Freedom And Human Right In African Countries

Project and Seminar Material for International Relations

Freedom And Human Right In African Countries


The issues of human rights and freedom are topical in most sociopolitical discourse especially in the African continent given the plethora of cases of human rights abuse and unnecessary curtailment and most times outright denial of freedom to citizens. This constitutes a serious bane to the flowering of human potentialities and the general human well-being. This anomaly has however continued unabated despite the volumes that have been written on the subjects and seminars and conferences held on the same. This study, through the analytic and critical methods, argues that much may not be achieved until the philosophical foundation upon which these subjects rest is well articulated and appreciated. The study equally claims that one of the ways of enhancing the respect for human rights and freedom in Africa is to recognize the symbiotic relationship between the two subjects. The study finally argues that an integral view of human freedom/rights which recognizes not only freedom-from but also freedom-to and rights-to, is foundational for the promotion of human well-being.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

The quest for freedom and human rights has been from antiquity and has continued to the contemporary times, taking different approaches and assuming various complexities and dynamisms. This quest is itself a product of man‟s unflinching penchant for idealities and promotion of human dignity and development even in the face of the most gruesome conditions of suppression and oppression. Thus, the history of freedom and human rights is the history of human struggles against oppression and other impediments to the realization of human developments.
In view of this, volumes on the history of this struggle and the best possible means of achieving, sustaining and promoting freedom and human rights have been written by scholars, social and legal icons, activists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). These volumes expectedly have expressed various nuances and dynamism to the idea of the twin concepts of freedom and human rights.

The relevance of these concepts to any legal system or justice system for the establishment of a social order requisite for human flourishing and development cannot be overemphasized thus the reason for the much attention they have received and will continue to receive. Herein lays the relevance of a philosophical contribution to and exposition on the concepts – freedom and human rights.

Nowadays, all African countries adhere to the view that respect for human rights within their societies is compulsory. Not only at the universal level, but also at the regional level they have all, one way or another manifested their support for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR).

They are now all parties to the African system of human rights which is built on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). In addition to this, numerous pieces of human rights legislation have been passed into municipal law in all African countries. These legal instruments contain provisions that recognise and protect diverse fundamental human rights that continuously nourish and offer the hope that one day the people living on the African continent will experience a society in which their rights are fully respected and realised. On a rhetorical note, inasmuch as these legal provisions, coupled with the discourse of African government officials, reflect the profound aspirations of the African peoples, it is clear that respect for human rights constitutes one of the key values shared throughout the continent. For instance, in the ACHPR which is the main instrument of human rights in the region, one can find the following statement “freedom, equality, justice and dignity are essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples”(ACHPR 1981, preamble., para. 3). The particular emphasis of the ACHPR on these four values that are the foundation of any system of human rights reveals that this latter category of rights represents the platform on which African poor and disadvantaged people intend to strive towards the achievement of their dream of a better and developed society. However, to provide for human rights is one thing, to observe and implement them is another one. One does not need much effort to notice that the situation of human rights in Africa is yet critical, with millions of people living in deplorable conditions as a result of the violation of some of their fundamental human rights. Lives, freedom, ability to feed one’s self and have a shelter are yet under threat in many African countries.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

It has become clear that beyond the recognition and inclusion of human rights into a legal system, human rights will remain meaningless for African citizens if they are not translated into a living and tangible reality. As Maina rightly says, the promotion of human rights of the universal, regional and municipal levels has been taken up with ease, but their enforcement remains the hardest part of the puzzle to fix in place (Maina 2009: 351). What matters is whether strong institutions and suitable conditions exist to support the normative approach in the enforcement process.

In this respect, it has been contended that democratic regimes are more likely than authoritarian regimes to protect human rights, and that for this reason they contribute to the advancement of human rights (Erman 2005: 1-18; Bentham 1999: 89-148; Art 1991, 3-11; Howard and Donelly 1986, 8: 803-816). In fact, when one considers the topic addressed in this paper, it is clearly suggesting the idea that there is a relationship between democracy and human rights. For, how would something advance another one if there is no relationship between them? This is why as a point of departure for the discussion; it seems useful to point out the two assumptions upon which the research is based and which are going to be tested throughout the study.

The first assumption asserts that democratic culture and good governance, as derivations of democracy, are essential factors for the creation of conditions that advance human rights. In order to test the accuracy of this assumption, this study needs firstly to establish what the relationship between democracy and human rights is, secondly, explain how democratic culture and good governance result from democracy and thirdly, how they create necessary conditions for advancement of human rights.

The second assumption is that though undeniable progress has been made towards respect for human rights, democratic culture and good governance are yet in an embryonic stage in many African countries with the consequence that the current situation of human rights on the continent remains critical. As to this second assumption, the study sets out to demonstrate that there is much to achieve and that African governments, together with all their partners, must foster a culture of democracy and the practice of good governance within their societies. Since these are essential requirements for the long-term enjoyment of human rights, more efforts and commitment must be devoted in the coming decades of the 21rst century in order to respond efficiently to the challenges of the present.

To establish the accuracy or inaccuracy of assumptions contended here, it is the empirical method that will be systematically used in this paper. It will serve to identify facts that have to be confronted to confirm or deny assumptions advocated in this paper. But, in order to set the theoretical foundation of this study and before discussing challenges and perspectives addressed in this paper, it will be helpful to undertake some conceptual clarifications. On the one hand, it is relevant to have a clear idea on what is understood by “democracy”, “democratic culture”, “good governance” and “human rights” in order to establish their interactions.
As philosophical as possible, there is need to raise some fundamental questions about the ideas of freedom and human rights. Such questions are:

  1. What is the meaning and nature of freedom?
  2. Is freedom possible?
  3. What are the possible obstacles to the realization of human freedom?
  4. What is the meaning and nature of human rights?
  5. Are humans entitled to rights?
  6. Can human rights be inalienable and absolute?
  7. What are the possible and actual obstacles to the realization and protection of human right ideals?
  8. What is the relationship between freedom and human rights?

1.3 Objective of the Study

The focus of this study is to examine freedom and human right in african countries. Specifically, this study aims :

  1. Meaning and nature of freedom,
  2. Obstacles to the realization of human freedom,
  3. Meaning and nature of human rights,
  4. Obstacle to the realization and protection of human rights,
  5. Relationship between freedom and human rights

1.4 Research Methodology

We adopted a doctrinal research methodology for this research. The study therefore placed huge reliance on secondary source materials namely: case laws, textbooks, journal articles, conference papers, internet and other legal literature were utilized.

1.5 Scope and Limitation of Study

This study on freedom and human rights standards in Africa is not a general work on human rights. It strictly focuses on the subject matter of enforceability of human rights norms in environmental protection in Africa. This work therefore critically researches and evaluates environmental rights. It does not deal with the rights of everybody who finds oneself embroiled in the criminal justice system. Accordingly, the subjects of “accused person’s rights” and “protection of witnesses” are not part of this work. It does not also cover the work of private initiatives and contributions of non- governmental organizations. Another area that this work does not also cover is the human rights institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission and the oversight role of the National Assembly and States Assemblies. These areas need further research

Chapter Four

Conclusion and Recommendations


Human freedom and human rights are considered great beacons and springboard for human flourishing, thus it is understandable why the two concepts have become topical in contemporary discourse and the quest for it has continued despite mounting obstacles to its realization. The general well-being of man and world peace has been seen to largely depend on the promotion of human freedom and human rights.

Therefore, no matter what the arguments of the critics of human rights and human freedom are, they have not succeeded and perhaps will never succeed in vitiating the relevance of philosophical discourse on how better to achieve and promote human freedom and human rights nor will it even vitiate the quest for human rights and freedom in the first place.

The ideals of human rights and human freedom should be the concern of all and sundry cultural particularities and ideological differences notwithstanding. They should not be seen to be the prerogative of the West neither should other nations shy away from its recognition and promotion as a universal ideal. To this end therefore, the former prime ministers of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew and of Malaysia Mahathir bin Mohammad were both wrong when they claimed in the 1990s that “Asian values were significantly different from Western values and included a sense of loyalty and foregoing personal freedom for the sake of social stability and prosperity and therefore authoritarian government is more appropriate in Asia than democracy”. Authoritarianism is not appropriate anywhere since it stifles the flourishing of human freedom and rights. Infact, Mahathir‟s former deputy, A. Ibrahim in reaction said, “To say that freedom is Western or Un- Asian is to offend our tradition as well as our forefathers who gave their lives in the struggle against tyranny and injustices”.

However, granted the fact that there may be, for matters of convenience and uniqueness of interests, differences in the regional instruments of human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should provide the bench mark for all regional declaration of human rights. Moreso, there should be serious commitment to the recognition and promotion of human rights and human freedom by government, states and peoples the world over.


Democratic culture and good governance are still ongoing challenges for many African countries. Therefore, perspectives need to be brought forward for the next decades of the 21st century in order to improve the situation and make a significant advancement in the realisation of human rights. In this respect, it is clear that much of the work rests on the will of those who are called to act as leaders within the society. They should take steps to implement principles of democracy and good governance and make positive change happen. This is unfortunately far from being the case at present as many good initiatives are often delayed by African leaders. An illustration can be taken from the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance which took five years (2007-20012) for the fifteen required signatures to be collected and for the Charter to come into force (Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and Cameroon are the 13th, 14th and 15th countries to ratify the Charter).

Africa needs an effective leadership, characterized by rulers who know how to interact with their people and to work sincerely for their good instead of their own selfish interests, rulers who fully implement democratic principles, promote good governance practices and are committed to the respect of human rights. This leadership perspective is so sensitive that Skinner asserts that “African countries will continue to be racked by conflicts unless leaders agree about how to govern their multi-faceted nation-states and how to distribute their economic resources equitably” (Skinner 1998: 17-25). This implies, for instance, accepting to step down when the people did not re-elect you as a President, leaving the judiciary free to render equitable judgments, respecting human rights for everyone without discrimination. The young generation of Africans who are going to lead the continent in the coming decades must be trained to internalize the core values attached to good and effective leadership.

People at the grassroots level need to be empowered to claim their human rights. They must first get the knowledge of what are these rights. Then they must know how to claim them whenever they are infringed or not fulfilled. At the continental scale, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has a promotional mandate to inform African peoples of rights included in the ACHPR and to make them aware of what are enforcement procedures at their disposal (ACHPR, Article 30). In this regard, CSOs that have helped this institution thus far must continue to deploy as much effort because empowerment is a continual process. African governments must also cooperate by organising necessary arrangements to make justice accessible to all, especially to disadvantaged people for whom such access is often costly.

To successfully achieve the empowerment of people at the grassroots level, organisations that work close to local communities (for instance, political parties, CSOs, international donor agencies) must train people to the exercise of democratic principles and procedure and to the use of mechanisms to make their rulers accountable. In the African context, this supposes that these organisations must be able to raise the people above the fray with regard to issues that often hinder the proper functioning of democracy in Africa.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the relationship between human rights and freedom in Africa?

The issues of human rights and freedom are topical in most socio-political discourse especially in the African continent given the plethora of cases of human rights abuse and unnecessary curtailment and most times outright denial of freedom to citizens.

What are the major human rights issues in North Africa?

In Algeria, major human rights issues include unauthorized intrusion of privacy, establishment of laws barring specific of free expression, criminal defamation laws that are usually indistinct, restrictions on freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association, corruption of government officials,…

What is the history of human rights in Africa?

Human rights in Africa. In Africa, the idea of human rights is a comparatively recent phenomenon. Contributing to the establishment of human rights system in Africa are the United Nations, international law and the African Union which have positively influenced the betterment of the human rights situation in the country.

What needs to be done to improve human rights in Africa?

A lot more needs to be done by African governments and the AU’s human rights institutions to improve access to, and quality of, health care, ensure victims of human rights abuses get the justice they deserve and that abusers are held to account.

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