Human Rights in Twentieth Century Africa (HISM032)

Lecturer(s)Dr Stacey Hynd
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15.00
Duration of ModuleOne term (11 weeks)
Total Student Study Time300 hours including 11 x 2 hour seminars and 276 hours independent study

Module aims

Human Rights have a highly troubled and contested history in the African continent - this module explores the history behind present day crises and dilemmas, whilst developing a properly historical analysis of the position of human rights within African states and societies from colonial rule to independence and beyond. The module will combine theoretical explorations of the nature of human rights and their application to Africa with case-study based approaches to key themes and debates in the field. Students will be able to chose from a variety of topics according to their research interests: available topics include colonial rule, anti-colonialism and the development of human rights discourses; gendered perspectives on human rights, especially debates on female circumcision; racial discrimination and violence in the Apartheid state in South Africa; development and good governance in postcolonial states; postcolonial civil wars, rights violations and war crimes; conflict and humanitarian intervention; child soldiers; Truth and Reconciliation Commissions; criminal justice and penal reform; legal pluralism and vigilanteeism; the right to life, citizenship and HIV/AIDS. This module will introduce students to multiple disciplinary perspectives on the study of human rights - historical, legal, anthropological, political and developmental - and also to a variety of source materials, ranging from humanitarian campaigns and NGO reports to court cases and literature. This module will be of interest to both students of African and world history, but also to those with an interest in conflict, humanitarianism, globalization, and rights-discourses.

Intended learning outcomes

Module-specific skills

1. Demonstrate an understanding of key themes and issues in the history of twentieth century African society, culture and politics.
2. Demonstrate an awareness of historiographical and theoretical debates in the various subject areas studied.
3. Demonstrate an understanding of the nature and significance of human rights to twentieth century Africa.
4. Demonstrate an awareness and understanding of a wide selection of primary source materials and be able to evaluate their historical value critically.
5. Demonstrate an ability to evaluate different disciplinary perspectives on human rights and African history.
6. Propose and begin work on a dissertation on some aspect of this subject if they so choose.

Discipline-specific skills

7. Analyse and synthesise widely different types of historical material and evidence.
8. Identify and understand the nature of original sources.
9. Critically understand key historical concepts and debates.
10. Research independently and present interpretations of different historical issues.

Personal and key skills

11. Demonstrate capacity for independent critical study and thought.
12. Apply key bibliographical skills (including the use of online searching aids).
13. Construct and defend a sustained argument, both in written form and orally, using primary and secondary materials.
14. Work as an individual and with a tutor and peers in an independent, constructive and responsive way (e.g. lead a group discussion or task).
15. Analyse, summarise, and organise material to produce a coherent and cogent argument, within specific deadlines.

Learning and teaching methods

The module is taught through weekly two-hour seminars on a set theme. Students will be required to undertake preparatory reading of primary and secondary materials. Group and/or individual presentations will serve as the basis for discussion guided by the module tutor(s). Essays will be assigned, discussed and returned in individual tutorials. The module syllabus each year will be student-led, selecting topics from the list as available each year according to the composition of the teaching team.


An individual presentation; 2 x 3000 word essays.


1st 3,000 word essay (37% of overall assessment);
2nd 3,000 word essay (38% of overall assessment);
Individual presentation (25-30 minutes with visual aids) to conference workshop (25% of overall assessment)

Syllabus plan

Week 1: Introduction to Africa
Week 2: Histories and Theories of Human Rights
Weeks 3 to 10: a selection from the following topics according to student choice:

a) Colonial Rule & Human Rights
b) Gender & FGM
c) Apartheid
d) New Wars & Rights Violations
e) Conflict & Humanitarian Intervention
f) Child Soliders
g) Truth and Reconciliation
h) Development & Good Governance
i) Criminal Justice & Penal Reform
j) Legal Pluralism & Vigilantees
k) Rights to Life - HIV/AIDS & Citizenship

Week 11: Conference Workshop with Assessed Presentations

Indicative basic reading list

Abdullahi A. An-Na'im, Cultural Transformation and Human Rights in Africa (London, 2002)
Abdullahi A. An-Na'im and Francis M. Deng, Human rights in Africa : Cross-cultural Perspectives (Brookings, 1990)
Jean-Francois Bayart, The State in Africa (2nd edn, London, 2009)
Christopher Cramer, Civil War is Not a Stupid Thing: Accounting for Violence in Developing Countries (London, 2006).
Harri England, Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights and the African Poor (Berkeley, 2006)
Frantz Fanon, Les Damn├ęs de la Terre/The Wretched of the Earth, (Paris, 1961)
Human Rights Watch, Protectors or Pretenders: Human Rights Institutions in Africa (London, 2001)
Micheline R. Ishay, The History of Human Rights from Ancient Times to the Globalization Era (2nd edn, Berkeley, 2008).
Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (Berkeley, 2001).
Rachel Murray and Malcolm Evans, Documents of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, (London, 2001).
James W. Nickel, Making Sense of Human Rights (2nd edn, Oxford, 2007).

Indicative web based resources e.g. Webct:
Derechos: Human Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa
Human Rights Watch
African Union,
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights,
Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa,
University of Minnesota Human Rights Library,
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa,
Truth & Reconciliation Committee of Sierra Leone,

Other resources:

Any other primary source material as provided.