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Political Science


This paper will discuss the relationship between civil/political and economic/social/cultural rights (as they are defined in the International Bill of Human Rights) in sub-Saharan Africa. There is an on-going debate, especially in United Nations circles and in non-governmental organizations, as to whether the separate sets of rights embodied in the two 1966 Covenants on human rights are intrinsically related, such that they must be developed and enlarged simultaneously, or whether, on the other hand, one set of rights takes priority over the other. Are they, in other words, sequential or interactive? Many spokespeople for Third World countries maintain that economic, social, and cultural, but especially “economic” rights (usually meant as the right to development) must take priority over civil and political rights. In the Western world, on the other hand, the assumption is sometimes made that civil and political rights must take priority over economic rights.

I will address this debate using evidence from a number of (formerly and presently) English-speaking countries in sub-Saharan Africa, namely Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. I will argue that suspension of civil and political rights in these countries until after economic development has been achieved will in effect mean that neither development nor rights will be attained. The argument for postponement is that economic development must be achieved before political liberties are allowed. A rather narrow functionalist perspective is adopted; economic development is taken as a goal, and civil and political rights are discussed as means which might or might not result in economic development. Civil/political are seldom considered as goals in and of themselves, although social and cultural rights are considered as goals, especially in Africa. In this paper, I will discuss civil/political rights both as means to ends and as goals in themselves.


Copyright © 1983 The Johns Hopkins University Press. This article first appeared in Human Rights Quarterly 5.4 (1983), 467-490. Reprinted with permission by The Johns Hopkins University Press.