The right to happiness in Africa

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Leopold Sedar Senghor said: emotion is African.[1] This emotion has been channeled to constitutions. Happiness is a core value in many African constitutions. It was explicitly mentioned in Liberia, Namibia, Ghana, Nigeria, Swaziland, and Egypt.

Article 1 of the Constitution of Liberia, 1986, proclaims that all free governments are instituted by the people’s authority, for their benefit, and they have the right to alter and reform it when their safety and ‘happiness’ require it.[2] The preamble of the Egyptian Constitution, 2014, cites ‘a place of common happiness for its people’.   The Namibian Constitution, 1990, assures the right ‘to the pursuit of happiness’. In this regard, Frederick Fourie defends the preamble of the Namibian Constitution, explaining that it is coloured by the struggle against colonialism and racism; that it is built around the denial of the ‘right of the individual life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ by colonialism, racism and apartheid.[3]

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The tragic dialectic between happiness and apartheid

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Some political speeches announce tragedies. In South Africa, the tragedy was announced during a radio broadcast on 17 March 1961, when the people heard the following statement: “The policy of separate development is designed for happiness, security, and stability (…) for the Bantu as well as the whites”. It was the first phrase proclaimed by the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, Hendrik Verwoerd, in his Address to the Nation. The policy of separate development would prove to be a scandalous euphemism. Verwoerd continued to promise that “we shall provide all our races with happiness and prosperity”.[1] Verwoerd would become known as “the architect of apartheid”.

The South African Governor-General was Supreme Chief in the Transvaal up until 1956. At that time, Cape Africans were considered too advanced to be treated as an underclass. Elizabeth Landis, an American expert on Southern Africa affairs, explains that the government had to change this consideration, with the explanation that ‘if we want to bring peace and happiness to the Native population (…) then we cannot do otherwise than to apply this principle which has worked so effectively in the other three provinces, to the Native population of the Cape as well (…)”.[2] Happiness therefore becomes a scapegoat.

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Biko and the right to happiness

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Stephen Bantu Biko occupies a singular place in South African history, precisely because of the manner in which his legacy affected South African constitutionalism.

Biko fought for equal treatment under the law, and proudly founded the Black Consciousness Movement in order to achieve this goal. Biko engaged in a fearless debate related to the victims of racism and colonialism which encompassed the degradation of self-esteem and the inflicted inferiority complex of black South Africans. Biko’s struggle against white authority in order to promote and defend democracy has left a legacy of ideas which would influence future South African generations, including the sentiment of “one man, one vote”.

In 1970, Steve Biko stated that “in order to achieve real action you must yourself be a living part of Africa and of her thought; you must be an element of that popular energy which is entirely called forth for freeing, the progress and the happiness of Africa”.[1] At the time, Biko was a doctoral student and political activist. He was arrested in August 1977. Biko was kept naked and manacled, and died twenty-five days later from brain damage.

Biko envisioned a more inclusive and deeper interpretation of democracy, as opposed to its purely material application. For him, “material want is bad enough, but coupled with spiritual poverty it kills. And this latter effect is probably the one that creates mountains of obstacles in the normal course of emancipation of the black people”.[2]

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In the absence of democratic principles, tyranny reigns

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Day of Democracy: 15 September 2014

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce​

When the world celebrated the International Day of Democracy (15 September 2014), I reminded myself of some of the key tenets of democracy, namely: free and fair elections, the rule of law, the upholding of fundamental rights and freedoms — to name but a few. The mention of the rule of law in particular raised red flags in my mind as I pondered where to place Eritrea when choosing between definitions of democracy and autocracy.

The rule of law and the respect for human rights stand as prerequisites to realising democratic statehood. The laws which govern a state are enshrined in a constitution; a constitution sets the parameters for lines that cannot be crossed; the principles by which a state should conduct itself. Where then does one begin to place or reference these barriers in a country with no constitution? Who has legitimacy in decision-making? What legal standards are used? The lines continue to blur…

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The politics of the Ethiopian Justice Sector Reform Program: Justice “reform” or “deform”?

henok_g_gabisaAuthor: Henok G. Gabisa
International Law Fellow, Washington and Lee School of Law, VA, USA

The African post-colonial period marked a new paradigm of triangular discourse amongst law, justice and development in the international playground. The intellectual metamorphoses of this discourse quickly gained momentum in the mid-60s and was patented the “Movement of Law and Development”. Highly alluring to professors and intellectuals from American law schools, this intellectual movement regarded “law” as an instrument to reform the society and ‘lawyers and judges” as social engineers. With this movement, the narrative was that law is central to the development processes. Then in the early 90s, the movement gave birth to the idea of the “Justice System Reform Program”, also referred to as the “Judicial Reform Program”. The emergence of this idea immediately became a serious agenda in the strategic themes of international financial institutions and bilateral states cooperation structures under the wrestling juxtaposition of “rule of law” and “poverty eradication”. The geographical focus of this idea was only limited to the developing nations of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and some Latin American countries.

There are two main rationales behind the theoretical innovation of ‘judicial reform’: a well-established and effective justice system is not only robust enough to confront corruption and violation of rights (with the assumption that courts as custodies of human rights), it can also be relied on to protect the property rights of foreign investors (the concept of development has always been viewed as capitals flowing from north to south-until very recently that the newly rising economies of BRICS- an acronym for the multi-dimensional partnership between Brazil, Russia, Indian, China and South Africa- proved otherwise that capital can also flow from south to south). The ambition of reforming judiciaries in developing countries beseeches building the practical meaning of judicial independence and professional competence that can help build an unwavering system of justice delivery. However, this initiative seems to have totally been lost in translation and taken advantage of for political purposes by the Ethiopian government.

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