Human Rights in Africa: The Limited Promise of Liberalism

Makau W. Mutua

SUNY Buffalo Law School

July 9, 2008

African Studies Review, Vol. 51, No. 1, pp. 17-39, April 2008
Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-17

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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 24

Keywords: Human rights project, Liberalism, Post-colonialism, economic despotism, political despotism, powerlessness, Africa

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Date posted: July 9, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Mutua, Makau W., Human Rights in Africa: The Limited Promise of Liberalism (July 9, 2008). African Studies Review, Vol. 51, No. 1, pp. 17-39, April 2008; Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-17. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1157468

Contact Information

Makau Mutua (Contact Author)
SUNY Buffalo Law School ( email )
626 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716 645-2311 (Phone)

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