(Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

Seventy years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), there is reason to wonder whether the rights it states have had a visible impact on the African economy. Adopted in 1948 after the two world wars, the UDHR served as a basis for a multitude of other international instruments on human rights instruments. Economic rights will be detailed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This covenant, along with the one on civil and political rights and the UDHR itself, will form what has been called the International Charter of Human Rights.

At the time of the adoption of the UDHR, terror and misery were the sad realities that lived the African continent under the influence of colonization. Many African nations earned their independence in the nineteen sixties and a few earned theirs a little earlier or later. However, this legal change did not automatically mean the end of colonization. In other words, economic exploitation coupled with submission to another culture[1] continued unabated. People who cannot freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources cannot be said to fully enjoy their rights and dignity. Africa remains confronted with the shadows of her dependence on her colonialists as well as her present donors. The capital, technology and equipment of the new states are entirely of foreign origin.[2] The economic structures limits Africa to the supply of cheap workforce that is generally inefficient. It is not surprising then that Africa’s economic activity is dominated by subsistence agriculture and natural resource extractions oriented towards the satisfaction of the interests of the international market than towards the needs of local populations. This outward looking economy benefits first and foremost the multinational corporations, with almost nothing trickling down to the local population.

Such an economic and development configuration that do not meet the need of the present generation and have no thought either for the future generation and the preservation of the integrity of creation cannot be in any way be sustainable. Indeed, to be sustainable, development must reconcile three major elements: social equity, the preservation of the environment and economic efficiency.[3] To achieve this development, Africa still has a long way to go. The wounds of division from colonization coupled with the lack of a sense of commitment to nation building by most African leaders have continued to increase and fuel internal conflicts in Africa. The lack of sustainable policies aiming at preparing Africans to take responsibility for the socio-economic management of their states has created an imbalance that is still difficult to redress. This explains the fact that about sixty years of independence for many African states, economic and social development are still in the embryonic stage. One of the proofs is that external aid still occupies more than half of their annual budgets.

How then can we speak of an effective achievement of the rights set out in the UDHR where people do not even have the minimum subsistence? It is true that many European corporations are thriving in Africa but it needs to be seen whether they are there to contribute to the local economies or they are there for exploitation even at the expense of the rights of the communities in which they operate. These communities become poorer as their lands are taken and exploited under the pretext of economic development and the improvement of living conditions. While there are some who are employed in the activities of these companies, the working conditions are far from respecting the dignity of the workers and satisfying their basic needs as well as those of their families.

As long as the economic status quo in Africa subsists, the western corporations, the so-called donor countries as well as the corrupt and rich elites of Africa are gladiators in the African economy. But willy-nilly, it is reminiscence of the proverbial ostrich that refuses to see the true situation of his life and in so doing Europe is without knowing choosing to sit on a dangerous gun powder.


Odile Ntakirutimana

AEFJN Policy Officer

[1] https://www.un.org/africarenewal/fr/magazine/august-2010/bilan-d%E2%80%99un-demi-si%C3%A8cle-d%E2%80%99ind%C3%A9pendance

[2] https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2010/07/15/quel-developpement-pour-l-afrique-50-ans-apres-les-independances_1387959_3232.html

[3]Loi relative à la Coopération belge au Développement du 19 mars 2013 : http://www.acodev.be/system/files/ressources/loicoopdev2013-coordonnees-dec2013-b.pdf