Human Rights in Africa: The Limited Promise of Liberalism

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This article takes stock of the project of human rights in Africa over the past fifty years, and was given as the Abiola Lecture at the African Studies Association at its fiftieth anniversary. It evaluates the successes - and failures of the application of human rights norms in the context of nation-building in post-colonial Africa. It argues that liberalism is limited as a vehicle for responding to the vagaries of market fundamentalism, globalization, post-colonial marginalization of the African state, and the challenges of cohering a nation out of the traumas that have afflicted Africa over the last several centuries. It posits that the human rights corpus is evasive about the real causes of powerlessness. It challenges the human rights project to go beyond its predominant focus on political despotism and address economic despotism. It concludes that unless the human rights movement addresses both ends of powerlessness, it will be of limited use to Africa.

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African Studies Review

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