- Examining Human Rights Issues and the Democracy Project in Sub-Saharan Africa by E. Ike Udogu
E. Ike Udogu, a faculty member at Appalachian State University, examines human rights practices and democratic issues in six sub-Saharan states: South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Liberia, and Nigeria. Along with an introduction and conclusion, Udogu devotes a separate chapter to each of the six countries. Each of these chapters contains a discussion of the country’s history, its independence from colonial rule (except for Ethiopia), its political development, its constitutional character, and its human rights practices. At the end of each chapter, the author searches for positive human rights developments to report. Sadly, the few that he can list pale in comparison to the vast list of abuses.
In each case, the author uses the actual human rights declarations and conventions that each country has formally accepted as the standards against which government practice can be measured. These include, but are not limited to, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the [End Page 265] African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. He employs the 2010 U.S. Department of State human rights reports for each country as evidence for actual behavior. Unfortunately, in no case study does actual behavior come close to resembling a country’s human rights legal obligations as affirmed in its own constitution.
The following summary of human rights abuses in Liberia could be repeated almost verbatim for each of the six countries. Human rights violations in Liberia include: police abuse; harassment and intimidation of detainees and others; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; judicial inefficiency and corruption; denial of due process; official corruption and impunity; violence against women, including rape and domestic violence; child abuse; human trafficking; racial and ethnic discrimination; and child labor.
Udogu offers several reasons for these countries’ poor human rights records. Each country contains numerous ethnic and language groups, along with limited resources. Ethnic and/or tribal groups vie with each other for these limited resources. Many politicians champion ethnic/tribal interests to the detriment of the country as a whole. Because having political power translates into access to state resources, many politicians conduct themselves illegally to maintain their privileged positions. Udogu maintains that those elected to local and national offices “tend to arrogate themselves measures of power that they believe to be sacrosanct. These officials are expected to be treated as sacred by citizens in the polity. Many could use their power, wealth and position to illegally discriminate against rivals, confiscate property, threaten real and imagined enemies with imprisonment, destroy critics, violate human rights of citizens and even kill those who oppose their leadership” (p. 136).
Because good human rights practices and democratic development are mutually reinforcing, neither has made the kind of progress that most Africans hope for. As Udogu illustrates, these African countries have admirable constitutions, which explicitly state a vast array of human rights that citizens should expect their governments to respect. Unfortunately, owing to the absence of an independent judiciary and effective, unbiased enforcement mechanisms, those who rule can do so as they wish with impunity. Udogu’s well-written book should be read by everyone interested in African human rights issues. [End Page 266]