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Universal Declaration of Human Rights: English, French, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba


Wole Soyinka

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1At the height of a campaign to make Kishwahili the common language for the black African continent, I was asked — by a very committed ideologue — just what contribution such a language policy distraction had to offer to the far more urgent revolutionary struggle of African neo-colonial societies.

2That was easy enough. "For one thing", I replied, "it would put an end to the mystification which is constantly embedded in the very kind of question you have posed. It will compel you to define, in a language accessible to all, what you mean when you speak of a ‘comprador’ class to an African audience; when you dismiss your intellectual opponents as ‘revisionists’, which not only makes further dialogue with them beneath your intellect, but justifies their liquidation; it would compel you to show your listeners where you found ‘kulaks’ in the heart of Africa, thus dismissing them as deserving no less than a ‘Stalinist solution’ְ. ... in short, you would be left no option but to narrate, in a language that is accessible to your society, why ‘Marxist-Leninism’ in the ‘socialist’ dispensation of Mengistu’s Ethiopia aspires to the same level of torture, secret executions, arbitrary detentions and other refinements in social dehumanisation as the ‘comprador-capitalism’ of Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire, or Hastings Banda’s Malawi".

3The ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ does not of course aspire to the mystification tendencies of most ideological tracts — including the religious. It is a straightforward, humanist statement of rights, one that is transcendental only in the sense that it does transcend all ideological and religious detractions from the worth of man, woman and child as the fundamental unit of culture, productivity and indeed, civilisation. It therefore deserves far greater dissemination than it tends to receive — that is, it requires no intermediaries — as is the case with secular and religious scriptures — since it speaks directly and universally to humanity.

4All that this document requires therefore is simply that it be rendered in all the accessible languages of all societies; then let every sentient member of society weigh its claims against the excuses of dictatorships, intolerance, discrimination against the opportunisms and naked lust for power and domination by a minority within societies, against even the fundamentalist terror of the religious kind that is fast’ replacing the state terror of discredited and yet surviving ideologies.

5Then, perhaps, irrespective of race, faith, or sex, humanity in every corner of the world will begin to understand how much it has lost in its goal of self-realisation, and how much it yet stands to lose.


© IFRA-Nigeria, 1993

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