Issue 7.1


Our new issues features the exciting dossier coedited by Amal Hassan Fadlalla and Omalade Adunbi on human rights and humanitarianism on the African continent. And Joseph Morgan Hodge concludes his epic survey of the historiography of development. Finally, we are honored to show some of Yepoka Yeebo’s photographs of the informal economy in Ghana, together with a comment from Keith Hart, who coined the phrase “informal economy” decades ago.



Biafra . . . In our time it came again . . . Emboldened by half a millennium Of conquest, battering On new oil dividends, are now At its black throat squeezing . . . Must Africa have To come a third time? —Chinua Achebe, “Biafra, 1969”1 In his analysis of human rights languages and metaphors, Makau Mutua argues that the human rights project reproduces colonial imageries of Africa’s savagery and barbarism. In his early work, Mutua argued that human rights discourse is characterized by Read More »

Humanitarian Dispossession: Celebrity Activism and the Fragment-Nation of the Sudan

On March 8, 2012, Oxfam America invited seventy “women leaders” to spend International Women’s Day on Capitol Hill to celebrate the organization’s activism initiative “Sisterhood on the Planet.” A diverse group of influential women, including politicians, faith-based activists, and celebrities, answered the invitation to promote President Barack Obama’s global “Feed the Future” initiative, which assists women farmers in establishing land ownership and control over food resources. The summit also highlighted the achievements of two women in particular: Kristin Davis, one of Oxfam’s global ambassadors and Read More »

Celebritizing Conflict: How Ben Affleck Sells the Congo to Americans

It’s fairly clear that in the modern age there is a currency to celebrity, or celebrity is a currency, really. I’ve discovered that you can spend it in a lot of ways, or you can squander it. You can be taxed, as well. I really started thinking long and hard about how to use that currency as long as I had it. —Ben Affleck on his work for Eastern Congo1 From serving as United Nations ambassadors to appearing as spokespersons for major NGO campaigns, global Read More »

When Rights Come Home: The Intimate Politics of Women's Rights in Urban Uganda

Introduction The relationship between human rights and African states is a complex one. For many states, the dictates of neoliberal economic reforms have provided a rationale for a retreat from any commitment to a broad conception of human rights encompassing economic and social justice. As James Ferguson has argued, neoliberal policies have typically “hollowed out” African states and legitimized an outsourcing of government responsibilities to nongovernmental organizations and the private sector.1 Many African states have therefore combined a limited commitment to individual civil and political Read More »

The Cry for Human Rights: Violence, Transition, and the Egyptian Revolution

In January 2011, Egypt and, indeed, the world witnessed something immense and unprecedented: millions of people from every sector of society took to the streets to overthrow their dictator. As known scholars and activists involved and interested in Egyptian politics, both authors of this essay were approached to comment on the momentous events and/or speak about them at public forums. Various media outlets sought out Atef Said, an Egyptian human rights lawyer and sociologist living in the area. The questions they asked, however, were disconcerting Read More »

Conservation, Neoliberalism, and Human Rights in Kenya's Arid Lands

In the last century and a half, over 105,000 protected areas (PAs), encompassing about 11 percent of the world’s land, with different levels of “protected” area status, have been established on every continent.1 The establishment and operation of these PAs have resulted in numerous human rights abuses.2 Literatures on the relationships between human rights and conservation are rich with theoretical and empirical examples that typify two main waves of conservation over the last fifty years. In this essay I describe how a third but less Read More »

Photo Essay: Suame Magazine

Suame Magazine is a twenty-mile informal industrial area in Kumasi, Ghana’s second city. Over 200,000 skilled workers fill the open-air production lines, wooden stalls, and concrete factories here, churning out everything from nuts and bolts to refurbished trucks. The area is a labyrinth of paths marked by towering heaps of truck cabs, spare parts for heavy machinery, and huge old trucks that are slowly, lovingly coaxed back to life by mechanics. Around a million dollars passes daily through the hands of the 12,000 small businesses Read More »

Reflections on Ghana's Informal Economy at Fifty Years

It is exactly half a century since I first entered Ghana. I was twenty-two years old, and I stayed there for over two years, mostly in Nima, a sprawling slum on Accra’s outskirts. My research project was initially political: how would the newly independent country absorb a flood of migrants from the interior as citizens—through party politics, voluntary associations, and public education? Unfortunately, Ghana was then a police state and no one wanted to talk about politics, least of all to me. I rented rooms Read More »

Writing the History of Development (Part 2: Longer, Deeper, Wider)

The neoliberal ascendancy of the 1980s, combined with the unraveling of the Cold War at the end of the decade, ushered in a period of prolonged crisis and skepticism about “development” as a global project. It was at this watershed moment that development as history was envisaged by a critical mass of scholars, most of whom understood what they were studying primarily in terms of discourse. The fixation with discourse shaped the parameters of the emerging field in crucial ways. The importance of ideas, particularly Read More »