TAFAHRN75U Optional course: Human Rights and NGOs in Africa

Volume 2017/2018

MA programme in African Studies


This course focuses on NGOs, development and human rights interventions and discourse in Africa. The aim is to provide the foundation for a critical analysis of the human rights paradigm and the policy and practices of NGOs. The course has a broad analytical focus on how different development and human rights discourse is translated and appropriated in different African contexts. This links up to broader debates around what civil society is in Africa, how we can understand state-society relations as well as the dilemmas and paradoxes of rights practice when applied to violence in Africa.


Human rights discourse has over the last decades become a dominant lens through which Africa is understood and rights-based development a dominant paradigm through which to ‘reform’ Africa. In much the same way, the focus in development policy on the importance of civil society for development has foregrounded the NGO sector as a counter-weight to the state or as providing alternative forms of development. The course discusses these assumptions and aims at offering a counter-balance to the more legal and normative approached to rights and development.    


The lectures will pay attention to rights-based reform practices in development and in transitional justice, to NGO practice and policy in different contexts such as humanitarian situations, development projects, advocacy work, covering issues such as authority, the politics and historicity of the post-colonial state, legal pluralism, violence as well as the relation between benefactors and beneficiaries. Through discussion of empirical cases we will explore the common assumptions and conceptual links between a variety of interventions, for example: police and prison officer training, truth commissions, civil society support, and international advocacy campaigns.

Learning Outcome
  • Define and describe the role of NGOs and human rights in policy and practice


  • Identify and critically analyse the assumptions on which NGO and human rights policy and practice is drawing


  • Understand and apply relevant concepts and theories drawn from several research fields (development studies, social policy, anthropology, sociology, political theory)


  • Develop an independent analysis of human rights and NGOs that draws in the broader context in which this occurs


Bayart, J-F. (1991). The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly. London: Longman.

Lewis, D. and N. Kanji (2009)Non-Governmental Organisations and Development. London: Routledge.

Lewis, D. & D. Mosse (2006) (eds.), Development Brokers and Translators: The Ethnography of Aid and Agencies. Bloomfield: Kumarian Press.

Mamdani, M. (1996), Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late

Colonialism, Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers. Introduction and Chapter 1.

Mitlin, D., Hickey, S. & Bebbington, A. (2007) Reclaiming Development? NGOs and the Challenge of Alternatives, World Development 35 (10): 1699-1720

The course will take the form of a seminar series consisting of discrete lectures combined with class discussions and other activities that enhance an engaged and participatory learning environment such as student presentations, group work, writing exercises etc.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Exam period

Summer Exam

For more information please see here: https://intranet.ku.dk/africanstudies_ma/examination/examinationtimeschedule/Pages/default.aspx

Criteria for exam assesment

The grade of 12 is given at the exam when the student demonstrates:

  • Confident ability to identify and define a sub-topic and an issue of relevance to the overall theme of the optional course.
  • Confident ability to independently and critically select relevant literature on the sub-topic to be studied.
  • Confident ability to independently and critically analyse the sub-topic in question and the chosen literature.
  • Confident ability to conduct an interdisciplinary analysis of the sub-topic in question and to place it within the overall theme of the optional course in question.
  • Confident ability to communicate academic material in a clear, concise and well-argued manner.