Rethinking Human Rights in Africa

By Bonny Ibhawoh

Discussions of human rights in Africa are often reduced to simplistic narratives of ruthless violators and benevolent activists. In my new book, Human Rights in Africa (Cambridge University Press) I attempt to go beyond this staid trope.

This is an account of indigenous African rights traditions embodied in the wisdom of elders and sages; of humanitarians and abolitionists who marshaled arguments about natural rights and human dignity in the cause of antislavery; of the conflictual encounters between natives and colonists in the age of Empire and the “civilizing mission”; of nationalists and anti-colonialists who deployed an emergent lexicon of universal human rights to legitimize long-standing struggles for self-determination; and of dictators and dissidents locked in struggles over power in the era of independence and constitutional rights.

In writing this book, my aim was to tell a story of human rights in Africa that engages key scholarly debates while also appealing to a general audience. This is because the subject of human rights is too important to be left to experts and specialists. Human rights discourses, laws, policies and practices affect the everyday lives of millions of ordinary people in Africa and around the world. I believe it is important to engage the broadest audience possible in conversations about human rights.

In these uncertain times, my hope is that this volume moves forward the conversation on how we can reaffirm human dignity in our societies and actualize human rights ideals in Africa and our world.

Bonny Ibhawoh, Human Rights in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

Bonny Ibhawoh, Human Rights in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2018) []

Early Reviews

“In Human Rights in Africa, Professor Ibhawoh weaves, in his usual incisive and sharp-witted way, an aptly and appropriately complex and sophisticated story about the long career of human rights thought and action on the African continent. Shorn of the de-historicization, linear progressivism, facile accounting, and de-politicization that has all too often marred human rights scholarship and action in regard to the continent, Human Rights in Africa succeeds vastly in its stated goal of broadly analyzing the development of human rights as idea, discourse and struggle in Africa. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in gaining a thorough understanding of the deep complexity of Africa’s relationship to human rights ideas and practices.”
– Obiora Chinedu Okafor, Professor & York Research Chair in
International and Transnational Legal Studies, York University

“Highly readable, versatile, subtle, nuanced and authoritative, this book gives the subject of human rights an outstanding treatment, superseding most of the current literature on the subject. Its coverage is both balanced and sweeping, moving at a fast pace from the past to the present without losing focus and proportionality. Students will find it a stunning achievement, and scholars will see merit in moving forward so many arguments that the fresh insights open up.”
– Toyin Falola, University Distinguished Teaching Professor and the Frances and Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities,
The University of Texas at Austin

“How can human rights be universal if they originate in one place or are applied to only one sector of humanity? This and related questions have occupied scholars of rights in and outside of Africa for generations. Bonny Ibhawoh’s exciting new work sweeps past this redundancy by delving deeply into rights-based rhetoric, argument, and mobilization by Africans transnationally and transregionally. Ibhawoh connects rights visionaries of the African and diasporic past to the political challenges of the present in provocative and innovative ways and has written a highly readable and teachable book.”
– Benjamin N. Lawrance, Director of INGS, Hon. Barber B. Conable, Jr. Endowed Chair of International Studies, Professor of History and Anthropology, Rochester Institute of Technology