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 Table of Contents
 Women's human rights in Africa:...
 African political cultures and...
 Lawgiving and the administration...
 The U.N. criminal tribunal for...
 Can the US State Department surrender...
 Book reviews

Title: African studies quarterly
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Table of Contents
        Page i
    Editorial staff
        Page ii
        Page iii
    Table of Contents
        Page iv
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Women's human rights in Africa: Beyond the debate over the universality or relativity of human rights
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
    African political cultures and the problems of government
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
    Lawgiving and the administration of justice in some African and other early states
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
    The U.N. criminal tribunal for Rwanda concludes its first case: A monumental step towards truth
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
    Can the US State Department surrender Rwandan fugitives to the UN criminal tribunal?
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
    Book reviews
        Page 49
        Page 50
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        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
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Full Text

African Studies Quarterly

Volume 2, Issue 3

Special Issue

Human Rights and Governance in Africa
Guest Editor: Paul J. Magnarella

Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida

ISSN: 2152-2448

African Studies Quarterly

Editorial Staff

Nanette Barkey
Michael Chege
Maria Grosz-Ngate
Parakh Hoon
Carol Lauriault
Peter Vondoepp
Roos Willems

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for
individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Table of Contents

Paul J. Magnarella (1-2)

Women's Human Rights in Africa: Beyond the Debate over the Universality or Relativity of
Human Rights.
Diana J. Fox (3-16)

African Political Cultures and the Problems of Government
Elliott P. Skinner (17-25)

Lawgiving and the Administration of Justice in Some African and Other Early States
Henri J. M. Claessen (27-36)

The U.N. Tribunal for Rwanda Concludes its First Case: A Monumental Step Towards Truth
Paul J. Magnarella (37-43)

At Issue

Can the US Department of State Surrender Rwandan Refugees to the U.N. Criminal
Paul Magnarella (45-47)

Book Reviews

Women in Africa and the Diaspora. Rosalyn Terborg-Penn and Andrea Benton Rushing, Eds.
Washington DC: Howard University Press. 1996
Fuabeh P. Fonge (49-50)

Lethal Aid: The Illusion of Socialism and Self Reliance in Tanzania. Severine M. Rugumamu.
Trenton, NJ: African World Press. 1997
Christopher M. Johnson (51-53)

Limits to Change: The Political Economy of Transformation. Hein Marais. South Africa:
London and New York, Zed Press. 1998
Brendon Works (53-56)

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998



This special issue of African Studies Quarterly is devoted to human rights and governance
in Africa. The articles that follow were presented in July 1998 at the 14th International Congress
of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (ICAES), Williamsburg, Virginia, in a session
entitled "Towards Justice, Peace, and Human Rights: Anthropological Perspectives." I had the
pleasure and honor of organizing and chairing the session.
The issues of human rights and governance are of central concern to all Africans and to all
those who wish Africa well. The contributors to this special publication fall into the latter
In her provocative contribution, Diana Fox, an anthropologist at the Massachusetts College
of Liberal Arts, addresses women's rights issues within the African context. She argues that
efforts to make human rights programs sympathetic to women's concerns, such as violence and
gender discrimination, inevitably present a challenge to the traditional view that rights are
rooted in a specific cultural context. Her article offers a multi-disciplinary perspective on the
universality/relativity debate, exploring the implications for rethinking the anthropological
position on human rights, by reporting on a collection of essays, entitled "Women's Rights as
Human Rights: Activism and Social Change in Africa." Fox selects the example of Somali
women refugees in Kenya to demonstrate the problems of implementing the rights of women
refugees and examines some solutions to the dilemma. Fox maintains that the myriad of
concerns spawned by the recent prominence of women's rights issues in diverse African
societies contributes to a theoretical analysis of human rights that pushes anthropology past the
long-standing universality/relativity deadlock.
Elliot Skinner, Professor Emeritus of Columbia University and former U.S. Ambassador to
Upper Volta, argues that African countries will continue to be racked by conflict unless they
develop political cultures consonant with their own traditions and accept the norm of
distributing their resources equitably. Dictates about "liberal democracy" only lead to disemia, a
process by which African leaders pay lip service to hegemonies, manipulate elections, or worse.
Skinner encourages anthropologists to challenge the prescriptions of political scientists and the
biases of many others. He also encourages them to use their greater knowledge of African
societies to join the debate about how these societies can best deal with what are becoming
global realities.
Henri J.M. Claessen, Professor Emeritus of Leiden University and Vice-President of the
International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, addresses the problem of
legislation and adjudication in early states, offering examples from Africa and other parts of the

Paul J. Magnarella is Professor of Anthropology and Legal Studies, University of Florida. He currently serves a
Special Counsel to the Association of Third World Studies.
http:/ /www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v2/v2i3al.pdf

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

2 I Magnarella

world. He discusses the problems of legitimacy and governance, especially in the context of
multi-ethnic populations. For some of his generalizations, he draws upon a previous study of
twenty-one early states.
My own modest contribution deals with Rwanda and the UN International Criminal
Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). That Tribunal has recently made significant progress in
apprehending and prosecuting high ranking persons responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsi
and moderate Hutu in Rwanda. The ICTR's first complete case, the case against Rwandan ex-
premier Jean Kambanda, is extremely important for learning the truth about what happened in
Rwanda during those fateful 100 days in 1994. Kambanda's extensive confession should dispel
forever any doubts about the occurrence of an intentionally orchestrated genocide in Rwanda.
Kambanda, the first person in history to accept responsibility for genocide before an
international court, did so fifty years after the UN adopted the Convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948).
The contributors to this special issue of African Studies Quarterly collectively dedicate our
work to the people of Africa.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Women's Human Rights in Africa: Beyond the Debate over the

Universality or Relativity of Human Rights



In the fifty years following the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by
the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, anthropology as a discipline has embraced a
predominantly ethical relativist stance toward the idea of human rights as a legitimate universal
concern for all cultures. In the past decade, however, the rising prominence of women's rights
as human rights has challenged this point of view. Within the context of the global women's
human rights movement, feminist anthropologists are in the forefront of this challenge, striving
to uphold anthropology's important focus on cultural context, while at the same time exhibiting
a deep concern for practices which harm women, including female genital mutilation and satie,
both of which may be argued to be morally objectionable outside of any given culture. Feminist
anthropological theory and feminist legal scholarship have questioned the desirability of
objective ethnographic reporting of such practices, claiming that to remain aloof from
statements of value implies complicity through silence1.
Objective reporting, it is argued, denies the existence of the researcher as a "positioned
subject" with a point of view, such that the absence of a point of view in reality is a point of
view that is not articulated. The effort to articulate a feminist anthropological position on
human rights not only undermines the validity of ethical relativism, but also emphatically
argues that the western liberal tradition, which informs the bulk of the contemporary human
rights movement, represents a fragmentary discourse on human rights, and so cannot currently
make claims for universality. In addition, human rights are not yet recognized as universally
valid, and the dominant focus in the movement is still on political and civil rights, or first
generation rights, as compared to the weaker emphasis on important economic, social, and
cultural rights. These second generation rights, in addition to third and fourth generation rights
(group rights and women's rights, respectively), are not nearly as well integrated into the
existing international instruments dealing with reporting, evaluation, and monitoring
procedures of human rights violations.
Feminist anthropology endorses the view that context is critical in our understanding and
explication of any given situation; however, it also insists that cultural context, like any
particular situation, is only a part of a much deeper and complex totality within which a
particular context is necessarily subsumed. To strive toward completeness is to strive to
embrace multiple traditions under the umbrella of universal human rights, and to do so the

Diana J. Fox is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Susan B. Anthony Women's Center at the
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Massachusetts.
http: //www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v2/v2i3a2.pdf

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

4 I Fox

significance of second, third, and fourth generation rights must be regarded as significant a
priority as first generation rights.
Feminist anthropologists who support women's human rights must face the same
conundrum that feminist legal scholars, such as Rebecca Cook, have articulated, namely, "how
can universal human rights be legitimized in radically different societies without succumbing to
either homogenizing universalism or the paralysis of ... relativism?"2.
This question is the central concern of this paper. It rests on the assumption that
international human rights norms should indeed become part of the legal culture of any given
society, and to do so, they must strike responsive chords in the general human public
consciousness3. This paper argues that a defensible way in which this challenge may be met is to
acknowledge that universality and specificity are not necessarily intrinsically oppositional
forces, or, if you wish, they are not mutually exclusive, either conceptually or practically4.
To demonstrate this point, a number of prerequisite points must be made: (1) ethical
relativism is an untenable position; (2) relativism does not preclude cultural context, but the
anthropological position generally has overlooked this fact; (3) a human rights discourse
containing universal principles which are culturally meaningful depends on inter- and
intracultural dialogues; (4) the topic of women's human rights in Africa encapsulates many of
the contentious issues swirling around international human rights, prominently among them,
the relationship between the individual and society.
To explore these claims, I draw primarily upon my recent experience co-editing a volume
of essays entitled, "Women's Rights As Human Rights: Activism and Social Change in Africa"5.
The process of pulling the project together produced significant discussions around the tensions
between relativism and universality, and the tendency to confuse universality with moral
absolutism--a rigid position which obscures the flexibility which universality can encompass.
Because the process by which the editors have come to adopt such a perspective sheds light on
the argument itself, this paper outlines the stages through which these perspectives emerged.
The project's initial goal was to bring together scholars and activists to think about
women's human rights in diverse African situations. The co-editor of the volume, Dr. Naima
Hasci, is both a social anthropologist and an international development worker with the World
Bank, most recently the United Nations Development Program, and thus brings perspectives
from both endeavors. Hasci's work with Somali refugee women in Kenya provides an especially
interesting example of not only the value but the necessity of bringing together universal
principles and cultural context so that women's human rights can be upheld. I begin the inquiry
into this process first by examining some of the internal contradictions of ethical relativism.


Ethical relativism is an extreme and highly conservative position. I employ the term here,
as historian Merrilee H. Salmon has recently argued6, to refer to the understanding that ethical
principles emerge within specific cultural contexts, shifting from culture to culture. In this view,
extracultural standards of moral judgments are not possible; moral judgments can only be
determined through the standards of a culture's norms. This view is unacceptable, as Salmon
points out, since it relies on a notion of culture which we anthropologists have ourselves

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Women's Human Rights in Africa I 5

rejected over the past few decades, namely, that culture is a bounded and internally coherent
Anthropology's revised notions of the culture concept render ethical relativism an
incoherent perspective. It has become common place over the past decade to refer to culture as
unbounded, although attempts to erect boundaries through political coercion and cultural
nationalism are rampant in the world. Culture is also described as heterogeneous, fluid,
shifting, emergent, contradictory, processual, and other such descriptions which aim to capture
an indeterminateness about the idea. In this alternative view of culture, both moral values and a
society's norms emerge out of a conglomeration of interwoven ideas obtained through a
complex array of processes which include various forms of historical and/or contemporary
contact with "outsiders."
In a recent article in the New York Review of Books, Clifford Geertz discusses these two
contrasting notions of culture, invoking Mary Louise Pratt's idea of "contact zones," a term she
employs to refer to the power-laden dynamics of cultural intersections. Contact zones are
defined as "the spaces in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into
contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of
coercion, radical inequality and intractable conflict"7. Norms and moral values are neither
wholly shared or fixed, and they are never culturally "pure", for indeed there is no such thing.
Even in relatively isolated and/or egalitarian groups, variations in values and the existence
of power dynamics should challenge us not to accept too easily the ethical relativist perspective,
since the expressed or ideal moral standard is clearly never the only view, but typically that of
the powerful. It is in this sense that ethical relativism is a conservative position. It unwittingly
supports the hegemonic moral standard, subverting the voices of resistance whose moral values
may have emerged either through contact zones or from intergroup dynamics. Given these
inconsistencies with the ethical relativist stance, the book's contributors have endeavored to
move beyond the polarizing debate to embrace instead Rebecca Cook's ideal of a concept of
universal human rights which is neither homogenizing nor subject to the errors of relativism. In
so doing, however, we cannot accept the notion of a "universal human nature," which fails to
see particulars. Rather, we must recognize that persons have rights as concrete persons, not as
abstract constructions.
Gail Linsenbard, moral philosopher and Sartre and De Beauvoir scholar, sheds further light
on the possibilities for an intersection of the universal with the culturally specific in her chapter
"Women's Rights as Human Rights: An Ontological Grounding." Linsenbard contends that
arguments in support of women's rights as human rights involve both specific claims about the
conditions of particular women and groups of women, as well as universal claims about women
as human beings who, by virtue of their humanity share a fundamental ontological existence.
She expresses what this shared ontology is in her defense of women's rights as human rights:
An adequate account of women's rights as human rights must reveal women's oppression
as culturally, socially, and historically situated; that is, it must pay attention to the particular
kind of oppression that women suffer in situation ... It is in this sense that Simone de Beauvoir
and Jean Paul Sartre have emphasized that women and men are "singular-universals." That is,
they are understood in virtue of their particular situation which is lived by them singularly, but
their situation--as situation--has a universal dimension to the extent that all situations are lived

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

6 I Fox

and experienced in a particular way by everyone. Thus we might offer a ... defense of women's
rights as human rights in light of the fact that their situation--as situation--has a universal
dimension in so far as it is one aspect of the human condition which, as situation, all persons


This section explores in some detail the actual process by which the project's participants
embraced a position which seeks an intersection between cultural specificity and universal
principles. Again, the process is valuable since it demonstrates how abstract ideas are
negotiated and hashed out in an actual setting involving groups of people who are often seen as
antagonistic. "Western" and "African" feminists each are labels which lump together diverse
groups of people and disparate theoretical frameworks emphasizing sameness over diversity.
The range of perspectives, by contrast, proffered by the diversity of the project participants was
crucial to our task. Scholars hailed from cultural anthropology, moral philosophy, social history,
political science, and feminist legal studies. Activist participants worked with four primary
organizations: Oxfam America, Grassroots International, the UNDP, and the Center for Third
World Legal Studies.
While the diversity of the members remains crucial, the labels which characterize
variations--westerners/Africans; western feminists/African feminists--do so sloppily, subverting
existing commonalities for the sake of emphasizing differences, implicitly suggesting the
deterministic view that nationality and culture are the dominant factors in human interaction
and primary influences in differences of opinion. When liberal, Marxist, socialist, and radical
feminisms can all be subsumed under the label "western" feminism, the starkly reductionist
quality of the label reveals itself. While differences did indeed exist, commonalities did as well,
generated both through shared experiences and through independent development of similar
conclusions. Frequently, the tensions which surfaced were more the result of differences in
methodologies and approaches to a shared topic. We discovered this at a conference held on
December 5-6, 1997 at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, where participants presented
their papers for discussion and critique.
One of the first concerns the participants wanted to address was the fact that the structure
and institutions of women's international human rights law needs to be strengthened. As
feminist legal scholar Hilary Charlesworth demonstrates, the structures supporting women's
human rights are more fragile than the mainstream human rights instruments which do not
address gender specific rights. Charlesworth argues that the international instruments dealing
with women have "weaker implementation obligations and procedures; the institutions
designed to draft and monitor them are under-resourced and their roles often circumscribed
compared to other human rights bodies"9. The explanation for this state of affairs pertains to the
still marginal status of women's human rights on the general agenda of the human rights
movement. This fact in and of itself demonstrates that no matter what differences women have
with one another, the marginalization of their human rights affects all women by virtue of their
being women.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Women's Human Rights in Africa I 7

In addressing this problem, the rather distinct purviews of scholars and activists emerged,
although it would be overly simplistic to say that these divisions were rigid along disciplinary
lines, and to do so would only reify the labels and their generalized characterizations. Thus,
some scholars placed greater weight on the theoretical frameworks adopted to describe and
explain the predicament of women's human rights, and some used the frequently jargonistic
language of poststructuralism and its focus on discursive analysis. Activists generally analyzed
the successes or failures of specific women's rights projects designed with the assistance of their
organizations. These particular perspectives gave rise to some important questions about the
relationship between theory and practice. What I found particularly interesting was the way in
which the creative process of imagining the book itself distilled many of the difficulties which
exist at a much larger scale in any effort to articulate connections between the academic world
and the world of social movements.
For example, the book's essays had been organized into two sections, the first theoretical,
the second case studies. Activists protested that this organization privileged theory over
practice, implicitly supporting scholarly approaches over activist ones. They urged instead for a
thematic organization which, it was argued, would do away with such a dualism. Ironically, it
is theory itself which ultimately helps to move beyond the theory/practice dualism. As
poststructuralism and Marxist theory have made abundantly clear, practices are always
supported by a set of assumptions and often unspoken or unrecognized suppositions, hence the
notion of praxis. But activists, not necessarily guided by poststructuralist theory, were
nonetheless aware that the book's initial organization would perpetuate a false theory: that
theory has more to say than concrete examples.
Once we agreed on the framework of the book, a second discussion ensued around the
origins of theoretical works used by researchers. A Kenyan scholar argued that the historical
tendency of western scholars to overlook the contributions of African theorists was reflected in
the choice of theorists that scholars employed in their discussions. How could we not include
leading African thinkers in a project designed to embrace cultural context in the search for a
truly universal human rights? This point led to a commitment on the part of participants to read
and incorporate in their chapters some articles by African thinkers such as Oloka-Onyango, Wa
Matua, and others, examining their approaches to the cultural relevance of international human
To summarize, these exchanges helped to clarify the intellectual terrain of the book, and to
identify a common objective: to work toward a theoretical position which recognizes the
validity of African women's rights within their respective, concrete socio-historical settings as
human rights with universal import.


The arenas of women's human rights and human rights in Africa specifically, are domains
which emphasize the polemic of the relativist horn and the universalist horn. The perspectives
of each surface in sociocultural and philosophical questions about the relationship of the
individual to society in Africa. The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, adopted in
1986, underscores for many the tension between individual human rights and group or peoples'

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

8 I Fox

rights. In the relativist view, the sanctity of the extended family in Africa undermines the
legitimacy of individual rights, viewed as a western import. Other human rights instruments
too, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women
(CEDAW), adopted by the General Assembly in 1993, privileges an independent, free woman.
Women's human rights activists do indeed emphasize the idea of personal autonomy,
precisely as a means of addressing the oppression of individual women within the family unit
where women's human rights are frequently violated through domestic violence, restrictions on
access to resources, and in matters of marriage, divorce, and property rights. In other words, the
human rights of women epitomize questions about the relationship of the individual to the
group. Those in support of universal precepts, including African legal scholar Makau Wa
Matua, argue that individual rights must always be applied in a social milieu. Matua says:
"... a thorough understanding of the meaning of human rights, and the complicated
processes through which they are protected and realized, would seem to link inextricably the
concepts of human rights, peoples' rights, and duties of individuals. Individual rights cannot
make sense in a social and political vacuum, devoid of the duties assumed by individuals. This
appears to be more true in Africa than any other place"'0.
Matua is principally interested in the nature of the relationship between the individual and
society in Africa, which he characterizes as dramatically different from the relationship between
the individual and the state in western societies. What is significant to this argument, in
addition to the nature of the relationships described, is simply the acknowledgment that a
relationship exists. The oversimplified opposition between the individualistic west and
communitarian Africa ignores the ways in which individuals with varying degrees of personal
autonomy are constituted as members of society through groups, everywhere.
Women's struggles for human rights often position them in opposition to family and social
networks where their roles and rights have been defined; however, because of the sanctity of
the family, they often choose not to seek empowerment and freedom which sets them against
their kin. It is therefore crucial to find ways for women to be protected as individuals against
abuses. Doing so should not mean that the family will be undermined as an important social
institution. Coomaraswamy makes a fundamental observation when she asserts that "the family
is the place where individuals learn to care, to trust and to nurture each other. The law should
protect and privilege that kind of family and no other"".
Although attention to the realm of the family in Africa is central to any discussion of
women's human rights, this focus should not distract from other sources of abuse against
women which occur outside the local cultural context. To place a spotlight on the family as the
exclusive source of discrimination against women puts disproportionate blame on this
particular cultural domain, to the exclusion of other violations of women's integrity. For
example, in many parts of Africa discriminatory practices remain unnoticed as such, and many
states--Algeria, for instance--uphold patterns of conduct which some deny are disadvantageous
to women, claiming instead that the attitude toward women is essential to the cultural integrity
of those countries and significant constituents of national identity.
International practices too, such as the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) of the World
Bank and IMF, which in many ways contribute to suspicion toward international human rights
agendas, may themselves constitute violations of personal economic rights. As Illumoka has

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Women's Human Rights in Africa I 9

pointed out, SAPs have led to the depreciation of local currencies and the "rationalization of
industry, including privatization of public enterprises and reduction of government
expenditure on social services, resulting in spiraling inflation ... and severely restricted access to
education and health facilities"12. In their wake, SAPs have contributed especially to the
devaluation of women's work. Nurturing cultural institutions are thus threatened through
international financial arrangements.
As the African women activists working on the book project argue, the participation of
African women in the international women's rights movement emphasizes that the affronts
women suffer to their human dignity cannot only be solved through local institutions. This
being the case, the debate over the relativity or universality of human rights is one which
actually distorts the problem, rather than illuminating the condition of women. The harm in
maintaining this bipolar debate is that it perpetuates "international hierarchies of power that
contribute to the on-going polarization of the West and the Third World and [limit] ... the
definition and scope of struggles perceived to fall within the purview of women's human
Oloka-Onyango and Tamale suggest that one possible remedy lies in an "intra-cultural and
cross-cultural dialogue" which recognizes that "the personal is political, but the political is
extremely rich and diverse"14. It is this remedy which has the potential to push anthropology
past its commitment to the philosophy of relativism. Although anthropologists have always
engaged in cross-cultural dialogue, these dialogues were not exchanges in the manner
supported by Oloka-Onyango and Tamale which require recognition of cultural assets and
limitations on all sides. Nor have these dialogues been inspired by the feminist consciousness
that introduces the dialectic between the personal and the political.
Since the book project has fostered both a cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural dialogue of
this nature, for the remainder of the paper, I examine how a dialogue of the type proposed by
Oloka-Onyango and Tamale can be useful in moving beyond the debate toward an alternative
approach to women's human rights. I begin by exploring how the historically relativist
perspective toward human rights in anthropology impeded intra-cultural exchanges, in spite of
its intentions to defend the powerless.


In 1948, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) distributed a statement written
by Melville Herskovitz rejecting the universality of international human rights norms. In
formally advocating such a rejection, the AAA posited that the recently released Universal
Declaration of Human Rights enumerated rights and freedoms which were culturally,
ideologically, and politically nonuniversal15. Rather, the rights and freedoms cited therein
contained a western, Judeo-Christian bias, and therefore could not be regarded as rights which
are inalienable.
In a recently published article in Human Rights Quarterly, Ann-Belinda Preis explores the
way in which the 1948 decision formed a foundational and predominantly uncritical approach
to human rights on the part of anthropologists which remained unchallenged for the next thirty
or so years. Herskovitz's point of view emanated from his concern, and the larger

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

10 I Fox

anthropological concern, with the impact of western colonialism on two-thirds of the world,
and the hypocrisy of supporting the claim for human rights while colonial regimes which
drafted and signed the Declaration simultaneously committed atrocities in the name of the
civilizing mission16.
In an article which addresses statements of this kind, Wa Mutua states that while the
current human rights movement has its roots in the western liberal tradition, and this fact
indicates a lack of completeness, it does not, however, deny "the universality of many of its
ideals and norms." Mutua argues:
In the West, the language of rights primarily developed along the trajectory of claims
against the state; entitlements which imply the rights to seek an individual remedy for a wrong.
The African language of duty, however, offers a different meaning for individual/state-society
relations; while people had rights, they also bore duties. The resolution of a claim was not
necessarily directed at satisfying or remedying an individual wrong. It was an opportunity for
society to contemplate the complex web of individual and community duties and rights to seek
a balance between the competing claims of the individual and society.
This view is not relativist. It does not advance or advocate the concept of apartheid in human
rights or the notion that each cultural tradition has generated its own distinctive and
irreconcilable concept of human rights17.
Moreover, Matua recognizes that relativism in human rights serves as an anti-imperial
device, as Herskovitz intended as an advocate for colonized societies; but, its use as such
represents a misunderstanding inspired by cultural-nationalism. While arguments against
relativism are often ethnocentric and, in Matua's view, a symptom of the moral imperialism of
the west, he also insists that both extremes--relativism and ethnocentric arguments against
relativism--"only serve to detain the development of a universal jurisprudence of human
rights"18. Herskovitz's position deserves more critical reflection than this paper allows but,
suffice to say, his position had a profound effect on anthropological thought, such that the anti-
relativist position has only recently begun to amass proponents.
Perspectives proffered by Canadian Africanist Rhoda Howard and political scientist Jack
Donnelly represent some of the well-known challenges to the position of ethical relativism.
Donnelly recognizes that there are other trajectories for human rights within the liberal
tradition, outside of the conception of the individual as atomisticc and alienated from society
and the state." Howard's position, according to Matua, however, represents an ethnocentric
critique of relativism. Matua says of Howard that:
[S]he refuses to acknowledge that pre-colonial African societies knew human rights as a
concept ... Howard is so fixated with the Western notion of rights attaching only to the atomized
individual that she summarily dismisses arguments by African scholars, some of whom could
be classified as cultural relativists, that individual rights were held in a social, collective
Howard does point out that while women and men have more formal rights in post-
colonial Africa, the western model has essentially deprived women of the political influence
they had in many indigenous societies. Her example of the 1929 "Women's War" in Nigeria is a
case in point, in which tens of thousands of Igbo women attacked chiefs appointed by the
British, as a protest against the abrogation of their traditional power. Moreover, Howard also

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Women's Human Rights in Africa I 11

insists that there can be no adequate analysis of the human rights of African women, or
improvements made for their effective implementation without understanding the
sociohistorical context of women's lives. Legislation that does not recognize the influence of
culture and tradition on male and female perceptions of each other will be ineffective20.
While Donnelly and Howard are two examples of engagement with human rights in the
African context, the more widespread challenge to relativism which has swept the discipline
has just begun to move more seriously into the realm of human rights, emanating especially
from feminist circles. The context for this challenge, as I have stated throughout, is within the
increasingly prominent place of women's rights issues on the general agenda of the human
rights movement. Since feminism aims to connect the academic world with social change,
feminist anthropologists work not only to describe and analyze the lives of women and gender
relations, but to generate strategies to improve them. The feminist agenda is antithetical to
relativism--but not subsequently, cultural context--since it depends on judgments in order to
develop strategies for change.
Feminist anthropology has inevitably intersected with international women's human rights
movement asserting, as feminist anthropologist Martha C. Ward puts it: "flatly stated, the
treatment of women in human societies transcends cultural boundaries"21. These statements are
not ethnocentric rejections of relativism, but rather claims supported by diverse groups
agreeing with Oloka-Onyango and Tamale's dictum that the personal is political, but the
political is extremely rich and diverse. Feminists from both camps have argued that "it is simply
unacceptable to subject women to subordinate treatment that enslaves them to men," and that
"human rights is about regulated civilized behavior and conduct toward all human beings"22.
These positions reflect a coming together in feminist anthropology of applied and academic
approaches, with clear activist points of view attached to research agendas.
The women's human rights movement now faces the challenge of carrying "women's
voices, interests, and concerns into the mainstream human rights law-making arena so that the
diversity of women's experiences in different cultures is introduced into international human
rights law"23, establishing new forms of contact zones which eschew coercion, radical inequality,
and intractable conflict. It is through this process that anthropologists can be especially valuable
participants, employing their strengths in collecting and analyzing ethnographies which
establish avenues to disseminate the voices of the women with whom they collaborate.
I now turn to Naima Hasci's work with Somali women refugees in Kenya. As an
anthropologist and human rights activist, Hasci provides a wonderful illustration of the need to
unite activism and scholarship as an approach for bridging international, national, and local
institutions for women's human rights so that they may assist more effectively the communities
they endeavor to serve.


In her chapter, "From the Frying Pan into the Fire", Hasci examines the rights of refugee
women in Africa, focusing on Somali refugee women in Kenya during the period 1991-1997. She
seeks to address "the inconsistencies between the high level standard setting of human rights
laws by the international community and the low level enforcement of such rights at the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

12 I Fox

national level", especially with respect to the protection of refugee women's rights in countries
of asylum.
Hasci begins with a discussion of the location of refugee settlements in border
communities24, where "the state's juridical presence is minimal or non-existing." In such
instances, the host community wields de-facto powers at the local level often with negative
impact on refugees. At the international level, CEDAW has been instrumental in highlighting
and interpreting violence against women. Article 1 of the Convention is relevant to female
refugees, condemning "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in
physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts,
coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life." Also,
since 1988 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has discussed the
issues of safety, discrimination, and sexual exploitation, and in 1995 finally published
guidelines on violence against and protection of refugee women. While these guidelines on
refugee women's protection are "extensive, detailed and drawn from various refugee women's
experiences in the camps, including Somali women in Kenya in the last 7 years ... it remains to
be seen how effective CEDAW and the UNHCR's guidelines will be in contributing to the
prevention or mitigation of sexual violence and the promotion of equity among refugees"25.
Since national governments are ultimately responsible for effectively implementing
international human rights standards, it is the Kenyan government which is responsible for
implementing the UNHCR's guidelines. According to Kenya's national law, rape is a crime
punishable by imprisonment with hard labor for life, with or without corporal punishment26. In
spite of this, the police and military in Kenya have "not only been negligent in their duties to
stop the rape crimes, but on the contrary, in many instances the Kenyan police were reported to
have raped, beaten and killed refugee women."
Hasci argues that given Kenya's poor human rights record, especially toward women, and
its policy of persecution of Somali-Kenyans, "the international community and particularly the
UNHCR could have taken appropriate measures in time to avoid the establishment of the
refugee camps in such a dangerous region where border disputes play a role in acts of
aggression against refugees."
Clearly, protection by the host government of refugees is not occurring; instead, the camps
create "prison-like conditions providing minimal assistance, water, food, shelter and
medicine"27. Although international agencies are theoretically supposed to work in conjunction
with host governments for the protection of refugees, the paradox, says Hasci, is that "the
UNHCR itself is in a sense, like the refugees, a guest of the Kenyan government, and in the final
analysis, it operates in an environment over which it has little control, and therefore unable to
fulfill effectively its mandate"28.
In exploring ideas which may lay the foundation for future solutions to these kinds of
paradoxes, it is imperative to generate a commitment and sense of ownership of laws at the
national and local levels. Existing laws should be linked to or drawn from existing indigenous
socio-legal norms and principles, such as, for instance, the Somali "xeer". The international
community faces a dilemma: how to uphold the universality which breathes life into
international legal instruments of women's rights while at the same time minimizing those laws'
disassociation from local socio-legal norms.

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Women's Human Rights in Africa I 13

Attention to institutions such as the "xeer" is essential. The "xeer" is a socially constructed
set of norms established to safeguard security and social justice for Somalis in Somalia and in
the diaspora. While there is no room within the confines of this paper to delve into the specific
structure and principles of the "xeer," it is nonetheless significant to point out that it stands as
one of the pillars of communal relations, and as such codifies accepted standards of conduct
and behavior. Since the international and national normative systems function inadequately,
refugee women must gain access to their rights by negotiating all three levels: international,
national, and cultural. Institutions which draw from legal structures that societies can identify
with are crucial if human rights are to become integrated into the legal culture of a given
Action toward this end is occurring. In the past few years, the United Nations General
Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights have successfully urged Mary Robinson, the
High Commissioner, to establish through her Technical Cooperation Program, National Human
Rights Institutions. These Institutions refer to bodies established by governments through
constitutional or legislative processes for the express purpose of supporting and protecting
human rights.
The idea behind these organizations is that "the development of a culture of human rights
at the national level depends on the existence of a vigorous civil society, one which encourages
the formation of community groups; which not only tolerate but encourage respect for
individual differences"29. This mission represents the parallel aim of the women's human rights
movement to acknowledge women as autonomous persons within the realm of family relations,
in that both strive to integrate the individual and the community as two essential components
of coherent human rights principles.
The General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights recognize the importance of
diversity among those who comprise the National Institutions, since "an effective, credible
National Institution will be one which reflects in composition, the community it is established to
serve"30. Moreover, because those individuals who require help the most are unlikely to seek out
the Institution, one of its purviews is to develop approaches to assist those with physical
disabilities and those in remote locations without adequate transportation.
Community groups established to support the work of the Institution will promote
decentralization and greater accessibility. Since it is crucial that National Institutions respond to
particular community needs, the nature of the assistance has been varied. Over the past few
years in Africa, Institutions have been established in South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia.
Ultimately, National Human Rights Institutions have the potential to manifest the rhetoric of
international instruments such as CEDAW and the African Charter. Moreover, they can achieve
... in a manner which is consistent with the standards prescribed in the international
treaties, while accommodating constitutional particularities and the extraordinarily disparate
challenges posed by local conditions and cultures -- thus respecting ethnic, cultural, religious
and linguistic diversity in a more informed and sensitive manner than any regional or
international body31.
National Institutions reflect the burgeoning awareness of the limitations to relativism and
the necessity of developing a truly universal human rights discourse, one which recognizes that

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

14 I Fox

women's rights are indeed human rights, and that African women's rights need to recognize
that African women exist as "singular-universals" as do we all. In her chapter's conclusion,
Hasci concurs:
... the issue here is not about maintaining relativism as a dichotomy to universalism, but
about integrating, adapting and building on what is universally human and gender-sensitive
about a society's cultural and juridical heritage so that it can be genuinely sustained locally,
nationally and internationally32.


1. I would like to thank Dr. Gail Linsenbard for her insights and critical reading of parts of
this paper. This article is dedicated to my parents, Sanford and Vivian Fox, whose own
scholarship and activism for human rights continues to inspire me.
2. Cook, Rebecca J. "Women's International Human Rights Law: The Way Forward," in
Cook, Rebecca J., Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.
3. See Coomaraswamy, Radhika, "Reinventing International Law: Women's Rights as
Human Rights in the International Community," Human Rights Program, Harvard Law
School, 1997.
4. Colligan, Sumi, "'To Develop Our Listening Capacity, To Be Sure that We Hear
Everything': Sorting Out Voices on Women's Rights in Morocco," in Diana J. Fox and
Naima Hasci, eds., Women's Rights As Human Rights: Activism and Social Change in
Africa,.. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, forthcoming, 1999.
5. Fox, Diana J. and Naima Hasci, eds., Women's Rights. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen
Press, forthcoming, 1999.
6. Salmon, Merrilee H., "Ethical Considerations in Anthropology and Archaeology, or
Relativism and Justice For All," Journal of Anthropological
Research, vol. 53, 1997.
7. Pratt, Mary Louise, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. Routledge. pp.
6-7, cited in Clifford Geertz, 1998. "Deep Hanging Out." New York Review of Books, Vol.
XLV: 16, pp. 69-72, 1992.
8. Linsenbard, Gail, "Women's Rights as Human Rights: An Ontological Grounding," in
Diana J. Fox and Naima Hasci, eds., Women's Rights as Human Rights: Activism and
Social Change in Africa, Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, forthcoming. 1999.
9. Charlesworth, Hilary, "What are 'Women's International Human Rights'?" in Cook,
Rebecca J., Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.
10. Matua, Makau Wa, "The Banjul Charter and the African Cultural Fingerprint: An
Evaluation of the Language of Duties," Virginia Journal of International Law Vol. 35: 39,
pp. 340, 341, 1995.
11. Coomaraswamy, Radhika, "To Bellow Like a Cow: Women, Ethnicity and the Discourse
of Rights," pp. 52-53, in Cook, Rebecca J., ed., Human Rights of Women: National and
International Perspectives,. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Women's Human Rights in Africa I 15

12. Illumoka, Adetoun, "African Women's Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights--Toward a
Relevant Theory of Practice," In Rebecca Cooke, ed., Human Rights of Women: National
and International PerspectivesPhiladelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.
13. Colligan, Sumi, "'To Develop Our Listening Capacity, To Be Sure that We Hear
Everything': Sorting Out Voices on Women's Rights in Morocco," in Diana J. Fox and
Maima Hasci, eds., Women's Rights As Human Rights,. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen
Press, forthcoming, 1999.
14. Oloka-Onyango, J. and Sylvia Tamale,"'The Personal is Political', or Why Women's
Rights are Indeed Human Rights: An African Perspective on International Feminism,"
Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 17: 691-731, 1995.
15. Preis, Ann-Belinda S., "Human Rights as Cultural Practice: An Anthropological Critique"
Human Rights Quarterly ,Vol. 18: 286-315, 1996.
16. Personal communication with Dr. E.P. Skinner 5/27/98.
17. Mutua, Makau Wa, "The Banjul Charter and the African Cultural Fingerprint: An
Evaluation of the Language of Duties," Virginia Journal of International Law, Vol. 35:
39. pp. 344-345, 1995.
18. Ibid.
19. Both Howard and Donnelly uphold the importance of establishing the universality of
human rights, although both recognize that universal acceptance does not exist.
Howard, for instance, has most recently argued that concepts of human dignity exist in
many African cultures, but dignity should not be equated with the notion of rights;
therefore, attempts to establish the existence of universally held notions of rights
overlook the significant distinctions therein.
20. Howard, Rhoda, "Women's Rights in English-speaking Sub-Saharan Africa," In Claude
E, Welch, Jr. and Ronald I. Meltzer, eds., Human Rights and Development in Africa..
Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.
21. Ward, Martha C., A World Full of Women, Waveland Press, 1996.
22. Cook, Rebecca J., "Women's International Human Rights Law: The Way Forward," in
Cook, Rebecca J., ed., Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.
23. Ibid.
24. Hasci defines border communities as "... culturally coherent territories where people of
definite cultural identities have had to be split into two or more units, each faction
placed in the area of jurisdiction of a distinct state; which functions to integrate such a
pre-existing culture area into a new socio-economic system removed from the whole
original culture." "From the Frying Pan into the Fire: Somali Refugee Women's Rights in
Kenya," In Dian J. Fox and Naima Hasci, eds., Women's Rights as Human Rights:
Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, forthcoming,1999.
25. Hasci, Ibid: 3
26. Goodwin-Guy, Guy S., The Refugee in International Law. Oxford University Press, 1996,
p. 257, cited in Hasci, Ibid.
27. Hasci Ibid: 3
28. Ibid: 4

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

16 I Fox

29. Burdekin, Brian and Ann Gallagher, "The United Nations and National Human Rights
Institutions," Human Rights Watch, No. 2, Spring, pp. 21-25, 1998.
30. Ibid: 5
31. Ibid: 7

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Political Cultures and the Problems of Government



The thesis of this essay is that African countries will continue to be racked by conflicts
unless leaders agree about how to govern their multi-faceted nation-states and how to
distribute their economic resources equitably. Without a compromise that would ensure "ethnic
justice", neither so-called "liberal democracy", nor any other species of government will succeed
in Africa. If "liberal democracy" presently has any evolutionary advantages, it will have to adapt
to local realities, and its contours will be shaped by indigenous African socio-cultural traditions.
These have been changing over time, and now face the challenge of a Post-Cold War world
where people are demanding equity. Can anthropologists contribute to the debate about these
Recently, while explaining to a group of influential Americans the constitutional problems
in his country, an African diplomat remarked with a smile, "Oh, I was told that I must not use
the concept 'tribalism' in America, but should use 'ethnicity' instead." What he implied was that
whether one called his fellow citizens tribalistss" or "ethnics", they used the same sentiment in
competing for power and all that flowed from that. Thus, a concept that had formerly been used
to trivialize the complexity of African societies undergoing colonization was proving to be
impervious to change by later anthropologists and by Africans themselves 1.
Discourse about "tribalism" or "supertribalism" or "ethnicity" in contemporary Africa is
now linked to demands for "democracy" (another kind of "discourse") that I would prefer to see
as demands for political or regime change. Africans are seeking relief from coups,
misgovernment, and economic collapse. Many western governments, especially the US, also
threaten to withhold economic aid from African countries that do not move toward democracy.
The problem is that when questioned seriously, Americans often admit that for them
"democracy" is really an act of faith. For example, US Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering
declared at the United Nations, on October 28, 1991 ("African Day Devoted to Debt Relief"):
Reforms to improve governance are essential, both for sustainable economic growth, and
political stability .... The bottom line of good governance is democracy itself. It is not our role to
decide who governs any country, but we will use our influence to encourage governments to let
their people make that decision for themselves.... In sum, we will help those who move towards
Many Africans, especially those tired of military dictatorships and faltering economies, and
politicians out of power and in exile, applaud these prescriptions. Nevertheless, they wisely or
cynically refrain from defining the criteria for their own political culture. The result is that both
Elliot P. Skinner is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University, where he held the Franz Boas Chair
of Anthropology. He served as US Ambassador to Upper Volta.
http: //www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v2/v2i3a3.pdf

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

18 I Skinner

the US and many African leaders are creating the basis for "disemia". This is a condition among
local power seekers who, to please hegemonies, may either disguise those aspects of social life
that conflict with the hopes of tutelary powers, or create systems out of phase with local
realities, or cynically manipulate local conditions to gain or remain in power.
Unfortunately, due primarily to the history and function of our discipline, anthropology
never gained respect among indigenous Africans 2. Even African anthropologists distance
themselves from us, (ironically naming us among the proverbial "Others". We anthropologists
still retain that rural bias once judged necessary to capture the essence of African socio-cultural
systems. We continue to ignore the realities of rapidly urbanizing African societies. Even our
post-modernist discourse deals with the esoteric of fast disappearing African traditions, rather
than with how modernizing people gain power and control resources. Many anthropologists
still refuse to learn African languages, even when they attempt to deconstruct the subtleties of
their discourses in order to get at the variegated images in African minds.
In striking contrast to anthropologists, African politicians in the late 1950s and early 1960s
were primarily interested in the issues of "independence", "national integration", and
"modernization", somewhat in that order. This tiny, largely urban and westernized minority,
aspired to lead their largely rural, and basically agricultural societies, still governed by
traditional authorities who were often deemed decadent and reactionary. Kwame Nkrumah,
and his cohorts, sought the "political kingdom" and felt that everything else would be added
With their knowledge of the economic, political, and social realities of the colonial world,
most anthropologists, feared a difficult decolonization process. Geertz, among others, warned
that the persistence of "primordial bonds" (based on kinship, blood, language, and religion)
could frustrate the emergence of a new "political society" 3. He hypothesized that the creation of
"new states" bent on "modernization" and "national integration" might initially increase conflicts
in African societies. Geertz recommended a "macrosociological" methodology to gain a "holistic
or comprehensive" view of the problems facing those societies 4.
The young American political scientists who saw in decolonization a fruitful area of study
fully expected conflict to accompany socio-cultural change. After all, they often defined politics
as "who gets what" and this frequently involved severe conflict. The dominant paradigm many
brought to Africa was that there was a positive relationship between economic development
and greater social and political integration. These scholars, therefore, had little difficulty with
intergroup tensions due to "political competitiveness." As they saw it, "political
competitiveness" was an "essential attribute of a democracy" 5.
Invited by Kwame Nkrumah to teach "sociology" at the emerging University of Ghana, St.
Clair Drake, an "anthropologist", noted the actual conflict between the traditional authorities
and the modernizing politicians. But fearing to be considered a conservative and reactionary
anthropologist, Drake was prudent. He stressed that anthropologists could make a contribution
to the understanding of social change by studying what factors facilitated or hindered the
traditional leaders from playing an important role in "the process of planned economic and
social development" 6. Few founder-presidents of African states welcomed Drake's advice.
With Botswana and Swaziland among the major exceptions, the emerging African leaders
opted for the political cultures of their metropoles: the Westminster model, and the Belgian and

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Political Cultures and the Problems of Government I 19

French presidential and premier systems. These men ignored that the governmental processes
they cherished had evolved in economically, industrially, politically, and socially complex state
systems. Moreover the Europeans judged these "too civilized," for transfer to the colonies.
African leaders ignored what Pearl Robinson would later term the "cultures of politics" that had
developed during the colonial period, and used, as Gramsci stated, to maintain "hegemony
protected by the armor of coercion" 7. The African nationalists even ignored their own counter-
racist philosophies such as negritudee" and the "African Personality." They occasionally paid lip
service to traditional political cultures, but firmly rejected compromise with African traditional
politicians for fear of derailing the drive for independence 8.
Kwame Nkrumah had a bitter conflict with the Asantehene and other traditional leaders in
Ghana who objected to being excluded from government. In Ouagadougou, a frustrated
traditional emperor, the Mogho Naba of the Mossi people, attempted to use his traditional army
in a quixotic attempt to dissolve an embattled Territorial Assembly. Sir Edward Mutesa II of the
Baganda quarreled with Sir Andrew Cohen, Britain's last colonial governor, about the future
government of Uganda and was exiled to England where he died in poverty. Such reports were
legion 9.
Hoping to "modernize" their usual mono-economies, the new African leaders often
espoused an "African Socialism" where the state controlled the economy. Insisting upon the
need for "national integration," in the face of a plethora of ethnic collectivities, African leaders
imposed a single party system, claiming that this was close to the African "palaver." There was
often some justification for these actions, since competitively engaged in the Cold War the
protagonists did attempt to profit from African ethnic competition 10.
What confounded many western theorists was that whether African leaders espoused
Marxism-Leninism, African and non-African socialism, capitalism or mixed capitalism and so
on, their efforts failed. They rejected compromises and ignored the advice of Sir Arthur Lewis to
Nkrumah, that the political-economy of the new African states should use agriculture to build
their economies and should employ ethnic-based coalitions for government 11. The result was
that confusion reigned about how African leaders could and should deal with their economies
and regimes.
Those anthropologists who kept abreast of conditions in Africa were not surprised by the
chaos. Surprised when asked by some political scientist to deal with traditional leaders in a
book dealing with political parties and national integration, Peter C. Lloyd, a specialist on the
Yoruba kingdom, observed that while "the chiefs have not been in the van of the national
movement, at least in recent decades ... the picture so often painted of a straight fight between
elderly illiterate chiefs, living in the past, and modern Western-educated politicians is not in
accord with the facts" 12
Lloyd believed that the emergent African political leaders needed to turn the allegiance of
the masses from ethnic groups to the state, and from their traditional rulers to the
parliamentary leaders--especially when members of the new ruling class, by training and ways
of thought, and in styles of life, were divorced from the masses. He advised politicians to
recognize the loyalty of the people to their traditional leaders, and to involve the latter in the
governance of the country. Above all, the politicians should not use traditional leaders only for

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20 I Skinner

symbolic purposes, thereby running the risk of "destroying the prestige of the rulers just as did
too close an association with the colonial administration in past decades" 13
Joining the debate, Norman Miller warned about the need to harmonize the role of
Tanzanian traditional rulers in development and governance so as to avoid ethnic conflict. He
declared: "Viewed from the higher echelons of government in the new nations, the rural leader
is an insignificant individual who goes about managing his local affairs and carrying out--with
varying degrees of success--the policies and hopes of the government. Viewed from below,
from the inner recesses of the village, the leader is a man of authority; a man who has used
wealth, heredity, or personal magnetism to gain a position of influence." He argued that the
rural leaders were the key to development plans in the rural areas, and warned that any "lack of
initiative ... would entrench the status quo and doom the modernization plans before they
begin" 14
When asked to comment upon this article while in Ouagadougou, I described how the new
state officials in the Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) were devoting so much time to the
problems of their states in major world capitals, that they had neither the time nor the energy to
serve the rural areas. Whereas I had observed that during decolonization, many traditional
leaders feared for their positions, when faced with disinterest from the capital, in 1968, they
simply pitched in and helped their subjects. The politicians in Ouagadougou were too busy
quarreling to deal with rural problems, with the result that the military replaced them 15.
George C. Bond, who had witnessed the transition from colonial rule to independence in
North Rhodesia/Zambia, reported that disagreement about development pitted the royal
houses and the "new men." When rural villagers wanted economic development, but were
reluctant to pay for it, this "put pressure on all those chiefdoms leaders whose power ... [was]
based primarily on popular support" 16. Bond suggested then that "if the party-based elite was
"unable to provide for local demands, the chief and the royal clan stand as a potential
alternative source of leadership." When he returned to Zambia in 1973, he found that a one-
party state was firmly in place and local party politicians had moved to urban centers to reap
the rewards of office. Meanwhile, "internal and external forces, combined to restore the chief
and his ruling clique to positions of power." This led to "the resurgence of traditional patterns of
authority in the rural areas where most Zambians live, but also to the rise of new but politically
conservative coalitions at the local level" 17
By the 1980s, regardless of ideology, the political economies of the African states had so
deteriorated that this led to frequent military coups, political oppression, ethnic strife and
economic degradation. Some of the blame lay with African governments that often "pursued
economic policies or created public institutions that became impediments to their economic
progress" 18. The other part of the problem was due to Africa being the victim of a changing
global economic environment. Because African economies were so heavily dependent on the
export of a few primary products, any recession in the West caused them to collapse 19.
To complicate the situation, the end of the Cold War and a subsequent disinterest by both
East and West in African affairs, led to Afropessimism--the almost racist notion that Africa and
Africans were hopeless. Rather than consider Africa's problems as the precipitate of its
turbulent change, the practices of the often embattled (and often corrupt) African leaders were
blamed. The United States insisted that Africa's only solution was to adopt democracy and free

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Political Cultures and the Problems of Government I 21

markets. American ideologues insisted that "democracy" means not only the right of people to
elect their own government, but that only a democratic system can guarantee the full exercise of
fundamental human rights now judged to be universal and applicable to all individuals without
distinction as to age, gender, descent, religion, ethnicity, or race 20.
There is general agreement in most African countries that coups must end, corruption must
be rooted out, and economies must be restored. There is less agreement among Africans about
the meaning of "democracy." Many Africans believe that the larger issue of governance is
related to the general conditions in African countries. Some African scholars declare that there
were traditional forms of democracy, autocracy, monarchy, and oligarchy in state-organized
societies as well as stateless societies in their pre-colonial history. They assert that African
traditional political systems functioned, not because of their forms, but because they fulfilled
felt needs in societies. According to this argument, the important factor was "political authority"
derived from a "jural community" and defined as the widest grouping within which there is a
moral obligation and a means ultimately to settle disputes 21.
Increasingly, African scholars insist that whereas western ideas about democracy are
specifically rooted in the notion of political and social rights for individuals, the reality of Africa
is still one in which "collectivities", or "ethnic" groups, rather than individuals are demanding
social justice. In this context, what matters is respect for African cultures and languages, and
ethnic concerns in the distribution of their countries' or world resources. These views are now
being linked to the conviction that African traditional leaders and important personages should
join politicians in governing African societies. Moreover, these demands are coming from
urbanites as well as rural folk.
C.S. Whitaker, a student of Northern Nigerian politics, has always questioned the
assumptions that there could not be a compromise in the leadership of what he has called
"confrontation societies," (those having many of the mixed attributes of small urban
westernized elites and rural agricultural folk largely governed by traditional leaders). Based on
solid empirical research, he challenged the notion that such collaboration was neither inevitable
or practical. Whitaker noted an emerging stable symbiosis of modern and traditional elements,
and cited several cases of "creative adjustments" leading to what he described as "democratic
reforms." Whitaker concluded that "significant elements of the traditional political system of the
emirates proved to be compatible in practical terms with significant features of the modern
state" 22. He suggested that the emerging political culture of African countries would do well to
take traditional elements into account. Interestingly enough, these views are now shared by
some of his colleagues who worked in Nigeria 23.
Maxwell Owusu, a Ghanaian anthropologist, called attention to the implications of his
study of a town in Ghana that supported the views of Whitaker. Viewing that society
holistically, Owusu found as much continuity as change in Ghanaian politics. Prefering to look
at the issue of governance in terms of "national unification," rather than in terms of
"modernization," Owusu, focused on the struggle for power between groups. He asserted that
such struggles were always present in that society, whether between traditional rulers, or
between traditionalists and the new elites or other factions. The issue boils down to "the
possession of wealth and its distribution and consumption to achieve or maintain high social
status, prestige and social privilege. In this politico-economic competition, individuals and

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

22 I Skinner

groups manipulated, whenever suitable and to their advantage, a variety of symbols, beliefs,
images, and ideologies, some clearly traditional and others European in origin, to advance their
interests" 24. For Owusu, then, the problem of governance in contemporary Africa was to
recognize and to satisfy the goals and aspirations of different groups and their leaders. Different
African societies necessitated types of governance based on compromises between types of
groups and individuals.
My own study of political change in Upper Volta/Burkina Faso showed that the failure of
the modern politicians to compromise with the traditional leaders in the interest of all the
groups led to disaster 25. This was true from the first president, Maurice Yameogo, through
subsequent military regimes, through the assassination of Thomas Sankara, a young
revolutionary officer. A perceptive reporter wrote the following obituary:
wishing to break too quickly with the 'old order.'...' Sankara did not understand that the
'disinherited masses,' was still caught up in the yoke of the ancestral hierarchy. The 'working
class' who until recently only listened to the emperor of the Mossi, ... did not know that they
needed to be liberated 26.
The new leader, Blaise Compare, using a now familiar political ploy in a disemic-mode,
doffed his military uniform and subsequently won the presidency as a civilian. He adopted a
modified slogan of democracy and development, but complained that democracy could not
succeed in the face of poverty and economic inequality based on the notion of inherent
individual differences and unbridled political and economic competition. He authorized
multipartyism, but also sought the support of traditional rulers (referring to them as
representative of different national cultures). Then, as an obvious ploy to retain their support,
Compaore promised the creation of a third parliamentary chamber to give representation to a
large number of groups 27.
On July 31, 1993, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda permitted the installation of
Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, the son of Mutesa II, as the new Kabaka of the kingdom of
Buganda. Representatives of other monarchies from Swaziland, Britain, and Ethiopia were all at
the ceremony to witness the rebirth of Buganda. Present also were traditional rulers from
Uganda's other kingdoms of Ankole, Toro, Busoga, and Bunyoro. Cynics suggested that this
was just another case of disemia, because with the 1994 general elections in the offing, Museveni
hoped to reap a great deal of political good will by supporting a bill to restore the monarchies.
Both the Kabaka and the president expressed a desire to work together to govern the country.
At the opening of the Lukiiko (Baganda's parliament), the Kabaka promised to listen to the
people so that the politics of Buganda would be to obtain food and development. He would
have a crown, but the scepter would belong to the president.
President Museveni, for his part, sees no contradiction between cultural rebirth and the
functioning of a modern state. He believes that cultural institutions will address national unity,
mobilization, and the welfare of society. He argues that traditional leaders will help to preserve
local languages and culture which are under serious assault from external forces. Some other
Ugandans have been quoted as saying that the revival of these traditional institutions carries
the potential for getting greater participation because of a more natural sense of self-belonging.
They are reportedly tired of the poor economic and political record of centralized governments
during the past thirty years, and they have been disillusioned by the modern post-colonial state

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Political Cultures and the Problems of Government I 23

modeled after European systems. Ugandans reportedly see the European type of state as alien
and the old set-up of kingdoms and chieftainships as more organic 28.


At an earlier point in its history, anthropology had the concept of a "cultural compulsive",
meaning the widespread recognition that a cultural trait or institution was necessary for the
survival of a society. Today Africans are demanding "democracy" characterized by free
elections and the end of autocratic rule. However, there is growing recognition that Africans
must be free to chose or to develop forms of governance in keeping with their local realities, and
that this be linked with economic development. There is also a growing recognition that, at least
for the present, traditional leaders of the component ethnic groups of African countries be
involved in the governance of their societies. When and how this happens must be a function of
local conditions, but the modalities must permit dialogue and accommodations with global
Given the false starts and stops that accompany all change, and a very anthropological
truism that not all mutations succeed, no one can really tell whether the new attempts of
contemporary Africans to create political systems out of the checkered cloth of traditional
authorities and elected ones will succeed. Owusu holds that "African democracy may require
the integration of indigenous methods of village cooperation with innovative forms of
government, combining the power of universal rights with the uniqueness of each district's or
nation's own customs and respected traditions" 29.
Fortunately, Congressman Harry Johnston (D-Florida), chairman of the sub-committee on
Africa of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, appears to have
come to a comparable solution. He has called for a new comprehensive US strategy for
evaluating democracy in Africa that takes "a broad, flexible view of what democracy means in
the African context", that encourages African nations to "develop a full range of democratic
institutions" in addition to multi-party elections, representative legislatures, a free press, civilian
control of the military, an independent judiciary, minority protection and that links U.S. Foreign
aid to a country's democratic progress so. My suspicion is that this will not be possible unless the
"unseen hand" of market forces can show our global village that it has novel ways that would
permit the resources of our planet to be used in the interest of all humankind.


1. For an interesting discussion of this question, see Carter, Gwendolen M., Independence
for Africa. New York: Praeger, 1990. pp. 8, 91.
2. Moore, Sally Falk, "Changing Perspectives on a Changing Africa: The Work of
Anthropology," in, Robert H. Bates, V.Y. Mudimbe, and Jean O'Barr, Africa and the
Disciplines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. p. 3.
3. Geertz, Clifford, ed., Old Societies and Old States. Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1963. p. 109.
4. Ibid., pp. 119, 535.
5. Apter, David, Ghana in Transition. New York: Atheneum, 1968. p. 544.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

24 I Skinner

6. St. Clair, Drake, "Traditional Authority and Social Action in Former British West Africa,"
Human Organization, V. 19, pp. 150-58,1965.
7. Gramsci, Antonio, in Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, eds., Selections from
the Prison: Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. NY: International Publishers, 1971, pp. 243ff.
8. Chazan, Naomi, Robert Mortimer, John Ravenhill, and Donald Rothchild, eds., Politics
and Society in Contemporary Africa. 2 Ed., Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1992, p. 7.
9. Wilson, H.S., African Decolonization. London: Edward Arnold, 1994.
10. Decalo, Samuel, Psychoses of Power: African Personal Dictatorship. Boulder, CO:
Westview Press, 1989.
11. Lewis, W. Arthur, Politics in West Africa. London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1967,
pp. 42, 64.
12. Lloyd, Peter C. in James S. Coleman and Carl G. Rosberg Jr., eds., Political Parties and
National Integration in Tropical Africa. Nigeria: Background to Nationalism. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1970, pp. 382-412.
13. Ibid.
14. Miller, Norman, "The 'Paradox' of Rural Leadership: A Comment," Journal of Modern
African Studies, V. 6, N. 2, pp. 185-198,1970.
15. Skinner, Elliott P., "The 'Paradox' of Rural Leadership: A Comment." Journal of Modern
African Studies, V. 6, N. 2, pp. 199-201, 1970.
16. Bond, George C., The Politics of Change in a Zambian Community. Chicago and
London: University of Chicago Press, 1976, p. 160.
17. Ibid.
18. Kitchen, Helen, "Some Guidelines on Africa for the Next President." Washington DC:
CSIS., Vol. 10, No.1, p. 21, 1988.
19. Ibid., p. 22.
20. Boahen, A. Adu, African Perspectives on Colonialism. Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press, 1987.
21. Uya, O.E., African Diaspora. Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1987, p. 39.
22. Whitaker, C. Sylvester, The Politics of Tradition and Continuity in Northern Nigeria.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970, p. 467.
23. Sklar, Richard L., "Problems of Democracy in Africa". Paper Prepared for Second Sino-
U.S. African Studies Conference, Malibu, California, January 11-15, 1991.
24. Owusu, Maxwell. The Uses and Abuses of Political Power. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1973, p. 325; Owusu, Maxwell, "Democracy and Africa--A View from the
Village," The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 369-396. 1991.
25. I had the good fortune to have been in rural Upper Volta studying the political
organization of the Mossi people during the decolonization process, and in August 1960,
I received the first visa ever granted to a non-citizen to visit independent Upper Volta.
Later, when doing urban fieldwork in Ouagadougou in 1964, I visited the rural areas as
often as possible. I continued this fieldwork while serving as United States Ambassador
to the Republic of Upper Volta from 1966 to 1969. What impressed me during this entire
period, and what still impresses me, is the continued role of traditional authorities. See:
Skinner, Elliott P., "Political Conflict and Revolution in an African Town", American

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Political Cultures and the Problems of Government I 25

Anthropologist, 74 1974.; Skinner, Elliott P., The Mossi of Burkina Faso. Prospect
Heights, IL.: Waveland Press, 1964/1989; Skinner, E., African Urban Life: The
Transformation of Ouagadougou. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.
26. Quoted in Skinner, Elliott P., "Sankara and the Burkinabe Revolution: Charisma, Local
and Global Dimensions," Journal of Modern African Studies, V. 26, N. 3, pp. 434-455,
27. FBIS-AFR-92-004, 7 Jan. 1992, p. 25.
28. Information for this section comes from the library of Ali A. Mazrui at SUNY,
Binghamton, New York.
29. Owusu, Maxwell, "Democracy and Africa--A View from the Village," The Journal of
Modern African Studies, V. 30, N. 3, p. 384, 1991.
30. Johnston, Harry, "Congressional Hearing Transcript". US House of Representatives
Foreign Affairs Committee's Sub-Comittee on Africa, p. 57 1993.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Lawgiving and the Administration of Justice in Some African

and other Early States



In this paper I present some aspects of lawgiving and the administration of justice in some
early states. To do so I will apply some of the concepts developed by anthropologists. The use of
these terms makes it necessary to ask to what extent it is useful to employ West European
judicial concepts to the ways in which the rules and measures of early states were formulated
and enforced. Would it not be better to employ the "participants" concepts so as to describe and
analyze the systems of rules and regulations of early states in their own terms 1? This would
certainly be advisable if this paper aimed at the analysis of only one such system, but because
its aim is to compare a number of early state judicial systems, a broader, intercultural frame of
thought is needed. This requires that we formulate our categories and concepts in such a way
that different systems of lawgiving can be brought under their headings.
In this paper I try to find if and how in early states rules and regulations--laws--were
established; in what ways such rules and regulations were brought to the attention of those
concerned; in what ways such rules and regulations were sanctioned; and how people were
made to do what was ordered. Finally, I look for similarities and differences in the systems
Every society has norms and values according to which people are supposed to behave.
This is true even though, as Malinowski pointed out, people do not obey rules and regulations
automatically. They often seek to escape obligations, or try to interpret the rules to their own
advantage 2. As a consequence, most societies also have mechanisms to cope with deviant
behavior. In hunter-gatherer societies, such mechanisms are usually very limited; when efforts
to mediate have no success, one of the contending parties leaves the band 3. In more complex
societies, disputes are sometimes solved by what Gulliver calls negotiation 4. Here the
disputants, each assisted by socially relevant supporters, try to reach a settlement. Another
method of dispute settlement is adjudication wherein a binding decision is given by a third
party who has some degree of authority. Such a decision "is in some way coercive in that the
adjudicator has not only both the right and the obligation to reach and enunciate a decision but
also the power to enforce it" 5. Such enforcement may vary from agreement by the audience to
the support of an armed force. A good example of adjudication is found in Homer's Illiad,
analyzed by both Tamayo y Salmoran and Van der Vliet 6. Here a small group of elders was
required to pronounce, each in turn, a judgment, and he who, according to the sentiments of the
people, pronounced the most fair decision was rewarded. In fact the decision was rendered by
Henri J. M. Claessen is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, Leiden University, the Netherlands.
Currently, he serves as Vice President of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences.
http: //www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v2/v2i3a4.pdf

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

28 I Claessen

the people and it would have been difficult for an individual to defy their judgment. The
difference between the two ways of dispute settlement discerned by Gulliver thus is "the
difference between the presence or absence of overriding authority" 7.
Where adjudication is the dominant method of dispute settlement, acknowledged
standards exist that can be interpreted to meet the particular cases. "This does not mean, of
course, that standards are inevitably clearly defined, or that they lack a degree of flexibility,
under adjudication; but definition and rigidity tend to be greater" than where negotiation is the
dominant form 8. This implies the existence of a set of rules with which a number of people is
familiar. Such rules and convictions are usually inculcated during the education of the young;
parents and family heads insure that a general knowledge of such notions is achieved. The next
"higher" form of administered justice comes when a functionary or specialist hears the case and
pronounces a judgment that eventually is enforced by his assistants. This development is
characteristic of early states.
Where an increasing number of people live together on a permanent basis, the need arises
for the development of additional, or new, rules and regulations. Studies by Gregory Johnson
show that either more permanent rules and regulations develop, or the larger community
breaks apart into smaller units 9. Similarly, the description by Kottak of the development of an
early state among the Betsileo of eastern Madagascar demonstrates that when groups of people
are forced by reasons of safety to stay together on a permanent basis, new forms of organization
develop, and new rules and regulations are needed to make the society work 10. In early states,
where large numbers of people lived together on a permanent basis, the ruler or central
government had the task of developing the necessary rules and directives for the regulation of
social relations.


In a comparative study of twenty-one early states, in all twenty-one cases "the ruler is the
formal law giver" 11. This statement requires certain clarifications. Is it only the ruler who makes
laws? Are there also other bodies concerned with lawgiving? Is every decree by the ruler a
"law"? When do we speak of "laws"?
The same comparative survey concluded that the "sovereign is the supreme judge in early
states" 12. This statement also poses a number of questions that need to be clarified. Is the ruler
the only judge? Are there standard procedures for the administration of justice? Is appeal
possible in judicial matters? Are there legal specialists? Is there a codification of law? And,
finally, why do people obey rules? The actual amount of coercion in early states is, according to
Maurice Godelier, often limited 13. Now let us try to formulate answers to these questions.
Law is a complex concept. In studies of state societies law is usually connected with those
regulations that by negligence or infraction are enforced by the central government. In theory
laws hold for all inhabitants of the early state. Also, in theory, it is the ruler who lays down the
laws and maintains law and order. In reality lawgiving and enforcement are complex processes.
To begin with, not every decree by a ruler is a 'law'. There are decrees meant to arrange
temporary matters only, or hold for just a few people. For example, when a ruler states that
there should be new women added to his harem, this is not a law, but an order. The same holds

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Lawgiving and the Administration of Justice in Some African and Other Early States I 29

for his directive that certain people will not be invited to the next feast. Speaking more
generally, incidental regulations, or regulations meant for specific people only, should not be
considered as laws, even if the decrees may have dire consequences for the individuals
concerned. Laws are regulations holding for the whole population, or at least for broad
categories of it 14.
Various people and institutions have influence over the preparation of laws. There are
councilors and councils, personal advisers, brothers, friends, cousins, ministers, and in a
number of cases, the queen. The formal influence of councils is mentioned for the the Aztecs,
the African Kuba, the Indian state of the Maurya, Capetian France, and the Incas, among others
15. Informal influences have been established for each of the twenty-one cases presented in The
Early State 16. In most cases, relatives of the ruler were mentioned as informal advisors, but
administrative functionaries, priests, friends, and the like were mentioned in this capacity as
well. In West African Dahomey, for example, the caboceers (civil servants), under whose
supervision the subject matter of the new law fell, met with the ruler and a number of his
female advisors. There were fierce discussions in which the contenders tried not so much to
evaluate the merits of the proposal, but rather to outdo their rivals. Finally the ruler
summarized the various points of view, formulated his decision, and issued the law 17.
Such new laws and regulations could cover a great variety of matters. The formal
prohibition for the inhabitants of Ouidah to plant coffee, sugar or peanuts had clearly a
commercial background, but the prohibition to sit on a chair in public was connected with the
sacred character of the ruler 18. In East African Buganda, as in Rwanda and Burundi, the queen-
mother dominated the administration of the state as long as the ruler was young and
inexperienced 19. In medieval West Europe, queens such as Ali6nor of Aquitaine 20, Emma of
Normandy 21, and the Merovingian queens Brunhild and Fredegund 22, greatly influenced the
administration of their states. Even in the strongly male dominated Islamic societies, queens
have ruled and made law 23. Consequently, it can be concluded that the central government of
early states issued laws and regulations which were formally ascribed to the ruler, even though
many people influenced their preparation.
To what extent was a ruler (assisted by his councilors) free to issue new rules and
regulations? It is not easy to answer this question in a general way. Quite often "new" laws were
not new at all, but only the reformulation of already existing directives. It was rather
impractical to change an existing corpus of laws and regulations thoroughly; complete chaos
would be the result 24. Even the so-called new legal systems introduced by Visigothic or
Carolingian rulers were no more than collections of existing rules and customs to which only
some new, incidental regulations were added 25. As long as a ruler remained within the limits of
the norms and values of the particular society, subjects would accept new laws, because such a
ruler acted in a legitimate way 26. A ruler who did not live up to the norms and values and
issued laws that were impractical or went against the prevailing morality would disqualify
himself as a god-given ruler and seriously endanger his position. An example may clarify this
In 1722, the British slave trader Robert Norris went from the coastal town of Whydah to
Abomey, more than 100 kilometers to the north in the interior. His journey was relatively easy.
There were well-kept roads, bridges over rivers, and guest houses in the villages and towns

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

30 I Claessen

along the road, where he could spend the night. The captain of the escort took great care that
Norris was served well, telling Norris that he was responsible with his head for the well-being
of the white man. Norris was struck by the order and safety of the country 27. There was
continuity in the way in which travelers were protected. Norris's experiences were similar to
those of John Duncan and to Skerchly who visited Abomey in 1847 and 1874, respectively. Less
favorable were the experiences of travelers visiting Buganda. Explicit royal orders to assist him
notwithstanding, John Speke, the discoverer of the sources of the Nile, had great difficulties in
getting boats to cross Lake Victoria 28. The American traveler Chaill&-Long, who visited
Buganda some ten years, later mentioned that at a distance of only one day from the capital he
already was aware of the enmity of the Bugandese functionary, entrusted with his well-being.
Chaill6-Long even accuses the functionary of "malevolence and hostility" towards him and his
company 29. Although Stanley, who was in Buganda shortly after Chaill6-Long's visit, gives a
more favorable impression 30, the French lieutenant Linant de Bellefonds, who was in Buganda
at the same time as Stanley, reports great problems with the leader of the escort over the
carrying of his baggage and the distribution of food 31.
The Bugandese problems were caused by administrative failures. The orders of the king
were given without explicit details and without considering whether they were feasible or
realistic. The courtiers immediately went out to do as ordered, only to find, once away from the
capital, that their tasks were impossible. There were no facilities for travelers here: good roads,
guest houses and food reserves were lacking, and the local population was not prepared to to
provide food and goods to complete strangers. The comparison of these two cases demonstrates
that when a ruler issued orders without providing the tools to fulfill these, he was asking for
deceit and disobedience. As long as his servants were in his presence his power seemed
absolute, but once they were a safe distance away, the ruler's power diminished.


The fact that the majority of early states consisted of different ethnic groups added to the
already complex issue of law giving. In most cases, various ethnic groups were conquered and
added to the state's existing population. This, in itself, did not necessarily endanger the
development of well-functioning early states since in many cases the conquered groups had
rather similar cultures, norms, and values. This was the case, for example, with the subjugation
by the Incas of the Chincha Indians. A similar situation was found with the early extensions of
the Asante state in West Africa. Only when societies with quite different cultures were affected
did tensions become pronounced 32.
Several scholars have addressed the problems early state rulers faced with populations of
different ethnicities. Anatoly Khazanov distinguishes between mono-ethnic, mono-lingual, and
poly-ethnic early states 33. States of the first type have no problems in this respect. When similar
linguistic and cultural populations were brought together into one political unit, political
problems might arise, but not cultural problems. The majority of early states, however,
consisted of people of different cultural backgrounds. This often created a paradox.
As a rule, only one ethnic group in these states was occupying the dominating positions. Its
upper stratum had become the ruling class of a whole state but, naturally, tended to rely on its

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Lawgiving and the Administration of Justice in Some African and Other Early States I 31

own relations. At the same time, to strengthen the state and its power-base it had to give a stake
in this state to members of other ethnic groups, thus undermining their own privileged
positions 34.
For example, the Incas incorporated a number of Quetchua-speaking groups from the
regions adjacent to Cuzco. They became Incas-by-privilege, and enjoyed almost the same rights
as the Incas-by-blood which facilitated their merging with the latter. At the same time, the Incas
pursued a policy aimed at segregating themselves from other ethnic groups 35.
Ronald Cohen emphasizes that early states were organizations that seriously constrained
fission, a policy that could succeed only "when technology and/or material resources were
sufficient to sustain large populations" 36
All of this implies that the state itself, once it emerges, provides the means for supra-ethnic
belief systems, rules, ideology and even search for cause/effect relations or science. The state,
being multi-ethnic but ordered, is dependent upon the development of supra-ethnic or
universalistic rules, ideology, religion and even knowledge seeking 37.
Although Cohen is certainly right, the development of such ideologies, was no easy task.
According to Donald Kurtz, the government of an early state needed first of all to acquire
legitimacy, that is the people's conviction that its activities are in accordance with the existing
norms and values 38. He suggests five strategies a government should develop in order to attain
legitimacy. These include the inculcation of an ideology of work, the increasing of the social
distance between ruler and subjects, the religious validation of the government's right to rule,
the penetration of the local level institutions by government agents, and the socialization of the
citizenry with rewards for supporting the government and penalties for resisting it 39. In an
earlier article, Kurtz stressed the importance of a government's fulfillment of its economic
obligations as a means to achieve legitimacy 4o.
The discussions summarized above suggest that the ruler of an early state initially needed
to strive to attain legitimacy in the eyes of his subjects. A paradox presents itself, for this
required ruling according to different systems of norms and values so that subjects of different
cultural backgrounds could identify withthe ruler. This required a good deal of ingenuity and
propaganda 41. It is here that religious beliefs often play a decisive role. The Frankish conqueror
Clovis became legitimate in the eyes of the Gallo-Roman inhabitants of France once he was
baptized into Christianity 42. Charlemagne tried to Christianize the Saxon peoples to better
incorporate them in his realm, and Jeanne d'Arc succeeded in making "her" king of France
legitimate by having him crowned in the cathedral of Rheims 43. Hagesteijn describes at length
the decisive advantages for Southeast Asian rulers when they succeeded in introducing the
legitimizing ideas for kingship, as developed in Hinduism and Buddhism 44.


There always were individuals unwilling or unable to fulfill the obligations placed on them by
the laws issued by a central government or its representatives, even when these laws were
based on prevailing norms and values and accepted by a majority of the population. The
maintenance of the law fell to state functionaries at the local, the regional, and eventually the
national level. These functionaries had the authority of their office to impose a decision on the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

32 I Claessen

disputants from a third-party standpoint. They also had military or police power to enforce
their judgments 45. This, as Roberts notes, does not necessarily imply that these judges always
used force; in many cases disputes were solved by mediatory procedures.
In the majority by far (sixteen of the twenty-one cases) in the early state sample previously
referenced, the administration of justice was the responsibility of general kinds of functionaries
such as village heads, district chiefs, or rulers. Only in some cases did a professional judge play
a role (Angkor, Aztecs, Incas, Kuba, Maurya), while in five cases (Capetian France, Incas,
Jimma, Kachari, and Yoruba) general functionaries as well as professional judges operated side
by side 46. The majority of cases was handled by functionaries at the local-level; only some types
of misconduct, such as murder, arson, and treason, were reserved for judgment by higher
administrators. Usually three different kinds of misconduct were distinguished: crimes against
the state (e.g., murder, treason,tax evasion), crimes against religion (violating rules surrounding
the sacred king), and 'minor' misconducts (e.g., theft, robbery, adultery). Usually different
categories of judges handled these types of cases.
One of the main problems in the administration of justice in early states was the lack of a
coherent body of laws. In no less than thirteen out of wenty-one cases no such coherent body
existed. This situation inevitably called for differences in judgment. We should not overestimate
the value of codified laws. Patrick Wormald, who thoroughly studied the codifications of law in
early medieval Europe, concludes:
On the whole, in spite of efforts by Carolingian kings..., custom seems to have remained
primary. My conclusion for Europe as a whole is thus unsurprising, but nonetheless suggestive.
In those areas where the use of lex scripta was not only ordained but made easy, lex scripta was
indeed used. In the areas where we find similar ambitions, but more marginal assistance to the
judge, there are signs of a move in this direction, but no more. In the parts of Europe where
both instructions on, and manuscripts of, the law are rare, there is scarcely a trace of the use of
written texts in actual cases 47
Fortunately, in many cases people could resort to courts of appeal; only in Hawaii and
ancient Tahiti were there no indications that such courts existed 48. The rather loose
formulations of the laws, the lack of control over the judges, and the often heavy penalties
encouraged many people to attempt to bribe officials. The missionary Roscoe gives the
following description of such efforts at a court of appeal in Buganda.
If a man thought that he was loosing his case, he would endeavor to bribe the judge; if he
proposed to give him a slave, he would place his hand flat on the top of his head as if rubbing
it, when no one but the judge was looking; this signified he would give the latter a man to carry
his loads. If he proposed to give him a women or a girl, he would double up his fist and placed
it to his breast, to represent a woman's breast; if he proposed to give him a cow, he would place
his fist to the side of his head to represent a horn; if it was a load of bark cloth, he would tug at
his own cloth. The signs were made secretly; if the judge accepted the bribe, he pronounced a
sentence in the man's favor 49
It is not clear whether the situations described by Roscoe concerned criminal matters, or
efforts at reconciliation. When serious crimes were judged, the sentences usually were harsh in
Buganda. The missionary Ashe mentions death by burning, cutting the culprit into pieces, the
slitting of ears and nose, and so on 50. A problem with his statement is that it is not clear what

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Lawgiving and the Administration of Justice in Some African and Other Early States I 33

kinds of misconduct were punished. Roscoe writes that there was an extended period of time
between the pronouncement of a sentence and its execution. This made it possible for the
condemned to try to buy himself free 51. Such bribes formed a considerable part of the income of
king and notables.
The rather loose way in which the administration of justice was carried out in Buganda
differs considerably from the rather formal approach of the Incas. There a detailed code of laws
existed, and a whole hierarchy of judges carried out the administration of justice. Some cases
were handled by the village curaca; others fell under the jurisdiction of the tucricuc cuna, the
district chief 52. Also, Inca punishments were harsh. Death, maiming, and torture were common,
and in some cases not only the culprit, but his whole family was punished 53. Although the
majority of cases was handled by general administrative functionaries, a number of professional
judges (such as the traveling hucha camayoc) handled crimes such as murder or having sex
with an accla 54
The vast majority of disputes in early states, however, was handled by heads of families,
trying to find solutions through negotiation or adjudication. When their efforts were
unsuccessful, the village head took over the cases. Only when serious crimes such as murder or
treason were committed did higher judges take over.


On the basis of the data presented, it can be concluded that in early states attempts were
made to develop and maintain systems of laws that could be and actually were supported by
physical force. Laws were binding on the population as a whole, even though differing
interpretations were possible when the transgressor held high status. Several groups of people
were usually involved in the process of preparing laws, but it was the ruler who formally
decreed the laws. The promulgation of laws based on existing norms was not so difficult; the
introduction of really new laws was. To be legitimate in the eyes of the population, laws had to
be based on the prevalent norms and values. When this was not the case the central government
experienced resistance. It needed to indoctrinate the people to achieve voluntary compliance.
The requirement of legitimacy became even more difficult to achieve when early states
conquered peoples of differing cultural backgrounds. Minor judicial problems were usually
solved by family heads through negotiation or adjudication. Village heads also tried to solve
judicial problems through these methods. As state functionaries, however, they could apply
force. Only more serious crimes came to the attention of higher administrative functionaries. In
some early states professional judges played a role. The administration of justice was hampered
by a lack of codification of laws and a lack of codified penalties. Arbitrariness and efforts at
bribery were common. Yet early states laid the foundations for future constitutional states,
however shaky the beginnings may have been!


1. De Josselin de Jong, Patrick E., "'The participants' view of their culture", in P.E. de
Josselin de Jong, Structural Anthropology in the Netherlands. The Hague: Nijhoff

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

34 I Claessen

Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal- Land en Volkenkunde, Translation Series No. 17, pp. 233-
52, 1977.
2. Malinowski, Bronislaw, Crime And Custom In Savage Society. London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1926.
3. Service, Elman R., TheHhunters. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1966; Stauder, Jack.
The Majangir: Ecology and Society of a Southwest EthiopianPpeople. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1971.
4. Gulliver, P.H., "Introduction" in L. Nader, ed., Law in Culture and Society, pp. 11-24.
Chicago: Aldine, 1972.
5. Ibid., p. 17
6. Tamayo y Salmoran, Rolando, "The Judicial Litigation In Early States And The Evolution
Of The Legal Process" in H. J. M. Claessen, P. van de Velde and M.E. Smith, eds.,
Development and Decline. South Hadley: Bergin and Garvey, 1985, pp. 311-21; Vliet,
Edward Ch. L. van der De Wet is Koning: op weg naar de rechtstaat", H. J. M. Claessen,
ed., Wetgeving en rechtspraak in vroege staten. Leiden: Institute of Cultural and Social
Studies, 1993, pp. 9-20.
7. Gulliver, P.H., "Introduction" in L. Nader, ed., Law in Culture and Society, pp. 11-24.
Chicago: Aldine, 1972.
8. Ibid., p. 19.
9. Johnson, Gregory A., "Organizational Structure And Scalar Stress" in C. Renfrew, et al.,
eds., Theory And Explanation In Archaeology. New York: Academic
Press, 1982, pp. 389-421.
10. Kottak, Conrad P., The Past In The Present: History, Ecology And Cultural Variation In
Highland Madagascar. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980.
11. Claessen, Henri J. M. "The Early State: A Structural Approach" in H. J. M. Claessen and
P. Skalnik, eds., The Early State. The Hague: Mouton, 1978, pp. 533-596.
12. Ibid., p. 560.
13. Godelier, Maurice. "Infrastructures, Societies and History", Current Anthropology
19:763-771, 1978.; cf. Trigger, Bruce G., "Generalized Coercion And Inequality. The Basis
Of State Power In Early Civilizations" in H. J. M. Claessen, P. van de Velde, and M.E.
Smith, eds., Development and Decline, South Hadley: Bergin and Garvey, 1985, pp. 46-
14. cf. Wormald, Patrick, "Lex Scripta And Verbum Regis: Legislation And Germanic
Kingship From Euric To Cnut" in P.H. Sawyer and I.N. Wood, eds., Early Medieval
Kingship. Leeds: The School of History, 1977, pp. 107-110. Wormald discusses the same
15. Claessen, Henri J. M., "The Early State: A Structural Approach" in H. J. M. Claessen and
P. Skalnik, eds., The Early State. The Hague: Mouton, 1978, p. 561.
16. Ibid.
17. Forbes, Frederick E., Dahomey And The Dahomans. Being The Journals Of Two Visits
To The King Of Dahomey And Residence At His Capital In The Years 1849 And 1850.
London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1851, II: pp. 92-102, 107-121.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Lawgiving and the Administration of Justice in Some African and Other Early States I 35

18. Burton, Richard F., A Mission To Glele, King Of Dahomey. London: West, 1864. Vol. 1,
p. 181; Skertchly, J.A., Dahomey As It Is; Being A Narrative Of Eight Months Residence
In That Country, And A Full Account Of The Notorious Annual Customs, And The
Social And Religious Institutions Of The Fon. London: Fisher, 1874.
19. Claessen, Henri J. M., "Specific Features Of The African Early State", in H. J. M. Claessen
and P. Skalnik, eds., The Study Of The State. The Hague: Mouton, 1981, pp. 59-86.
20. Pernoud, R6gine, Ali6nor d'Aquitaine. 2nd ed. Paris: Albin Michel, 1981.
21. Teunis, Henri B., "Een Vrouw In De Politiek: Emma Van Normandie" in H. J. M.
Claessen, ed., Machtige Moeders; Over De Positie Van De Vrouw In Vroege Staten, pp.
219-229. Leiden: Institute of Cultural and Social Studies. ICA Publ. 75.
22. Wood, Ian, The Merovingian Kingdoms, pp. 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.
23. Mernissi, Fatima. The forgotten queens of Islam. Cambridge, 1993.
24. Hagesteijn, Ren6e R. Circles of kings; Political dynamics in early continental Southeast
Asia. Dordrecht: Foris Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en
Volkenkunde 138, 1989.
25. Wormald, Patrick, "Lex Scripta and Verbum Regis: Legislation and Germanic kingship
from Euric to Cnut" in P.H. Sawyer and I.N. Wood, eds., Early Medieval Kingship.
Leeds: The School of History, 1977, p. 108.
26. Claessen, Henri J. M. and Jarich G. Oosten, eds., Ideology And The Formation Of Early
States. Leiden: Brill, 1996.
27. Norris, Robert, "Reize naar het hof van Bossa Ahadee, Koning van Dahomey" in A.
Dalzel, De Geschiedenis Van Dahomy, Een Binnenlands Koningrijk Van
Afrika. Haarlem: Leeuwensteyn, 1800, pp. 184-208.
28. Speke, John H., A Journal Of The Discovery Of The Source Of The Nile. Edinburgh:
Blackwell, 1863, p. 470.
29. Chaill&-Long, C., Central Africa: Naked Truths Of Naked People. London: Cass, 1876.
30. Stanley, Henry M., Durch Den Dunkeln Welttheil Oder Die Quellen Des Nils; Reisen
Um Die Grossen Seen Des Aquatorialen Afrika Und Den Livingstone-Fluss Abwirts
Nach Dem Atlantischen Ozean. Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1891.
31. Linant de Bellefonds, E., "Itin6raire et notes de ... ; Voyage De Service Fait Entre Le Poste
Militaire De Fatiko Et Le Capitale De M'tesa, Roi d'Uganda", Bulletin Trimestriel de la
Soci6t6 KhIdiviale de G6ographie du Caire, 1876, pp. 20-92.
32. Chazan, Naomi, "The Early State In Africa: The Asante Case" in S. N. Eisenstadt, M.
Abitbol and N. Chazan, eds., The Early State In African Perspective. Leiden: Brill, 1988,
pp. 60-97.
33. Khazanov, Anatoly M., "Ethnicity And Ethnic Groups In Early States" in M. van Bakel,
R. Hagesteijn and P. van de Velde, eds., Pivot Politics: Changing Cultural Identities In
Early State Formation Processes. Amsterdam: Spinhuis, 1994, pp. 67-87.
34. Ibid., p. 74.
35. Schaedel, Richard, "Early State Of The Incas" in H. J. M. Claessen and P. Skalnik, eds.,
The Early State. The Hague: Mouton, 1978, pp. 289-320.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

36 I Claessen

36. Cohen, Ronald, "State And Ethnicity: The Dialectics Of Culture And Policy" in M. van
Bakel, R. Hagesteijn and P. van de Velde, eds., Pivot Politics: Changing Cultural
Identities In Early State Formation, Amsterdam: Spinhuis, 1994, pp. 47-66.
37. Ibid., p. 55.
38. Kurtz, Donald V., "Strategies Of Legitimation And The Aztec State". Ethnology 23:301-
314, 1984.
39. Kurtz, Donald V., "Cultural Identity, Politics And Legitimation" in M. van Bakel, R.
Hagesteijn and P. van de Velde, eds., Pivot Politics: Changing Cultural Identities In
Early State Formation Processes. Amsterdam: Spinhuis, 1994, pp. 31-46.
40. Kurtz, Donald V., "Strategies Of Legitimation And The Aztec State", Ethnology 23:301-
314, 1984.
41. Conrad, Geoffrey W., "Inca Imperialism: The Great Simplification And The Accident Of
Empire" in A.A. Demarest and G.W. Conrad, eds., Ideology and Pre-Columbian
Civilizations. New Mexico: School of American Research Press, 1992, pp. 159-74.
42. Wood, Ian. 1994 The Merovingian kingdoms, 450-751. London: Longman.
43. Claessen, Henri J. M., Verdwenen Koninkrijken En Verloren Beschavingen. Assen: Van
Gorcum, 1991.
44. Hagesteijn, Ren6e R., Circles Of Kings; Political Dynamics In Early Continental
Southeast Asia. Dordrecht: Foris Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-,
Land- en Volkenkunde 138., 1989.
45. Roberts, Simon, Order And Dispute: An Introduction To Legal Anthropology.
Harmondsworth/Middlesex: Pelican, 1979, p. 140.
46. Claessen, Henri J. M., "The Early State: A Structural Approach" in H. J. M. Claessen and
P. Skalnik, eds., The Early State. The Hague: Mouton, 1978, p. 561.
47. Wormald, Patrick, "Lex Scripta and Verbum Regis: Legislation and Germanic kingship
from Euric to Cnut" in P.H. Sawyer and I.N. Wood, eds., Early Medieval Kingship.
Leeds: The School of History, 1977, pp. 122-123.
48. Claessen, Henri J. M. ibid., p. 561.
49. Roscoe, John, The Baganda. An Account Of Their Native Customs And Beliefs. London:
Cass, 1911, p. 261.
50. Ashe, Robert P., Two Kings Of Uganda: Or Life By The Shores Of Victoria Nyanza.
London: Missionary Society, 1889, p. 293.
51. Roscoe, John, ibid., p. 261.
52. Moore, Sally Falk, Power and Property in Inca Peru. New York: Columbia University
Press, 1958, PP. 115 ff.
53. Ibid., Appendix.
54. Ortega Morejon, "Diego De And Christobal De Castro. Bericht Und Erklarung Uber Die
Regierung Des Tales Von Chincha Und Der Angrenzenden Taler Vor Und Unter Der
Herrschaft Der Inkas, Bis Zur Ankunft Der Christen" in H. Trimborn, ed., Quellen Zur
Kulturgeschichte Des Prdkolumbishen Amerika. Stuttgart: Schr6der 1558 1936, p. 252.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

The U.N. Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda Concludes its First

Case: A Monumental Step Towards Truth



Over the past year, the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has made
significant progress in apprehending and prosecuting high ranking persons responsible for the
1994 genocide of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda'. The first case to be concluded at the
ICTR, the case against Rwandan ex-premier Jean Kambanda, is extremely important for
learning the truth about what happened in Rwanda during those fateful 100 days in 1994.
Kambanda's extensive admissions of guilt should dispel forever any doubts about the
occurrence of an intentionally orchestrated genocide in Rwanda. Kambanda's confession, and
his willingness to offer testimony in other cases, is significant because it will probably influence
the pleas of the other thirty Rwandan defendants in ICTR custody.
Kambanda is the first person in history to accept responsibility for genocide before an
international court. He did so fifty years after the UN adopted the Convention on the
Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948). His case is of monumental
significance not only to Rwandans, but to all those concerned with this most dreadful of crimes.


On 4 September 1998, the ICTR sentenced Jean Kambanda, Rwanda's former prime
minister, to the maximum penalty of life in prison for his role in the 1994 massacre of more than
800,000 Rwandans, most of them ethnic Tutsi. A panel of three judges constituting the trial
chamber concluded that the shocking and abominable nature of Kambanda's crimes warranted
the maximum sentence the court could impose. "The chamber is of the opinion that genocide
represents the crime of crimes, which must be taken into account when delivering the sentence,"
presiding Judge Laity Kama told Kambanda2. Kama went on to say that although Kambanda
had cooperated with the prosecution, voluntarily confessing in May 1997 to six genocide-related
crimes and crimes against humanity, the gravity of his actions negated any mitigating
Kambanda is the highest-ranking former political leader in the tribunal's custody. He was
born on 10 October 1955 at Mubumbano in the Prefecture of Butare3. He has a wife and two
children. He holds a Diploma d'Ingenieur Commercial. From May 1989 to April 1994, he
worked in the Union des Banques Populaires du Rwanda, rising to the position of Director of

Paul J. Magnarella is Professor of Anthropology and Legal Studies, University of Florida. He currently serves a
Special Counsel to the Association of Third World Studies.
http:/ /www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v2/v2i3a5.pdf

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

38 I Magnarella

the network of those banks. He was Vice President of the Butare Section of the MDR
(Mouvement Democratique Republicain) and a member of its Political Bureau. He became
Prime Minister of the Interim Government on 9 April 1994, two days after the mysterious
downing of the plane carrying then-President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President
Cyprian Ntayamira. Habyarimana's death signaled the beginning of three months of carnage.
Kambanda's predecessor, Agathe Uwilingiyamana, and the dozen Belgian UN troops protecting
her were slaughtered by extremist Hutu shortly after Habyarimana's plane crash.


At the request of the ICTR, Kenyan authorities arrested Kambanda along with six other
Rwandan genocide suspects on 18 July 1997. All seven suspects were arrested in Nairobi, where
many former Rwandan officials have lived since the genocidal regime was overthrown by the
Rwandese Popular Front (RPF) in July 1994. Another former Cabinet minister, Pauline
Nyiramasuhuko, the interim family welfare minister, was also arrested with Kambanda, as was
her son, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali. The four other suspects seized included two senior military
officials, Col. Gratien Kabiligi and Commander Aloys Ntabakuze, Sylvain Nsabimana, prefect
of Butare, the site of many anti-Tutsi massacres, and Hassan Ngeze, a prominent media figure
accused of distributing materials inciting violence against the Tutsi4. The suspects were
transferred to the ICTR's detention center in Arusha, Tanzania, where they are being held.
The sudden arrests signaled a change in Kenya's policy toward Rwanda's RPF-led
government and the ICTR. Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi had previously done little to
transfer any suspected Rwandan war criminals who sought shelter in his country. International
pressure and Moi's political problems at home, however, seem to have caused a change. The
arrests meant that the ICTR, after a slow start, now has more high ranking suspects in custody
than does its sister institution, The UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former
Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the Hague.Genocide, as defined in the Convention for the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and in the Statute of the ICTR, is an "intent crime." It
includes intentionally killing or causing serious physical or mental harm to members of a
national, racial, or religious group with the intent to destroy that group, in whole or in part.
Kambanda admitted that extermination of Tutsi was a policy of his government. A potential
defense for many Rwandan genocide suspects is that the 1994 killings were part of an ordinary
war or civil upheaval, without any intent to destroy a particular ethnic group, in whole or in
part. Kambanda's confession will affect all ICTR suspects as well as the over 100,000 suspects
imprisoned in Rwanda. Those who are actually guilty of participating in the genocide will have
little choice but to admit their crimes or modify their defenses in the hope of receiving more
lenient sentences.
Kambanda is also expected to offer answers to major questions surrounding the mysterious
downing of the plane that carried both Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and
Burundian President Cyprian Ntayamira to their deaths. Kambanda should be able to offer
intricate details of the planning and execution of the genocide.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

The U.N. Tribunal for Rwanda Concludes its First Case I 39


On 1 May 1998, during his initial appearance before an ICTR Trial Chamber in Arusha,
Tanzania, Jean Kambanda pleaded guilty to the six counts contained in his indictment, namely
genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide,
complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity (murder), punishable under Article 3 (a) of the
ICTR Statute, and crimes against humanity (extermination), punishable under Article 3 (b) of
the ICTR Statute5.
Together with his guilty plea, on 28 April 1998 Jean Kambanda submitted to the Chamber a
document entitled "Plea Agreement between Jean Kambanda and the Office of the Prosecutor,"
signed by himself and his defense counsel, Oliver Michael Inglis of Cameroon. In his plea, Jean
Kambanda admitted all the relevant facts alleged in the indictment.
In particular, (i) he admitted that there was in Rwanda in 1994 a widespread and
systematic attack against the civilian population of Tutsi, with the intent to exterminate them.
Mass killings of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi occurred in Rwanda, including women and
children, old and young. They were pursued and killed at places where they had sought refuge,
such as prefectures, commune offices, schools, churches and stadiums.

(ii) Jean Kambanda acknowledged that as Prime Minister of the Interim Government of Rwanda
from 8 April 1994 to 17 July 1994, he was head of the twenty member Council of Ministers and
exercised de jure authority and control over the members of his government. The government
determined and controlled national policy and had the administration and armed forces at its
disposal. As Prime Minister, he also exercised de jure and de facto authority over senior civil
servants and senior officers in the military.

(iii) Jean Kambanda acknowledged that he participated in meetings of the Council of Ministers,
cabinet meetings, and meetings of prefets where the course of massacres were actively followed,
but no action was taken to stop them. He was involved in the decision of the government for
visits by designated ministers to prefectures as part of the government's security efforts and in
order to call on the civilian population to be vigilant in detecting the enemy and its accomplices.
Jean Kambanda also acknowledged participation in the dismissal of the prefet of Butare because
the latter had opposed the massacres and the appointment of a new prefet to ensure the spread
of massacre of Tutsi in Butare.

(iv) Jean Kambanda acknowledged his participation in a high level security meeting at
Gitarama in April 1994 between the President, T. Sindikubwabo, Kambanda himself, and the
Chief of Staff of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) and others. FAR's support in the fight
against the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and its "accomplices" (understood to be the Tutsi and
moderate Hutu) was discussed.
In addition, (v) Jean Kambanda acknowledged that he issued the Directive on Civil
Defense addressed to the prefets on 25 May 1994 (Directive No. 024-0273, disseminated on 8
June 1994). He further admitted that this directive encouraged and reinforced the Interahamwe
who were committing mass killings of the Tutsi civilian population in the prefectures. Jean

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

40 I Magnarella

Kambanda further acknowledged that by this directive the Government assumed the
responsibility for the actions of the Interahamwe.

(vi) Jean Kambanda acknowledged that before 6 April 1994, political parties in concert with the
Rwandan Armed Forces organized and began the military training of the youth wings of the
MRND and CDR political parties (Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi, respectively) with the
intent to use them in the massacres that ensued. Furthermore, Jean Kambanda acknowledged
that the Government headed by him distributed arms and ammunition to these groups.
Additionally, Jean Kambanda confirmed that roadblocks manned by mixed patrols of the
Rwandan Armed Forces and the Interahamwe were set up in Kigali and elsewhere as soon as
the death of President J.B. Habyarimana was announced on the radio. He also acknowledged
the use of the media as part of the plan to mobilize and incite the population to commit
massacres of the civilian Tutsi population. That apart, Jean Kambanda acknowledged the
existence of groups within military, militia, and political structures which had planned the
elimination of the Tutsi and Hutu political opponents.

(vii) He acknowledged that, on or about 21 June 1994, in his capacity as Prime Minister, he gave
clear support to Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), with the knowledge that it
was a radio station whose broadcasts incited killing, the commission of serious bodily or mental
harm to, and persecution of Tutsi and moderate Hutu. On this occasion, speaking on this radio
station, Jean Kambanda, as Prime Minister, encouraged the RTLM to continue to incite the
massacres of the Tutsi civilian population, specifically stating that this radio station was "an
indispensable weapon in the fight against the enemy."

(viii) Jean Kambanda acknowledged that following numerous meetings of the Council of
Ministers between 8 April 1994 and 17 July 1994, he as Prime Minister, instigated, aided and
abetted the Prefets, Bourgmestres, and members of the population to commit massacres and
killings of civilians, in particular Tutsi and moderate Hutu.
Furthermore, between 24 April 1994 and 17 July 1994, Jean Kambanda and Ministers of his
Government visited several prefectures, such as Butare, Gitarama (Nyabikenke), Gikongoro,
Gisenyi, and Kibuye to incite and encourage the population to commit these massacres. He
congratulated the people who had committed these killings.

(ix) Jean Kambanda acknowledged that on 3 May 1994, he was personally asked to take steps to
protect children who had survived the massacre at a hospital, but he did not respond. On the
same day, after the meeting, the children were killed. He acknowledged that he failed in his
duty to ensure the safety of the children and the population of Rwanda.

(x) Jean Kambanda admits that in his particular role of making public engagements in the name
of the government, he addressed public meetings, and the media, at various places in Rwanda
directly and publicly inciting the population to commit acts of violence against Tutsi and
moderate Hutu. He acknowledged uttering the incendiary phrase which was subsequently
repeatedly broadcast, "you refuse to give your blood to your country and the dogs drink it for

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

The U.N. Tribunal for Rwanda Concludes its First Case I 41

nothing" (Wima igihugu amaraso imbwa zikayanywera ubusa).

(xi) Jean Kambanda acknowledged that he ordered the setting up of roadblocks with the
knowledge that these roadblocks were used to identify Tutsi for elimination, and that as Prime
Minister he participated in the distribution of arms and ammunition to members of political
parties, militias and the population knowing that these weapons would be used in the
perpetration of massacres of civilian Tutsi.

(xii) Jean Kambanda acknowledged that he knew or should have known that persons for whom
he was responsible were committing crimes of massacre upon Tutsi and that he failed to
prevent them or punish the perpetrators. He admitted that he was an eye witness to the
massacres of Tutsi and also had knowledge of them from regular reports of prefets, and cabinet


In order to verify the validity of the guilty plea, the Chamber asked Kambanda: (i) if his
guilty plea was entered voluntarily, freely and knowingly, without pressure, threats, or
promises; (ii) if he clearly understood the charges against him as well as the consequences of his
guilty plea; and (iii) if his guilty plea was unequivocal; in other words, if he was aware that the
said plea could not be refuted by any line of defense6. Kambanda replied in the affirmative to all
these questions. On the strength of these answers, the Chamber found Kambanda guilty on the
six counts brought against him and sentenced him to life in prison. In determining the sentence,
the Trial Chamber took note of Rwandan law and its own Statute, which proscribes the death
sentence. The Trial Chamber issued its Judgment and Sentence on 4 September 1998.
Both Kambanda and his attorney, Michael Inglis, were surprised and disappointed by the
court's life sentence. Inglis had sought a sentence of two years for Kambanda and said he
thought his client might receive between ten and fifteen years. The defense lawyer argued that
the former prime minister had been forced to take office and was merely a puppet who was
trapped and acted under duress with diminished responsibility.
Kambanda's defense counsel offered three factors in mitigation: Kambanda's plea of guilty;
his remorse, which he claims is evident from the act of pleading guilty; and co-operation with
the Prosecutor's office. The Prosecutor confirmed that Kambanda had extended substantial co-
operation and invaluable information to the Prosecutor. The Prosecutor had asked the Trial
Chamber to regard as a significant mitigating factor not only the substantial co-operation so far
extended, but also future co-operation when Jean Kambanda testifies for the prosecution in the
trials of other accused. The Plea Agreement signed by the parties contained no promises with
respect to sentence. That is solely at the discretion of the Trial Chamber.
According to the Prosecutor, Kambanda had expressed his intention to plead guilty
immediately upon his arrest and transfer to the Tribunal, on 18 July 1997. Kambanda declared
in the Plea Agreement that he had resolved to plead guilty even before his arrest in Kenya and
that his prime motivation for pleading guilty was the profound desire to tell the truth, as the
truth was the only way to restore national unity and reconciliation in Rwanda. Kambanda

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

42 I Magnarella

condemned the massacres that occurred in Rwanda and considers his confession as a
contribution toward the restoration of peace in Rwanda.
The Chamber maintained, however, that Jean Kambanda had offered no explanation for his
voluntary participation in the genocide; nor had he expressed contrition, regret or sympathy for
the victims in Rwanda, even when given the opportunity to do so by the Chamber, during the
hearing of 3 September 1998. Both the Prosecution and Defense had urged the Chamber to
interpret Kambanda's guilty pleas as a signal of his remorse, repentance and acceptance of
responsibility for his actions. They also requested the Chamber to favorably consider that
Kambanda's guilty plea had also occasioned judicial economy, saved victims the trauma and
emotions of trial, and enhanced the administration of justice.
The Trial Chamber, however,was apparently unmoved by these arguments. It stressed that
the principle must always remain that the reduction of the penalty stemming from the
application of mitigating circumstances must not in any way diminish the gravity of the offense.
It noted that under Rwandan law, Kambanda would have qualified for the death sentence, and
Rwandan law would not have permitted any leniency.
On 7 September 1998, Kambanda's defense attorney filed an intent to appeal his sentence to
the five judge Appellate Chamber, which the ICTR shares with the ICTY7. In late September,
Kambanda wrote a letter to the clerk of the ICTR accusing the Tribunal of failing to protect his
family as it had promised. He also released his lawyer, Inglis, accusing him of having failed to
properly prepare a defense8.


Kambanda's appeal for a review of his sentence will have to be prepared by another
attorney and will most probably be reviewed by the Tribunal Appellate Chamber. The review
will place the judges in a difficult position. On the one hand, they might like to be able to offer
those who confess and cooperate with the Tribunal the incentive of a reduced sentence. On the
other hand, the Tribunal's and the UN's relationship with Rwanda's RPF-led government has
been strained from the start. Rwandan officials have complained about the Tribunal's slow pace
and its inability to sentence to death those most responsible for the genocide. Should the
Appellate Chamber decide to reduce former Premier Kambanda's sentence from the Tribunal's
maximum of life in prison, the Rwandan government and many Rwandan citizens will become
even more resentful.
Regardless of the final determination of sentence, Kambanda's extensive confession
concerning his government's intentional policy of genocide constitutes the fundamental fact
upon which future ICTR prosecutions will rest. His confession also destroys the creditability, if
it existed, of revisionist historians, who claim a genocide never took place.


1. For background to the ICTR, see Paul J. Magnarella, "Judicial Responses to Genocide:
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Rwandan Genocide Courts,"

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

The U.N. Tribunal for Rwanda Concludes its First Case I 43

African Studies Quarterly, Vol. 1, Issue 1, n. pag., (May 1997). Online. Internet. Available
2. Ann M. Simmons, "Rwandan Ex-Premier Gets Life Term," Los Angeles Times, 5
September 1998, P. A4, Lexis-Nexis News File.
3. The facts in this section come from: THE PROSECUTOR VERSUS JEAN KAMBANDA,
Case no.: ICTR 97-23-S, JUDGMENT and SENTENCE (ICTR, 4 Sept. 1998).
4. "Rwanda: Top Figures of Former regime Arrested," ICTR/INFO-9-2, 18 July 1997, Inter
Press Service; "Rwanda-UN: Tribunal Nabs Former Prime Minister, Six Others," 18 July
1997, Lexis-Nexis News File.
5. The information in this section comes from: THE PROSECUTOR VERSUS JEAN
KAMBANDA, Case no.: ICTR 97-23-S, JUDGMENT and SENTENCE (ICTR, 4 Sept.
6. Ibid.
7. ICTR Update No. 12, 10 Sept. 1998, Arusha, TZ.
8. Agence France Presse, "Rwandan Ex-Premier Slams UN War Crimes Tribunal Over Lack
Of Protection," 24 Sept. 1998, Lexis-Nexis News File.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Can the US State Department Surrender Rwandan Fugitives to

the UN Criminal Tribunal?



In an Order filed on 7 August 1998 in the US District Court for the Southern District of
Texas, Laredo Division, Judge John D. Rainey ruled that Rwandan fugitive Elizaphan
Ntakirutimana is properly extraditable to the UN International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)1.
Judge Rainey's Order reversed a 17 December 1997 ruling by Magistrate Marcel Notzon, who
had held that the executive agreement supported by congressional legislation "enabling" the US
government to surrender or extradite indicted fugitives to the ICTR was unconstitutional and
that the evidence in support of the charges against Mtakirutimana did meet the probable cause
Allegedly, Ntakirutimana, the elderly former pastor of a Seventh-Day Adventist Church in
Rwanda's Kibuye Prefecture, had conspired with and assisted Hutu militias in the murder of
hundreds of his own Tutsi parishioners, who had sought refuge in his church during the height
of the genocidal rampage in Rwanda on April 16, 1994. Shortly thereafter, Ntakirutimana
allegedly led bands of armed Hutu into the countryside of the Bisesero region to hunt down
and kill those Tutsi who had survived the earlier attack. He subsequently left Rwanda,
eventually coming to the US in December 1994 where he joined one of his sons, an
anesthesiologist living in Laredo, Texas.
As a result of its investigations, the ICTR indicted Ntakirutimana on 20 June 1996 and
again on 7 September 1996 on charges of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, crimes
against humanity, and serious violations of Article 3 Common to the Geneva Conventions and
of Additional Protocol II thereof.
After the ICTR's indictment of Ntakirutimana and its request for his surrender were
properly certified by the US Ambassador in the Netherlands (the location of the ICTR's chief
prosecutor) and transmitted to the US Secretary of State, FBI agents arrested the former pastor
in Texas on September 26, 1996. He remained in jail from that date until his release on
December 17, 1997. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who serves as defense counsel
for Ntakirutimana, claims the ICTR is illegal and that his client is falsely accused.
Ntakirutimana's release embarrassed the U.S. government. While the U.S. was
encouraging, even pressuring, African countries to transfer Rwandan suspect over to the ICTR,
one of its own courts had freed the only Rwandan indictee in US custody. Determined to correct
this situation, the US government refiled its request for surrender on 29 January 1998, seeking

Paul J. Magnarella is Professor of Anthropology and Legal Studies, University of Florida. He currently serves a
Special Counsel to the Association of Third World Studies.
http:/ /www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v2/v2i3a6.pdf

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

46 I Magnarella

review by an Article Three judge in the Laredo division. The court granted the government's
request for review and issued an arrest warrant for Ntakirutimana on 26 February 1998.
In his August 1998 Order, Judge Rainey concluded that the Government's second request
for the surrender of Ntakirutimana was properly before the court. He concluded that, given the
nature of extradition proceedings, res judicata would be inappropriate; the second request
would be considered de nova; and the previous magistrate's opinion would not be dispositive3.
Contrary to Magistrate Notzon, who maintained that extradition could be executed only
under the terms of a valid treaty, Judge Rainey held that the US Constitution does not require a
treaty for extradition; the Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that extradition may be effected
either by treaty or by statute; allowing surrender pursuant to either treaty or statute is
consistent with the Constitution's provision that treaties and statutes are entitled to equal
dignity as the supreme law of the land; and the Executive's power is at its highest when his
actions are approved by Congress, as they were in this case4.
With respect to the issue of probable cause, the judge held that the Government's
supplemental declaration offering more detailed and corroborating evidence of the alleged
crimes, as well as an explicit explanation of the conditions under which the evidence was
gathered was sufficient to establish probable cause to sustain the charges in the Tribunal's
Consequently, the Court certified to the US Secretary of State that Ntakirutimana may
properly be surrendered to the ICTR, and ordered that Ntakirutimana be arrested and detained.
His transfer, however, was delayed for thirty days to provide his counsel an opportunity to file
a habeas petition. In September, Ntakirutimana's counsel told this writer that he had filed such
a petition. Hence, the final outcome of this case remains to be determined.
Nevertheless, ICTR Registrar Agwu Ukiwe Okali was buoyed by Judge Rainey's decision.
He publicly thanked the US Government for its efforts to cooperate and render judicial
assistance to the ICTR6.


1. In the Matter of Surrender of Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, U.S. Dist. Ct. Southern Dist. of
TX, Laredo Div., Civil Act. No. L-98-43. (7 Aug. 1998).
2. In the Matter of Surrender of Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, U.S. Dist. Ct. Southern Dist. of
TX, Laredo Div., Misc. No. L-96-5 (17 Dec. 1997). For a discussion of this ruling, see Paul
J. Magnarella, "Is US Cooperation with the UN Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Unconstitutional?" African Studies Quarterly Vol. 1, Issue 4 (1998). Online. Internet.
Available http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/vl/4/6.htm. For background to the ICTR, see 79.
"Judicial Responses to Genocide: The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and
the Rwandan Genocide Courts", African Studies Quarterly Vol. 1, Issue 1, (1997). Online.
Internet. Available http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/vl/1/2.htm
3. In the Matter of Surrender of Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, p. 6.
4. Ibid., p. 17. The Court relied on such cases as: Grin v. Shine 187 US 181 (1902); Valentine
v. United States 299 US 5 (1936); United States v. Rauscher 290 US 276 (1933); United

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

Can the US Department of State Surrender Rwandan Refugees I 47

States v. Walczak 783 F. 2D 852 (9th Cir. 1986); Dames & Moore v. Regan 453 US 654
5. In the Matter of Surrender of Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, pp. 32-52.
6. "U.S. praised for Surrendering Rwandan Genocide Suspect," Xinhua News Agency (6
Aug. 1998), Lexis-Nexis News File.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998


Women in Africa and the African Diaspora. 1996. Rosalyn Terborg-Penn and Andrea Benton
Rushing, eds., Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press. 286 pp. $17.95 paperback.

Women in Africa and the African Diaspora is an eloquently illuminating addition to the thin
bibliography on black feminism. In this book, eighteen essays by eminent black female scholars
explore important segments of the black woman's life and give a succinct judicious and fair-
minded portrait of the trials, tribulations, and accomplishments of women of African ancestry
in Africa itself, and in the diaspora. Split into three sections, the story that emerges weaves
around themes such as the theory and method for the study of black feminism, the black
woman's status and her role in her native African society, the achievements of the African
diaspora women in various fields, the sometimes terrifying agonies of black women in various
walks of life, and a comparative study of the images of black women in Western literature.
The Western reader, used to judging other peoples not by their own standards but by what
Caucasians deem appropriate, would find the essays in Part II of the book particularly
intriguing. This section of the book is allocated to Africa, a continent whose history has for so
long been distorted, misinterpreted, and misunderstood in Western circles. Whether it is Niara
Sudarkasa's piece on "The 'Status of Women' in Indigenous Africa Societies," Andrea Benton
Rushing's essay "On Becoming a Feminist: Learning From Africa," or the jointly produced piece
by Harriette Pipes McAdoo and Miriam K. Were on "Extended Family Involvement in Urban
Kenyan Professional Women," the results are illuminating portrayals of the least-understood,
but often-condemned aspects of African culture.
Taking advantage of various research tools in their favor, tools such as Rushing's ability to
read the Yoruba language, the time spent among the Yorubas of Western Nigeria, personal
contacts with African feminists and an inside understanding of their female culture, the
contributors interrogate some common, but erroneous assumptions of Western feminists about
the African woman. Rushing's study, in fact, reveals striking similarities in the African, African-
American, and Haitian women's "combination of fierce dedication to their children, dawn-to-
dark work days, strong religions faith, and mouths that were...weapons" (p.121). She discusses
the matrilineall, matrifocal" culture of the Akan-speaking people of Ghana and reveals the
powerful role of the Queen Mother, the economic power of often-unschooled market women
and the political leverage it gave them (p.123), and uses those examples to dispel the once-fast-
held notion that African women were silent drudges who were subjected to bearing many
children, to the practice of female circumcision, and to accepting their husbands polygamous
privileges unquestioningly.


University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448


Niara Sudarkasa's analysis of the status of women in indigenous African societies reveals
that, except for the Islamized societies of sub-Saharan Africa, women were conspicuous in high
places in pre-colonial times. She says women in pre-colonial Africa were queen-mothers, queen-
sisters, princesses, chiefs, and holders of other offices in towns and villages (p.73). All of the
essays dealing with the role of women in traditional pre-colonial Africa agree that African
women played far more important roles in the economies of their societies, where many were
involved in farming, trade, and craft production, than previously conceived in Europe and
The contributors caution against the presumption that black women worked outside the
home solely because of economic necessity rather than due to the choice of tradition, the kind of
presumption that seems to say that the black woman, like her white counterpart, would choose
the role of housewife and mother over that of a working wife and mother. Everywhere, black
female and male roles are shown to compliment each other.
Studies in parts III and IV of the book show that the black woman in Africa and in the
diaspora had well established rights long before the era of female liberation movements. The
idea of giving these women respected rights was not borrowed from Europe, as some analysts
have labored to write. The misconceptions about the black family, that became widespread
among Europeans and Euro-Americans in the nineteenth century and are still very much alive
today have fooled many into studying the black woman from the perspective of the white
woman. They failed to take cognizance of the fact that the place of the black woman was not
just in the kitchen. Thus in order to give the academic world a rational understanding of the
role of the black woman, these lady-scholars took an Afro-centric view of the black woman.
There is a clear explication of certain vital themes in their writings: the impact of slavery
and colonialism on women in Africa and the diaspora, the role of women-singers in African
American poetry, images of black women in New World literature, African Diaspora women as
black culture bearers, and their patterns of social and political interactions. There is no denial in
the book of the disadvantages that black women suffered as a consequence of the social system
that was rooted in centuries of contact with the white man as evidenced in the transatlantic
slave trade. That trade laid the groundwork for European imperialism and forces of
modernization which for so long denied black women equal access to formal education.
The book is a lucid popularization of a dramatic and enlightening story; the story is
presented both accurately and honestly, critically as well as understandingly. The book
certainly offers informative reading for university undergraduates and the general public.
Freshmen with little or no backgrounds in Africana studies as well as lay readers shall be
attracted not only by the intrinsic interest of the story, but by the interpretations and conclusion.
At the college level, the book can be used not only to augment lectures in introductory courses,
but also as a focal point for a more detailed approach to topics in Black Studies.

Fuabeh P. Fonge
Department of History
North Carolina A&T State University

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998


Lethal Aid: The Illusion of Socialism and Self Reliance in Tanzania. 1997.Severine M.
Rugumamu. Trenton, NJ: African World Press. 256 pp. $69.95 hardcover.

Lethal Aid is an important contribution to the study of development assistance and, in
particular, the resultant failures and pernicious side-effects of this assistance. Using the
experience of Tanzania, an East African nation that historically has languished at the bottom of
world economic development tables, Severine Rugumamu contends that aid must be
understood within the geo-political context. Rugumamu presents four main arguments: first,
"foreign aid cannot be understood outside of the global political context"; second, the aid regime
began not as long-term aid to the south, but rather as short-term aid to post-war Europe; third,
the Cold War created not only security needs and a concomitant competition for allies, but a
related competition to assert the supremacy of economic systems; fourth, recipients of aid,
hardly innocents, had ambitions of their own in accepting assistance (pp.7-10). The net effect,
however, according to Rugumamu, was a culture of dependence that "eroded the self-
confidence, creativity and pride of the citizens and the leaders and, in the process, saw donors
usurp the role of managing national development policy" (p.10).
This usurpation comprises the first facet of lethality that Rugumamu's title alludes to. Lethal
Aid draws from structural power theory which asserts that power relations in the international
system are based on a hierarchy which is sub-divided into the powerful and rich and the weak
and poor, and secondly that the inequalities and asymmetries of power are necessary conditions
for control (p.26). In turn, this leads to three observations by Rugumamu: first, aid politics are
governed by the differentials in power among actors; second, foreign aid is, and has been, a
major tool of statecraft used by actors to advance their (and not necessarily the recipients')
interests; and third, aid recipients are not pawns in a game, but retain agency and rationality as
they pursue domestic interests (pp. 87-88). It is this conjunction of donor motivations for
control, particularly during the Cold War, and the need on the part of domestic elites for
resources with which to bolster their positions, that rendered aid "lethal".
The state of Tanzania emerged from independence institutionally and organizationally
weak and, in particular, short of skilled manpower (p.96). This shortage meant that the
government was unable to independently analyze sectoral needs and oftentimes need
assessments were carried out by ill-informed donors. On top of this, past experiences with the
conditionalities of bilateral aid laid plain the real costs of accepting assistance (p.121). Realizing
the weakness of the state and its relative powerlessness, Tanzania adopted the Arusha
Declaration as a statement of Tanzania's national philosophy. The movement it engendered,
known as Ujamaa, was based on socialism and self-reliance. Although well-meant, subsequent
implementation decisions that proved disastrous in tandem with economic crises left Tanzania
poorer than before and more dependent on aid. The net result was that Tanzania was less able
to resist the more pernicious effects of the aid regime at the same time as it was increasingly
dependent upon it. The effect, according to Rugumamu, was an inexorable vitiation of the
Tanzanian capacity to shape and direct development within its borders (p.200).
Turning to empirical evidence, Rugumamu uses cases studies to underscore this vitiation
and to show how development projects were virtually removed from national oversight and
run almost exclusively by donors. Looking at projects sponsored by the Norwegian, Danish,

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998


and Swedish international development organizations, he paints a vivid picture of good
intentions gone awry.
The first example, the Mbegani fisheries center, funded by Norway, was a "poorly
conceived, ill-planned [and] designed project" (p.227). The project was meant to transfer
Norwegian fishing expertise to artisanal fishers of the Tanzanian coast. Unfortunately, the
"Norwegian experts lacked both the necessary background information about the fisheries
industry in Tanzania and the expertise to determine appropriate solutions" (p.227). The
Norwegians brought with them facilities and expertise appropriate for modern refrigeration
practices, even though they were working with fishers who relied on smoking and drying fish.
In the end, the Mbegani center was "perceived by neighboring artisanal fishers as a foreign
high-technology island in their midst with no marked economic impact on their lives" (p.228).
Rugumamu's second example, the Sokoine University of Agriculture, funded by Denmark,
was meant to provide training in livestock methods and animal husbandry practices
appropriate for Tanzania. Yet from the outset, the Danish experts held sway due to a lack of
local participation in planning the college and the related lack of local experts who could
translate Tanzanian livestock practices into appropriate curricula (p.232). The result was an ill-
fitting adaptation of Danish curriculum to local conditions that never fully worked and took
tremendous resources to sustain.
As in Mbegani, Sokoine was dominated by donors until assistance was phased out, at
which time the government found itself with a school that had never met its intended role and
was too expensive to sustain intact (p.244).
The last of Rugumamu's cases concerns the Tanzanian Central Bureau of Statistics
(TAKWIMU) and the assistance it received from Sweden. In this example, most of the project
goals were met, and the Bureau did vastly improve its scope and capability, but even in this
"success" story, we see the seeds of disaster. For example, although the bureau did increase its
vehicle fleet for data collection, this increase was almost entirely funded by the Swedes and
little provision was made by TAKWIMU for the replacement of aging vehicles, to say nothing of
equipment or retiring staff. Clearly these gains, originally purchased by the Swedes, were going
to be hard to maintain. The point is that progress can be had with sustained donor interest, but
without significant local participation and investment this progress proves illusory once donor
support is withdrawn.
Rugumanu concludes that the only viable way for Tanzania, and other states in similar
predicaments, to avoid the slow erosion of national sovereignty is by turning to a strategy of
self-reliance (p.277). As Rugumamu demonstrates, aid dependence slowly erodes national
capabilities to govern and rule and undermines moral authority. States that wish to avoid this
diminution have the option to delink and pursue a self-reliance strategy. He argues that this
may already be happening by default.
Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) comprises just 1.5 percent of world trade
(p.270). Even though the self-reliance strategy was a flop in Tanzania, Rugumamu argues, this
should not dissuade us from the intrinsic merits of the strategy (p.269). If dependent states want
to avoid or lessen the toxic effects of the international aid regime, Rugumamu's book provides
an object lesson on some of the mistakes to avoid. For scholars of East Africa and development

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998


administration, Lethal Aid is a noteworthy treatment of the historical, political, and economic
aspects of development and how it has so often failed to deliver on its promises.

Christopher Johnson
Department of Political Science
University of Florida

South Africa Limits to Change: The Political Economy of Transformation. 1998. Hein Marais.
London and New York: Zed Press. 284 pp. $25.00 paperback.

Many observers of South African politics are dismayed by the economic policies recently
adopted by the African National Congress (ANC) government. These analysts fear that the
promise of the struggle has been sacrificed to a market-oriented economic policy that is tailored
to the demands of national and global capital. In other words, the ANC has been captured by
Arguing in this vein, Hein Marais offers an analysis of the process of transformation in two
parts. The first portion of his book outlines South Africa's social and economic structure under
apartheid, and discusses the vicissitudes of the popular struggle against that system. The
second portion of the book builds on this foundation to argue that the ANC's doomed strategy
led the party to dispense with an emphasis on state-led growth and social expenditure that was
at the core of the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP). The promise of the RDP
was rejected in favor of the pro-business Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR)
program, betraying the ANC's core constituency, the working class poor.
Marais's discussion of South African political economy serves as a fairly standard "radical"
analysis of the unholy alliance between South African capital and the apartheid state. Not much
is new here, although it does serve as a helpful condensed summary of this approach. In
contrast, Marais's interpretation of popular resistance offers a relatively new scholarly trend
that might be called the "radical revisionist" history of the struggle. In this view, the ANC has
consistently betrayed the black working class, its true constituency. Rather than emphasizing
class-based mobilization, the ANC has relied on a nationalist approach that has relegated the
labor movement to a secondary role, and encouraged a futile insurrectionismm," or what Robert
Fine has called 'boycottism."
The ANC certainly deserves some pointed criticism. There is no shortage of histories that
"celebrate" the organization, lionize its leadership, and generally rely on sycophancy rather than
historical analysis. With the benefit of hindsight, many of the ANC's tactical and strategic
blunders become clear. Marais points out, for example, that resistance in the 1950s remained
fragmented, and that the ANC failed to capitalize on popular militancy in this period. Marais
also criticizes the ANC for its decision to embark on armed struggle in the 1960s. This position
makes less sense, resting in part on the very dubious claim that the ANC might instead have
moved into a Gramscian "War of Position," which would have entailed an attempt to create a
proletarian mass movement. Virtually all discussions of the 1960s suggest that the state's

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998


extraordinary repression in this period squelched even hints of public dissent, so a "War of
Position" was not really an option. Marais's brief discussion of the 1970s emphasizes the
importance of trade unions early in the decade, and generally downplays the importance of
Black Consciousness ideology.
In his account of the 1980s, Marais is most critical of the ANC and the loosely allied United
Democratic Front (UDF. He argues that the ANC and the UDF failed to build on the growing
strength of the labor movement in this period, relying instead on a rudderless strategy of
insurrectionism that had no real hope of transforming South African society. By the late 1980s,
Marais argues, the UDF/ANC alliance had achieved only a stalemate in which it was forced to
broker a settlement with the National Party and white capital. Overall, this assessment reflects a
trend in radical scholarship that has emerged since the 1990s that seeks to imagine an
alternative past in order to create an alternative present. This view seems to suggest that if the
ANC had been more committed to working class mobilization during the resistance years, it
might have been possible to achieve a more sweeping transformation, even socialism, in South
This analysis sets the stage for the second portion of Marais's book, in which he discusses
the formation of a "class compromise" between the ANC and capital. In this view, because the
ANC had failed to build a sufficiently strong and disciplined popular movement, it was unable
to wrest control of the economy from white capital. Instead, the ANC was forced to focus its
efforts on control of the state and to appease capital. This balance of forces led the ANC to reject
its initial strategy of "growth through redistribution" as outlined in the early versions of the
RDP. Instead, the ANC bent over backwards to accommodate the demands of national and
global capital. These interests forced the ANC to reject the ambitious social policies of the RDP
in favor of the neo-liberal market based policies of GEAR, even though most analyses suggested
that such a program would do little to improve the rampant social inequalities created by
apartheid capitalism. Further, Marais argues, the GEAR policy of export-orientation is likely to
fail in its own right because of South Africa's weak global economic position.
Having set out the manner in which the ANC has adopted an economic policy that shuts
out the working class, Marais spends the final chapters of the book discussing how political
forces might be arrayed to compel the ANC government to adopt policies that put the working
class in the favored position rather than capital.
There is little doubt that the ANC has moved away from the redistributive orientation of
the RDP, and even further away from the social democratic vision of the Freedom Charter. The
critical question is why did it make the shift? Marais doesn't offer a complete explanation: "It is
difficult to pinpoint the factors that led to the conversion of ANC economic thinking to
orthodoxy" (p. 150). Yet this seems to be a critical question. Why would senior ANC leaders,
most of whom have spent their entire lives fighting the social, political, and economic injustices
of apartheid, turn about-face and abandon this cause? If GEAR serves the interests of capital at
the expense of the working class, then why did the ANC adopt it?
Marais offers two major possible explanations, but neither seems satisfactory. In one
section he describes an elaborate program of neo-liberal indoctrination mounted by South
African corporate conglomerates and international actors led by the International Monetary
Fund and the World Bank. Marais explains the shift to orthodoxy as resulting from the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998


"bewildering assortment of seminars, conferences, workshops, briefings, international 'fact-
finding' trips'... financed by business and foreign development agencies" (p. 150). He also offers
a related argument that leftists in the ANC could not match the technical savvy of the pro-
business elements inside and outside the organization. This meant that the leftists could not
defend the RDP against the blizzard of technical data, models, and forecasts offered by the
advocates of neo-liberalism. A more compelling argument might simply be that the ANC
leadership concluded that South Africa's serious economic problems, precarious international
position, and the sometimes shrill fears expressed by domestic capital made it impossible to go
ahead with the statist orientation of the RDP without raising the threat of massive capital flight
and shrinking trade. Marais dismisses this view as too pat, relying on the claim that there was
simply not enough technical expertise in the Department of Economic Policy to back the RDP.
The key problem with Marais's account of popular opposition is that even if the reader
accepts his criticisms of the ANC during the struggle, there is no real attempt to suggest viable
alternatives. If we accept, for example, the claim that the UDF and the ANC led a more or less
pointless insurrectionist movement in the 1980s (and it is far from clear that such a
characterization fits), one is left wondering what alternative Marais would have endorsed. A
close reading of this portion of the book reveals some hint of the alternative strategy that Marais
might have prescribed. He generally heaps praise on the trade union movement for its role in
the resistance struggle, at times implying that it offered a model for other organizations, but he
never makes it clear if this is in fact his argument, and if so, how exactly the diverse elements of
popular resistance (e.g. churches, soccer clubs, student groups) might have used the model of
shop-steward based trade unions while also facing the might of the apartheid security
Marais is more concrete in his discussion of the ANC's economic policy, offering a
suggestion that parts of the RDP can be used as the starting point for a new "progressive"
agenda to bring the ANC back to its working-class roots. But Marais's failure to offer a
satisfactory explanation of the rejection of the RDP puts this strategy in doubt. If the ANC
leadership has already decided that the RDP is economically unfeasible, then it won't do much
good to put it at the center of a progressive agenda. Marais does not attempt to establish
whether the RDP is in fact a feasible approach for South Africa. More troubling is Marais's hint
that some form of "inward-looking industrialization strategy" (p. 131) is the most viable
alternative to the ANC's export-oriented policy. He never says exactly what this might look like.
Nationalization of key industries? Investment in sectors that produce for a domestic market?
The reader is left with only hints, such as "progressive macroeconomic and industrial policies"
(p. 193). Ironically, Marais's language suggests that he would propose some variant of import-
substituting-industrialization (ISI), the very policy that contributed to the chronic economic
crises of the South African economy under apartheid.
Many readers will agree with the book's overall theme that the ANC should have been
closer to its working class roots during the resistance years, and that since 1990 it has gone too
far to accommodate capital while making only modest social investments. But readers will be
frustrated by Marais's general reluctance to explicate alternative paths, either historical or
contemporary. It is essential that the ANC face penetrating criticisms such as those offered by
Marais, but such criticisms won't build houses, improve schools, or provide better health care in

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998


South Africa. What should South Africa do? What can South Africa do? Those are the key
questions today.

Brendan Works
Political Science Department
University of California at Berkeley

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 2, Issue 3 I 1998

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