Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu --a person is a person through people.
Ubuntu is a word in the Bantu languages of Southern Africa, (e.g in Xhosa and Zulu), and in fact has the same root as Bantu: It refers to people. The word is commonly enough used and discussed (often in the context of the hypothetical African Renaissance) to pass into South African English.
Ubuntu is a quality, a virtue. Call it humaneness, call it the quality of treating one's fellow humans as humans.
Ubuntu has been translated as "spirit of the community", which says something about the traditional African conception of self: you exist as part of community, a family. This ties into many other African cultural themes:
That large families are favoured because it makes the collective self stronger.
That if a man becomes wealthy, his nephews and nieces may be sent to live in his household.
That nepotism in government and business is not frowned upon nearly as much as it is elsewhere, as it is much more socially acceptable.
It also shows that capitalism in it purest form is contrary to African traditions and family values.
Ubuntu is held to be the virtue of offering a weary traveller food and a place to rest, of helping one’s neighbour.
Sadly ubuntu, and the conditions that make it safe to invite passing strangers into one's house, are pretty thin on the ground in much of Africa. This "African virtue" is sorely needed in Africa.
A more egalitarian, universal ubuntu is needed in place of the usual structure of the venerated chief who dispenses favour, status and wealth to his cronies, relatives and his tribe. Tribalism, be it war between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda or scuffles between Xhosa and Zulu in South Africa, plagues Africa. But then you must remember that the boundaries of African countries were drawn by white men with maps and rulers, and no regard for the cultural territory on the ground.
In the most extreme form the venerated chief pattern results in a change of African government being nothing but the exchange of one kleptocracy for another, whilst the lot of the majority of the population remains unchanged.
Between African countries, it seems that there is an inability for one state to criticise a neighbouring government, no matter how corrupt or repressive. (e.g. South African government's attitude towards Zimbabwe, from late 2001 through 2008). This can perhaps be traced back to a cultural trait of deference towards appointed leaders. Or as a psychologist friend explained it: For one big man to challenge the rule of another big man, no matter how justified they may be in terms of democracy or justice, would be to implicitly challenge the institution of chiefdom itself, and thereby their own right to rule. So it is, if not unthinkable, extremely difficult to do.
See also a book called: "Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu" by Michael Battle.
In September 2004 a Linux distribution called Ubuntu Linux was launched by Canonical Ltd, a project backed by Mark Shuttleworth.
"Ubuntu" is an African concept, meaning "humanity to others". The Ubuntu Linux distribution brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.
This distribution has rapidly gained popularity, and has established itself as a leading desktop Linux distribution.