PUBLICATION: BMC International Health and Human Rights
Undie, C., & Izugbara, C.O.
Background: Modern declarations on human rights have often proceeded without reference to the cultural
content of rights, the existence of rights in African indigenous backgrounds, and the embodiment of certain key
rights in the community itself. This paper is an attempt at developing an ‘inventory’ of rights in African cultures as
a prelude to the generation both of a holistic theory of rights as well as a research agenda that can recognize the
multifaceted nature of rights.
Methods: We use an interpretive ethnographic approach built on three sources of data: 1) our continuing
ethnographic work among two distinct ethnic groups in southeastern Nigeria – the Ubang and the Igbo; 2)
informal conversational interviews with individuals from a range of African countries; and 3) a review of relevant
literature based on African cultures which provides a context for some of the issues we raise.
Results: An examination of selected indigenous rights, entitlements, or privileges among the Ubang and Igbo
illustrates indigenous culture as a key, but often neglected, axis of rights, as a critical framework for understanding
human relationships with rights, and as a resource for, and challenge to, contemporary programmatic efforts
focusing on universalized notions of rights. Understanding or interpreting rights in African settings within the
framework defined by contemporary human rights discourse poses steep challenges to making progress in the
realization of sexual and reproductive rights.
Conclusions: Despite the potential dangers of privileging group rights over individual rights, when important
rights are vested in the community; rights, entitlements, and privileges can also be recognized through community
experiences, and realized through engagement with communities. Building on communal conceptualizations of
rights in order to realize an even wider range of rights remains a largely unexplored strategy which holds promise
for the achievement of sexual and reproductive health rights.
Chimaraoke joined APHRC in 2006 as a Sabbatical Fellow and was appointed to the position of Associate Research Scientist in August 2007. Prior to this, he worked with universities in Nigeria as a lecturer and researcher,...