Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Search for a True African Renaissance

I want to thank IntLawGrrls for inviting me to contribute a guest post to this extraordinary forum.
In a few months, I will participate in a conference on African Customary law hosted by Fordham's Leitner Center for International Law and Justice. My paper will address Africa’s all-too familiar problems in a new way. The Black Continent’s current woes resemble Europe’s experience during the Middle Ages: civil wars, famine, diseases, epidemics, raging fundamentalism, and rampant illiteracy. But these are merely causes and effects. One cannot continue doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. Outside intervention in the form of evaluations, analyses, solutions, aid, and loans have been tried, all to no avail. Maybe it is time for Africa to try something “new.” Maybe it is time to look to ancient African laws and institutions for a solution. (photo credit)
Political leaders who speak of an “African Renaissance” overlook the true meaning of the word. The term “renaissance” was used by historians to describe the period marking the emergence of Europe out of the Dark Ages into a new era of great discoveries and of economic, intellectual and technical development. That feat was achieved thanks to the move back to Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and art created by the great artists and thinkers of the early 15th to the late 16th centuries. These men and women leaped more than a thousand years back in time in order to learn from the great scientists, artists, lawmakers, and geniuses of the Greek and Latin civilizations. From that experience, Europe created a better future for itself. And it is not the only continent to have benefited from taking a look back at how things were done “way back when”. In Asia, a true cultural renaissance paved the way for that continent’s spectacular economic development.
Africa also needs a true renaissance. It stands to reason that if Africa is to efficiently utilize the concept of renaissance, it must rediscover the ideas of the great African civilizations, which were dismantled during the slave trade and colonization, and adapt them to modern times. Collecting and identifying all of our indigenous rules is of the greatest importance to Africa. We must take stock of our past laws if we want to implement much-needed culturally based sociolegal reforms. The purpose of my paper is to demonstrate that far from being a useless enterprise, researching ancient and pre-colonial African laws is Africa’s key to a true renaissance.
The research methodology proposed in this paper consists of identifying the rules and values different African communities have in common, going as far back in time as the available data allow. By focusing on the rules that can be traced back to the earliest times of African civilization, the aim is to develop researchers’ capacity to correctly identify and interpret, and ultimately to nurture, Africa’s cultural heritage. It is equally important to restore women's power in African society. If Africa’s history shows one thing, it is that empowerment of women at all levels of society—social, familial, economical, political and religious—leads to respect for the basic human rights of all. There is abundant historical evidence of that fact from Ancient Egypt to precolonial Africa. There is equally abundant historical and modern evidence, however, that male supremacy goes hand in hand with women’s subordination. A true renaissance must include a bright future for all. (photo credit)


Fiona de Londras said...

Thank you for this wonderful post. It strikes me as a particularly important area of research – to properly document and understand the cultural commonalities where they can be found. I wonder whether you envisage these cultural values and norms being enshrined in some way – through, for example, a pan-African convention of some kind. Or even, whether you feel that the Banjul Charter and associated documents might already enshrine some of these values and cultural commonalities. It will be very interesting to discover the outcome of your research, given the various academic writings characterizing the African human rights law system as one that is ‘distinctly African’ in its expressed values, particularly in relation to communitarianism, the express reference to duties, and so on. Fascinating stuff – I look forward to reading the final paper

Naomi Norberg said...

Welcome and thank you for this post, which has me, like Fiona, wanting to read more of your work.