Imperialism and Human Rights: Colonial Discourses of Rights and Liberties in African History

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State University of New York Press, Jan 3, 2008 - History - 242 pages
2007 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

In this seminal study, Bonny Ibhawoh investigates the links between European imperialism and human rights discourses in African history. Using British-colonized Nigeria as a case study, he examines how diverse interest groups within colonial society deployed the language of rights and liberties to serve varied socioeconomic and political ends. Ibhawoh challenges the linear progressivism that dominates human rights scholarship by arguing that, in the colonial African context, rights discourses were not simple monolithic or progressive narratives. They served both to insulate and legitimize power just as much as they facilitated transformative processes. Drawing extensively on archival material, this book shows how the language of rights, like that of "civilization" and "modernity," became an important part of the discourses deployed to rationalize and legitimize empire.

From inside the book


1 The Subject of Rights and the Rights of Subjects
2 Right Liberties and the Imperial World Order
Law Rights and Justice
Land Rights Discourses
Social Rights Discourses
Political and Civil Rights Discourses
7 The Paradox of Rights Talk

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Page 11 - The right of nature, which writers commonly call jus naturale, is the liberty each man hath to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life; and consequently, of doing anything which, in his own judgment and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.
Page 89 - I, Docemo, do, with the consent and advice of my Council, give, transfer, and by these presents grant and confirm unto the Queen of Great Britain, her heirs and successors for ever, the Port and Island of Lagos, with all the rights, profits, territories, and appurtenances whatsoever thereunto belonging...
Page 153 - I have not become the King's first Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.
Page 95 - I conceive that land belongs to a vast family of which many are dead, few are living and countless members are still unborn'.
Page 59 - Coast, such law or custom not being repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience, nor incompatible either directly or by necessary implication with any Ordinance for the time being in force.
Page 149 - As such, it is our duty to conserve our physical powers, our intellectual endowments, our spiritual ideals ; as a race we must strive by race organization, by race solidarity, by race unity...
Page 59 - Subject to the terms of this or any other Ordinance, the common law, the doctrines of equity, and the statutes of general application which were in force in England on the 24th day of July, 1874, shall be in force within the jurisdiction of the Courts.
Page 59 - Territories subject to its jurisdiction, such law or custom not being repugnant to natural justice, equity, and good conscience, nor incompatible either directly or by necessary implication with any enactment of the Colonial Legislature...

About the author (2008)

Bonny Ibhawoh is Assistant Professor of History at McMaster University, Canada.

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