Cultural Transformation and Human Rights in Africa/Human Rights under African Constitutions

By Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. | African Studies Review, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Cultural Transformation and Human Rights in Africa/Human Rights under African Constitutions


Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E., African Studies Review


Abdullahi A. An-Na'im, ed. Cultural Transformation and Human Rights in Africa. London: Zed Books, 2002. Distributed by St. Martin's Press, x + 269 pp. Tables. Notes. References. Index. $69.95. Cloth. $27.50. Paper.

Abdullahi A. An-Na'im, ed. Human Rights under African Constitutions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. x + 434 pp. Index. Price not reported. Cloth.

In Cultural Transformation and Human Rights in Africa, Abdullahi An-Na'im brings together several essays on culture, religion, and land rights. Three are reprinted, with very slight revisions, from a volume already reviewed by this author in these pages (ASR 44:3). They are by Martin Ghanock, "Human Rights and Cultural Branding: Who Speaks and How"; Issa Shivji, "Contradictory Perspectives on Rights and justice in the Context of Land Tenure Reform in Tanzania"; and HussainaJ. Abdullah, "Religious Revivalism, Human Rights Activism and the Struggle for Women's Rights in Nigeria" (with a new postscript on democracy, Shari'a law, and women's rights). Of the other essays, three discuss women's land or property rights. AnNa'im also reprints with some revisions Makau Mutua's "The Banjul Charter: The case for an African Cultural Fingerprint" (originally published in the Virginia Journal of International Law 35:1 [1995]: 339-80, and reprinted in Mutua, Human Rights [Pennsylvania, 2002]). In this chapter Mutua stresses the historically indigenous African principles and practices of what are now known as human rights, and also points to Africa's emphasis on duties as well as rights.

As is often the case in edited volumes, one wishes that the authors had been more aware of disagreements among themselves and willing to address such disagreements explicitly. The articles on women's land rights suggest that their authors do not necessarily agree with the interpretation An-Na'im and his coauthor, Jeffrey Hammond, give to debates on human rights in their essay "Cultural Transformation and Human Rights in African Societies." An-Na'im and Hammond stress culture as the most important variable affecting entrenchment of human rights in African societies. While they claim to give "due regard to the impact of differentials in power relations within each society" (13), there is little about power in their analysis. Yet Akinyi Nzioki contributes an excellent chapter, "The Effects of Land Tenure on Women's Access and Control of Land in Kenya," based in part on original survey research in Mumbuni Location, Machakos District, in 1996-67, in which she shows that interest, not culture, is what defines women's changing relationship to land. …

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