The launch of a year-long international campaign to promote Africa in a positive light is underway thanks to support from Herbert Smith’s Paris office.
Africa 2005 is a collaborative and politically and religiously neutral effort involving more than 100 volunteers from 20 locations around the world. The aim of the initiative is to challenge negative perceptions of Africa and to promote efforts towards a better understanding of the continent. Positive information on African culture, arts, sports and businesses will be communicated throughout the world by way of information technology.
Lawyers from Herbert Smith initially became involved in the project in 2002. Henri Epesse, a projects lawyer and general secretary of Africa 2005, said the concept originally sprang from a group of lawyers and other professionals who had gathered together to challenge the common view that Africa was a place to think about only in terms of its well-documented problems.
“There is an image problem with Africa and opinions are founded by Africans and non-Africans on what ways it doesn’t work,” said Epesse. “The reality is that there are success stories – some African countries are efficient and some provide a strong environment for investment. The origin of the project is to work on changing the current perception of Africa.”
After initial support in the creation of the organisation, Herbert Smith provided a basic infrastructure that has served as a base for Africa 2005 to gather momentum. The firm contributed by supplying an office, IT support, telephone and other logistics, while the IP and IT teams offered pro bono support concerning the Africa 2005 trademark.
Herbert Smith also encouraged its lawyers to join the project as volunteers. “There have been a few of us quite involved, mainly partner Stephane Brabant, two other associates in Paris, and some trainees in London,” said Epesse.
As general counsel, Epesse has been closely involved in administration, co-ordination and development of the project. “Personally, I have spent quite a lot of my free time on this, and it hasn’t always been easy to ensure a balance between my work at Herbert Smith and the project,” he said.
The project utilises the Africa 2005 website as a major communication tool. “We’ve built a huge campaign and the only possible way to do this has been through the internet, linking all the organisations and non-governmental organisations involved in order to inform and lobby around the world. Without the support provided by Herbert Smith we’d need another five years to build the project. The firm has contributed to Africa 2005 invaluably, saving time through its assistance.”