African Visions: Literary Images, Political Change, and Social Struggle in Contemporary Africa

By Cheryl B. Mwaria; Silvia Federici et al. | Go to book overview

3

Mijikenda Perspectives on Freedom, Culture and Human "Rights"

Diane Ciekawy

In Human Rights in Africa: Cross Cultural Perspectives, the editors Abdullahi An Na'im and Francis Deng make three major contributions to the international human rights project. 1 The first concerns the claim that "African cultural values embody ethical, moral, spiritual and religious norms that are similar or are identical to the overall goals of legitimizing and promoting universal human rights ideals" ( An Na'im and Deng 1990:1). By presenting African cultures and examples, An Na'im and Deng acknowledge the importance of Africa's rich philosophical traditions, and thus situate African societies at the forefront of human rights research. In so doing, they contribute to the development of broad cross-cultural understandings about humanity and justice that can be used to create international support for human rights. Broad support for the international human rights project will ideally mean that in "Africa 2000" state leaders will be less able to claim legitimacy for human rights violations. 2

The second major contribution of An Na'im and Deng's volume is in its presentation of rich, well-documented ethnographic material from African societies that had not been analyzed previously in terms of human rights issues. Not only is this material relevant to the international human rights project, but it has instructive significance for other societies and provides new human rights models. The third contribution lies in its inclusion of material based on well-researched ethnographic sources that serves to familiarize readers with the perspectives and critical thoughts of people who have experienced human rights violations. The value of presenting these perspectives and thoughts is not commonly acknowledged in the literature on international law and human rights, which largely confines witness contributions to descriptive information about specific cases that can be used in legal or social science analysis. The inclusion of their voices and views represents an important step in creating the kind of diversity within the human rights project that will make it truly

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