Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Minasse Haile

First Page



Serious internal obstacles also block adequate realization of civil and political rights in Africa. The colonial legacy, rising popular expectations for a better life, subversion from abroad and the absence of strong national cohesion will engender political instability in African political systems that give free rein to the exercise of civil and political rights. Moreover, even if one assumes a democratic political system would be viable politically, that system may succumb to demands for increased consumption rather than promote adequate investment in infrastructure. In either event, democratic political systems will tend to be unstable, with the result that economic development will not be achieved and civil and political rights will not adequately be observed.

Thus, according some absolute priority to either economic rights or civil and political rights is not a desirable objective in Africa. The former is likely to remain an empty promise, while the latter, even if viable, may not lead to economic progress. The paradoxical nature of this conclusion compels a view of the problem from the following perspective.

First, although both sets of rights are important, civil and political rights are the means by which economic rights can be enforced in the African context. Although full observance of civil and political rights is not practicable at present, no alternative exists to making a distinction among African regimes based both on the degree to which they violate these rights and the prospects that violations will diminish. In broad terms, the distinction: suggested is between those totalitarian regimes of the right and left which do not give meaningful recognition to civil and political rights and those pragmatic authoritarian regimes in Africa which accept civil and political rights but do not observe them adequately.

Neither revolution nor economic centralization are strategies likely to resolve constructively the development and rights dilemmas currently facing most of Africa. One step toward overcoming some of the problems inherent in the "rights paradox" is to encourage rural people to participate in the formation and execution of projects of their localities. This participation may lead eventually to their participation in the formation of local and national governments.