Edmond Ouinsou works for ANASAD (Afrique Nature pour la Santé et le Développment/African Nature for Health and Development), a non-governmental organisation in Benin.
If rights are badly defined, this will have serious consequences for mankind’s relationship with fellow human beings and the environment, and, indeed, for everything that makes up society. Duties and responsibilities are intimately linked, but very often people from all sectors of society give undue emphasis to the “rights” side of the equation. This is particularly true with jurists, governments and regional intergovernmental organisations and international organisations, such as the African Intellectual Property Organisation and the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
Moreover, all over the world, including Africa, the concept of rights has been assimilated within the concept of private property. This is serious, for African culture says that collective rights should take precedence over private and individual rights. Unfortunately, the political authorities do not always take collective rights into account. In my opinion, this is because, in the decades since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was imposed on the whole world, rights have been standardised, despite very diverse social, cultural and political realities.
Rights by themselves do not encapsulate all relations desired by humanity. Indeed, rights, which is a general concept, now covers both values that are useful to progress and the development of humanity and those that are harmful. Indeed, if we want to continue to fight for our rights, we must make a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate rights by assessing the contribution they make towards progress and the development of humanity.
To protect collective rights against exploitation by multinationals, people must be informed about their rights and duties, their obligations and those of the multinationals, within the framework of a win-win social partnership. Each member of society should be taught about this so that social relations can be established on a healthy basis.
Where I live, traditional standards are imposed by private rules. The individual belongs to a family, which is part of a social group, which is, in its turn, an integral part of the community governed by a very precise system of values and standards.
Individuals develop by stages and, at each stage, they have rights, obligations and duties to other members of the community. It is a pre-established system that is accepted by all members of society. But these days modernity and its corollary, “development”, have introduced other ideas and concepts that make it difficult to apply the traditional system of regulating society in Benin and Africa.