The Concept of Human Rights in Africa

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African Books Collective, 1989 - Philosophy - 126 pages
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Hitherto the human rights debate in Africa has concentrated on the legal and philosophical. The author, Professor of Law at the University of Dar es Salaam, here moves the debate to the social and political planes. He attempts to reconceptualise human rights ideology from the standpoint of the working people in Africa. He defines the approach as avoiding the pitfalls of the liberal perspective as being absolutist in viewing human rights as a central question and the rights struggle as the backbone of democratic struggles. The author maintains that such a study cannot be politically neutral or intellectually uncommitted. Both the critique of dominant discourse and the reconceptualisation are located within the current social science and jurisprudential debates.

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I chose to review this book because it is a good piece of literature which successfully investigates the philosophical
, historical and political dimensions of human rights struggles in Africa in this era of imperialism and neo-colonialism. The objective is to understand why Africa has lagged behind in promotion of human rights. The author is a re-known scholar in human rights issues and the general legal field. He has a Bachelors degree in law from the then University of East Africa, a masters degree in law from the University of London and a PhD from the University of Dar el salaam.
He is currently a lecturer at the University of Dar el salaam and the President of the Media Council of Tanzania. He is an Advocate of the High Court and the Court of Appeal of Tanzania as well as the High Court of Zanzibar. He is also a member of a number of Professional bodies some of which he has chaired. Besides, he has written widely on human rights, law and democratic liberations in Africa. The author produced this book with a view to expose us to the mainstream debates on human rights in Africa, by laying the fundamental premises and the outlook that inform and direct the debates. He also aimed at reconstructing the human rights ideology to legitimize and mobilize people’s struggles with a view to bring a new perspective on human rights in Africa; a perspective which exposes and condemns the imperialistic and neo-colonial ideologies.
In the introduction the author looks at the state of human rights struggles in Africa and wants us to understand how the African continent has transcended from the era of domination through resistance to struggle for democracy and rights. He successfully develops this objective by describing how Africa evolved from slavery to colonization and to the era of rights struggles through trade unions, strikes, boycotts, UN and guerilla tactics. He also introduces the need to transcend from the imperialistic human rights perspective to a new ideology of mobilizing and legitimizing the struggles of the working class in a democratic revolution.
In chapter one, the author wants us to look into the mainstream debates on human rights in Africa by illustrating how different writers have debated and argued on human rights issues such as universalization, theorization, prioritization, promotion, prevention and exposition of human rights. He wants us to understand how these debates have historically and philosophically supported and covered imperialistic and neo-colonial ideologies. In the dominant discourse he exposes an argument that the philosophies of human rights trace their origin in the West and African states have been inducted into them through colonization and civilization (10). He quotes Howard and Donnelly saying “although human rights originated from the West, they have a universal validity and applicability in Africa…” (11). The author wants us to see how the discourse has prioritized debates on universality, theories, centrality, promotion ,prevention and exposition of human rights, while avoiding debates on human rights violations by colonial powers through slavery, colonization, imperialism and neo-colonialism.
In chapter two, the author wants us to critically understand the philosophical and political ideologies that informed and directed the debates in chapter one. He also wants us to see how imperialism has come into play in shaping human rights debates in Africa at the same time exposing how human rights organizations are biased in exposing human rights violations. The author compares natural rights and positivism and argues that positivism has triumphed over natural rights. He says, “positivism does not embrace the African ideology of collective rights but rather advocates for individualism. Positivism is an ideology of the status quo to protect capitalism.”(48). He argues that human rights were used by the West as a political tool to justify capitalism and gives an example of how West and its allies installed


The Dominant Discourse
A Critique
Revolutionising Human Rights Framework
Dominant and Revolutionary Tendencies Illustrated
An Agenda for Research
The Algiers Declaration

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