Africans have few means to protect themselves against human rights abuses, many of which are perpetrated by their own leaders. Autocratic governments reject international prosecutors seeking justice for human rights victims, and African governments continent-wide are cracking down on NGOs who hold governments accountable.
Just as the domestic policies and actions of highest priority for many African leaders is the preservation of their power, the foreign policy imperative of African leadership expressed in the African Union (AU) is to ensure the survival of their fellow leaders.
There is a quid pro quo to this arrangement, an understanding that one African leader will support another when threatened by domestic and international pressure and in return such buttressing is expected to be reciprocated. The arrangement is cynically cloaked in pious pledges to not interfere in the domestic affairs of another country.
The culture of human rights that was rooted in the universal acceptance of the UN, which was founded in 1945 on the principal of human rights, interferes with African leaders’ circle of self-protection by introducing international law as a means to protect individual Africans. Often, these individuals are victimised by their own leaders, and other African leaders have been put in the position of seeming to favour fellow Big Men over the people of the countries oppressed by said Big Men.
The solution for African leadership has been to condemn the concept of human rights. Such an ideology, they argue, is foreign to African culture, disrespectful of African values and a blatant attempt of Western imperialist neo-colonial powers to re-colonise Africa by imposing laws. The cynicism of this charge is apparent by those who do the advocating.
Anti-human rights arguments are being raised almost exclusively by undemocratic leaders and their support groups, from minions to political parties and those who have benefitted from despotic rule. Confusion is sewn when nationalism and residual anti-colonial sentiments find some outlet in attacks on anything seen to originate from the West.
Against the strong anti-human rights tide that keeps afloat the ships of state of many a tyrant are champions of human rights who are African themselves. The legions of African NGOs, lawyers’ societies, journalists, clergymen, business groups, academics and intellectuals are seeking human rights for the African masses.
They argue that such rights are for all humans and are inherent in all humanity, as proposed by the UN Charter. There are no African human rights, they point out, although no African leader condemning the concept of human rights as a foreign intrusion has proposed a localised alternative. They are not buying the self-serving condemnation of NGOs by governments who do not wish to be held accountable by those NGOs.
Human rights is parcel to all conflicts faced by Africans, from government corruption that drains resources away from meeting the needs of the African people to the horrific atrocities of warfare that will continue if perpetrators are not brought to book. As a backdrop to all forms of conflict in Africa, a battle about human rights.