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Conclusion: Lessons from the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Let us conclude with this idea of the translation of the universal by addressing the question of translating human rights, as it has been posed on the African continent. Today, a document, The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, bears witness to the process by which the continent has progressively emerged from its state as a region ‘abandoned by human rights’, to borrow an expression used by the Senegalese jurist Benoît S. Ngom. I have lamented elsewhere that African philosophers havenot‘beenmuchinterestedin[this]Charter…which,henceforth, is one of the most important documents produced by the African Union to be opposed … to the human rights violations which would occur on the continent’.192 It has in fact ‘been jurists, for the most part, who have responded, and with some success, to the urgent demand of making Africa a region where the rights of the person will be at home, as they ought to be everywhere, universally’.193 The discussions around this Charter, however, have revolved around defining the African philosophy of human rights, particularly with regard to the relation of the individual to the community. The dictatorships that established themselves here and there throughout the continent after independence tried to establish legitimation through a raison d’Etat, compounded by a raison de 80 THE INK OF THE SCHOLARS culture The raison d’Etat was, as discussed earlier, that on the one hand the construction of the nation required a single party headed by a leader in whose hands all power was concentrated to keep the fragile social fabric from being torn apart by identitarian rivalries, and on the other, to set the country on the path towards development along which all its energies, they declared, needed to be unidirectionally channelled. The raison de culture stated that African tradition – clearly an invented one – decreed that the individual must always be at the service of the community, in turn represented by the Father (of the nation). The paradox was that such a raison de culture could find support in the theories of philosophers and other African intellectuals who repeatedly declared that ‘We [i.e. Africans] put less emphasis on the individual and more on the collectivity, we do not allow that the individual has any claims which may override that of the society. We assume harmony, not divergence of interests, competition and conflict; we are more inclined to think of our obligations to other members of our society rather than our claims against them’.194 Claude Aké, the author of these lines, here opposes an African context and way of seeing to what he considers a ‘Western idea of human rights’ which he declares ‘presupposes a society which is atomized and individualistic, a society of endemic conflict. It presupposes a society of people conscious of their separateness and their particular interests and anxious to realize them.The legal right is a claim which the individual may make against other members of society, and simultaneously an obligation on the part of society to uphold this claim’.195 Claude Aké suspected that if Africa was beginning (at the moment when he was writing) to be interested in human rights, this was because ‘the authoritarian capitalism of Africa is under some pressure to be more liberal and thereby create political conditions more conducive to capitalist efficiency’.196 It is not by chance that thinkers like Nyerere or Senghor – who tried, on the question of the dialectic between individual and community, to develop a philosophy of the person, or more precisely CONCLUSION 81 of the individual, who finds support in the community in order to realize her or himself as a person – contributed to the advance of the cause of human rights in Africa. When in 1975 Julius Nyerere opposed the hosting of a summit of the Organization of African Unity by Idi Amin Dada’s Uganda, he did this in the name of respecting human rights. The dictatorship of Uganda’s strongman should, he believed, not be permitted to represent Africa. It was not possible to be opposed to South African apartheid while at the same time accommodating the violations of human rights going on in Uganda and elsewhere. Ngom judges that this discourse gave an important impetus to the movement for human rights in Africa.197 In 1978, an international conference was held in Dakar on ‘Development and Human Rights’. Organized by the Senegalese Association of Juridical Studies and the International...


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