NGOs, rights-based approaches and the potential for progressive development in local contexts : Constraints and challenges in Northern Ghana

Aberese Ako, Matilda; Anyidoho, Nana Akua; Crawford, Gordon


This article assesses the potential of rights-based approaches as a progressive development strategy by exploring the extent to which rights can be made real for people living in conditions of material deprivation and social oppression. It does so through a case study of Belim Wusa Development Agency (BEWDA), a small rights-promoting non-governmental organization (NGO) that operates among poor communities in north-east Ghana. It examines the successes of BEWDA, albeit partial and incomplete, in securing human rights, as well as the constraints and challenges faced. Findings highlight elements of a progressive development strategy, notably the focus on the agency and activism of poor and oppressed groups and their articulation of legitimate claims for rights, while also identifying the obstacles posed by the context of dual governance structures-decentralized local government and traditional authority. The research demonstrates a tension between focusing on localized struggles for human rights while the bigger picture of structural constraints and dominant power relations remains largely unchallenged.