WHOSE HUMAN RIGHTS? SUFFERING AND RECONSTRUCTION IN POSTWAR SIERRA LEONE

Michael Jackson

Abstract


This article had its beginnings in my conversations and encounters with refugees in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in the wake of that country’s decade-long civil war. These experiences made me increasingly concerned at the extent to which our Western rhetoric of suffering and human rights ignores the ways in which Sierra Leoneans understand and address their situation. This led me to see the problem of translation not simply as a matter of doing justice to the speech or writing of others, but as a matter of forestalling the unspoken political and ethical judgements that influence every translation, and that so often mean that not only meanings get lost in translation but also lives, livelihoods, languages and land. I therefore offer a critique of the way human rights is currently invoked to give legitimacy to a kind of moral neo-colonialism in West Africa – a reprise of the theme of the white man’s burden that implies that Africans need to be saved from themselves and that we are the ones to do it.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11157/sites-vol2iss2id68