Bonny Ibhawoh, Imperialism and Human Rights: Colonial Discourses of Rights and Liberties in African History (State University of New Yor Pess, 2007).


2007 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

This book looks at the language of rights used by diverse interest groups in British-colonized Nigeria.In this seminal study, Bonny Ibhawoh investigates the links between European imperialism and human rights discourses in African history. Using British-colonized Nigeria as a case study, he examines how diverse interest groups within colonial society deployed the language of rights and liberties to serve varied socioeconomic and political ends. Ibhawoh challenges the linear progressivism that dominates human rights scholarship by arguing that, in the colonial African context, rights discourses were not simple monolithic or progressive narratives. They served both to insulate and legitimize power just as much as they facilitated transformative processes. Drawing extensively on archival material, this book shows how the language of rights, like that of “civilization” and “modernity,” became an important part of the discourses deployed to rationalize and legitimize empire.

“This carefully constructed and well-documented book opens a new chapter in the study of human rights and sets a high standard for others to emulate.” — CHOICE

“It is generally assumed that the present-day human rights revolution began in 1948 with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While not taking direct issue with the importance of the UDHR, Ibhawoh very effectively shows how the language of rights had already been used (and misused) in British colonial practices in Nigeria. Fascinating and thought-provoking, this book has a great deal of relevance to the major human rights debates that are going on right now.” — Mark Gibney, author of Five Uneasy Pieces: American Ethics in a Globalized World

“In this very interesting volume, Bonny Ibhawoh shows the reader how Africans in colonial Nigeria used the British imperial discourse of rights, and merged it with their own traditional notions of rights and obligations, to negotiate their own interests against their colonial overlords. Using court documents from the time, Ibhawoh investigates property rights in land, civil and political rights, and rights in marriage and the family. Ibhawoh bridges the gap between theoretical analysis of human rights, and analysis of human rights as negotiated terrain, rooted in local struggles.” — Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights, Wilfrid Laurier UniversityBonny Ibhawoh is Assistant Professor of History at McMaster University, Canada.

Table Of Contents

List of Illustrations Foreword Acknowledgments List of Abbreviations

1. The Subject of Rights and the Rights of Subjects
2. Right, Liberties, and the Imperial World Order
3. Stronger than the Maxim Gun: Law, Rights, and Justice
4. Confronting State Trusteeship: Land Rights Discourses
5. Negotiating Inclusion: Social Rights Discourses
6. Citizens of the World’s Republic: Political and Civil Rights Discourses
7. The Paradox of Rights TalkNotes Bibliography Index