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Speaker to Discuss Rights, Writers

Visiting humanities professor to lecture on African activism, literature, and liberties

In his lecture, which is sponsored by the African Studies Center, Yewah plans to discuss Saro-Wiwa's work, as well as that of other African writers who he says have become victims of human rights violations.

This article was first published in The Daily Bruin.

By Ines Santos

IN NOVEMBER 1995 in Nigeria, Ken Saro-Wiwa, a prominent novelist and environmental activist, was executed by hanging by the country's military regime after a controversial trial.

His official accusation was incitement in a murder, but Emmanuel Yewah believes the author's real crime was criticizing the actions of oil companies and the Nigerian government regarding human rights.

Yewah, a professor of humanities at Albion College in Michigan, plans to tell Saro-Wiwa's story, along with the stories of many other novelists, in a discussion entitled, "African Writers' Imaginative Responses to Issues of Rights."

In his lecture, which is sponsored by the African Studies Center, Yewah plans to discuss Saro-Wiwa's work, as well as that of other African writers who he says have become victims of human rights violations. This includes writers such as Ngugi wa Thiongo, who, like Saro-Wiwa, belongs to a group of African novelists known as the "prison graduates."

Yewah said Saro-Wiwa attacked Shell Oil Co. and Chevron Corp. in his writings, accusing the companies of putting business interests above environmental and human rights concerns. Yewah added he believes oil companies have disregarded the land rights of Africans.

"In Africa, land is one of the basic human rights. Everybody is entitled to land," he said.

He said he will also be analyzing African novelists' approaches to the question of human rights in their work and the strategies they have developed to construct rights discourse, a term referring to the writers' strategies in bringing up this theme in their work.

Yewah, originally from Cameroon, has focused most of his research on legal discourses in African literature. He said he became interested in the issue of human rights by analyzing the usage of confessions, guilt and political trials, in works of fiction.

But he said he would be looking at women's rights in his lecture since he believes the topic has enough material for its own presentation.

Another topic of interest to Yewah is the definition of rights and how different people and societies perceive them.

Yewah said some questions he is likely to bring up during the lecture are whether Africans understand "human rights" in the same way as the Western world and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also whether Africans give more importance to culture than the Western world in defining human rights.

The issue of human rights in Africa "is very much alive today, and most people in campus and in the national community don't know much about it," said Emma Nesper, a graduate student in African studies.

She also discussed the diaspora of African writers to European or American countries because of lack of support from their home governments.

The center, which is directed by Allen Roberts, works directly with several student groups with human rights concerns, such as the Darfur Action Committee. Though Roberts said he appreciates the effort brought by these students, they were not specifically involved in this project.

African Studies Center