Human Rights, the Rule of Law, and Development in Africa

Human Rights, the Rule of Law, and Development in Africa

Human Rights, the Rule of Law, and Development in Africa

Human Rights, the Rule of Law, and Development in Africa

Synopsis

Changes in human rights environments in Africa over the past decade have been facilitated by astounding political transformations: the rise of mass movements and revolts driven by democratic and developmentalist ideals, as well as mass murder and poverty perpetuated by desperate regimes and discredited global agencies.

Human Rights, the Rule of Law, and Development in Africa seeks to make sense of human rights in Africa through the lens of its triumphs and tragedies, its uneven developments and complex demands. The volume makes a significant contribution to the debate about the connections between the protection of human rights and the pursuit of economic development by interrogating the paradigms, politics, and practices of human rights in Africa. Throughout, the essays emphasize that democratic and human rights regimes are products of concrete social struggles, not simply textual or legal discourses.

Including some of Africa's leading scholars, jurists, and human rights activists, contributors to the volume diverge from Western theories of African democratization by rejecting the continental view of an Africa blighted by failure, disease, and economic malaise. It argues instead that Africa has strengthened and shaped international law, such as the right to self-determination, inspired by the process of decolonization, and the definition of the refugee. Insisting on the holistic view that human rights are as much about economic and social rights as they are about civil and political rights, the contributors offer novel analyses of African conceptions, experiences, and aspirations of human rights which manifest themselves in complex global, regional, and local idioms. Further, they explore the varied constructions of human rights in African and Western discourses and the roles played by states and NGOs in promoting or subverting human rights.

Combining academic analysis with social concern, intellectual discourse with civic engagement, and scholarly research with institution building, this is a compelling and original approach to the question whether externally inspired solutions to African human rights issues have validity in a postcolonial world.

Excerpt

Paul Tiyambe Zeleza

Africa’s Political Transitions

As several chapters in this book note, the changes in human rights cultures and regimes in Africa in the 1990s were facilitated by the astounding political transformations that took place. This was a period of bewildering extremes, which saw the rise of mass movements and mass revolts driven by democratic and developmentalist ideals, as well as mass murder and mass poverty perpetrated by desperate regimes and discredited global agencies. The pace of change was so rapid, the cast of players and stakeholders so numerous that it is difficult to tell a coherent story, certainly not a single or simple story beloved by those who see Africa as one, either because they have no time for understanding its astonishing diversities or they wish to impose an emancipatory Pan-African solidarity. Yet the imagination seeks a narrative structure, the mind an explanatory framework that makes sense of Africa’s encounter with this most tumultuous of decades, with its triumphs and tragedies, its accomplishments and failures, its passionate pronouncements and painful reversals, its uneven developments and complex demands. What are some of the common experiences and expectations that unite this decade as a historical moment for African peoples in all their splendid diversities?

At the beginning of 1990, all but five of Africa’s 54 countries were dictatorships, either civilian or military. Levels of political competition and political participation were low, so that the citizenry exercised little choice in selecting their leaders and determining public policy, and leadership turnover was negligible. Before 1990 no African leader had left office through electoral defeat, those that did leave were mostly ousted in coups, while three—Senghor of Senegal, Ahidjo of Cameroon, and Nyerere of Tanzania—left voluntarily, although Ahidjo tried to shoot his way back to power a couple of years later. By 2000 the vast majority of African countries had introduced political reforms and were at various stages of democratic . . .

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