I would like to begin by expressing my deep gratitude and humility to the board of directors of the African Studies Association for inviting me to deliver the 2007 Bashorun M. K. O. Abiola Lecture on the momentous occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the ASA. This singular honor makes me conscious that I follow in the hallowed footsteps of several giants of African politics and studies including Ali A. Mazrui, Gertrude Mongella, and Thandika Mkandawire, among other distinguished thinkers who preceded me on this podium. As most of you know, I am trained as a legal scholar, but my work has benefited tremendously from the support of several senior students of Africa in the audience, including Joel D. Barkan, John W. Harbeson, Frank Holmquist, and Ali A. Mazrui. Nor would I forget to thank Athena Mutua, my spouse, who is here with me. But I know that this meeting would not have been possible without the indefatigable work of Pearl Robinson, the president of the ASA; Carol L. Martin, the executive director of the ASA; Kimme Carlos, the program manager of the annual meeting; and Stanlie James, the program chair.
This is a special occasion for all those who study and love Africa. The ASA is fifty, which is a historic milestone by any count. Ghana, one of the first African countries to free itself from the yoke of colonialism, is also fifty. We thus take stock of the continent after the first half century of decolonization with an appropriate theme—“Twenty-First Century Africa: Evolving Conceptions of Human Rights.”