On education, human rights and cosmopolitan justice in Africa

Waghid, Y. (2013)

CITATION: Waghid, Y. 2013. On education, human rights and cosmopolitan justice in Africa. South African Journal of Higher Education, 27(3):479-488.

The original version is available at https://www.journals.ac.za/index.php/sajhe


Today, ‘human rights’ are more egalitarian, less individualistic, and more internationally oriented than 18th century rights in the following ways: firstly, equality before the law involves ensuring the protection of people against discrimination; procuring equality for women in all areas of life; ensuring that political dissenters have rights to a fair trial and freedom from arbitrary arrest, torture and cruel punishments; restraining governments from perpetrating socio-economic abuses such as poverty, disproportionate illiteracy amongst women and girls; and affording people a lack of economic opportunities, social security and education; secondly, rights are considered to be less individualistic to ensure the protection of women, minorities and indigenous people against genocide; and thirdly, international inquiries and interventions are considered as justifiable to prevent large-scale violations of human rights (Nickel 2007, 12–13). Despite the fact that Africa has a ‘human rights’ system in place, produced by the African Union (AU) in 1981 and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, established in 1986, Africa has been confronted with enormous ‘human rights’ problems, exacerbated by the reluctance of several sovereign nation states to cooperate about ‘human rights’ violations. One of the reasons why I think a ‘human rights’ agenda has not been implemented successfully on the African continent is because several African leaders have scant regard for the imposition of legal sanctions (as has been the case in Zimbabwe under the leadership of Robert Mugabe) and that encouragement, consciousness raising, persuasion, and even shaming have not actually worked. For many, the ‘human rights’ system on the African continent seems to remain ineffectual and hypocritical, as it rarely coerces recalcitrant violators to change their practices (ibid., 20). This article offers a defence of cosmopolitan justice with reference to the seminal thoughts of Judith Butler and Kwame Anthony Appiah in order to countenance ‘human rights’ violations on the African continent – in particular what the response of higher education ought to be.

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