads from the core narrative towards the reconstructed narrative and desired future, the transitional stage in-between is one that paints a picture of conflicts and opportunities. Thus, while the current narrative may well tend to create a used future, much like scenario 2 in which an un-African and non-inclusive vision illustrates the inevitable change that is needed, moving towards the reconstruction and creation of a story that is indeed desired, requires short- and mid-term conflicts to be reframed and overcome. There are conflicts that have been a recurring pattern in this article and that are evidently standing in the way of achieving a world according to Ubuntu. They can be structured along top-down vs. bottom- up, authoritarian vs. democratic, centralized power vs. decentralized power, global vs. African, and more specific in terms of leadership, position and personhood vs. process-driven – or the question of ‘who leads’ to ‘how is leadership practiced’. These conflicts then, give rise to strategies and approaches that are not as evolved as, and committed to the longer-term concept of Ubuntu leadership, but represent important steps that may be taken as a result of current resource capacities and compromises between stakeholders.

One possible strategy that could be seen rising, might be the decentralization of power, meaning the empowerment of local governments, with the actual leadership and vision remaining in personhood at the top. Change here, is neither imposed on the people, nor is it initiated through openness, but it is incentivized – a middle way that intends to harmonize the process of leadership so that existing governance through the sort of ‘anocracies’ that have been identified earlier in this article, does not need to be completely sacrificed, and leaders consequently stay in power. When taking this path, no actual paradigm shift would occur in leadership and the model would continue to be of a classical nature, while also showcasing transformative and organic features in it. What such a short- or mid-term strategy may also include is a more intense focus on regional economic communities as a more localized approach – following the ways of the UN’s agenda and its SDGs. Rather than pushing for transforming the continent, leadership encourages more of the same – a strategy that is grounded in the realization that change is inevitable, but underestimates the extent to which change is needed.

Another approach that is possible, is that of reframing pan-Africanism as a societal concept first. This implies the push for the acceptance of otherness and society and its diversity of people to come together for the collective achievement of prosperity through utilizing economic opportunities and political unity that supports an African renaissance.

Furthermore, rather than SDGs and the Agenda 2063 working alongside each other on all levels, their visions and their implementation can be divided through specifying their respective sphere of influence. In this approach, Agenda 2063 (with a reconstructed and more inclusive implementation plan than its first edition) can incentivize change and actions on the local and regional level, defying problems of ownership, while SDGs can be utilized on the cross-regional or continental level, working as an inspiration for Agenda 2063 as well as a benchmark tool on the global level.

Finally, as could be seen a version of in the preferred scenario already, Ubuntu as a way of life and social philosophy can be utilized by leaders at the top for creating an empowerment through people themselves. It is noteworthy that such a strategy can also be used to give the illusion of political empowerment through the teaching of Ubuntu principles, while actual leadership remains the same. As beneficial as such a strategy and the supposed harmonizing of society could be for the stakeholders that are truly in charge, it also may backfire if governments and leaders do not align their leadership with the principles of Ubuntu and refer to the rather conservative way of exerting power over a quickly growing, young population.

With the conflicts presented, this article showed possibilities of reframing the issue. It is important to understand that Ubuntu, if implemented properly as a social and leadership philosophy, is able to succeed in whatever stakeholder’s visions by starting locally and expanding positive change towards regional, national and global levels. It can be expected that with a paradigm shift in leadership, short- and mid-term strategies have to eventually give way to the commitment to a greater shared vision and corresponding long-term strategy that is inclusive and will in its own way create an African renaissance that is not rooted in ideological thinking, but a co-dependent, shared and collective approach towards a desired future.


Ricardo-Raymond Schnug

Future Manager at FutureManagementGroupAG Eltville, Germany

Tel: (49) 15202165533



  1. I’d like to express my gratitude for Professor Sohail Inayatullah, who supported me and served as my supervisor when conducting this research for the conferring of my Master’s degree at the Graduate Institute of Futures Studies, which eventually built the foundation for this article. My thanks also go out to the two committee members Professor Kuo-Hua Chen and Chin-Mo Cheng of Tamkang University.
  2. Forced labor excludes some other forms of human trafficking, as these two terms have their clear distinctions, however, ILO writes on their website that “most situations of slavery or human trafficking are […] covered by ILO’s definition of forced labour.” (ILO, 2014)b
  3. In their report on African futures, Arnould and Strazzari (2017) define anocracies as “[…] politi- cal systems combining democratic and authoritarian traits and practices”
  4. According to the Agenda 2063 vision.


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