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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