It’s time to put Africa on an equal footing

It’s time to put Africa on an equal footingAfter the genocide, Rwanda was left with around 30 lawyers, less than the number of litigators in a large City practice.

Against a backdrop of political ­turbulence and ethnic unrest, legal ­development in Africa has understandably been inhibited. Often plagued with issues relating to money laundering, the fragility of the legal systems in Africa discourages foreign and domestic investment. As a result, the potential economic growth of the continent is restricted and the ­opportunity for international ­development stunted.

African lawyers often find themselves ill-equipped to ­compete in the increasingly complex ­world economy.

Although institutions such as the African Union seek “to accelerate the process of integration in the continent to enable it to play its rightful role in the global economy”, Africa still ­struggles to transform itself into a global community, ready to embrace the rapid evolution of areas such as international trade, ­international alternative dispute ­resolution, securitisation and financial regulatory laws, and to cultivate ­comprehensive human rights laws.

The importance of developing a ­uniform legal code to facilitate the ­aforementioned, and one that is in ­harmony with the West, is ever more apparent. Unlike the West, many African nations are unable to simply amend ­existing laws due to the lack of necessary resources and infrastructure to carry out legal reforms and provide continuing ­professional legal education.

African jurists have commented that the developed world has a moral duty to assist Africa, as well a powerful motive of self-interest. In the legal sphere, until now, ‘assisting Africa’ has evolved in two forms.

Many City firms have offices in African countries or are affiliated with prominent firms within various countries. Foreign companies and organisations use the ­satellite offices of the well-established ­international law firms, but on a local basis.

The establishment of organisations offering legal expertise where needed, such as Advocates for International ­Development and the International Lawyers Project.

Nevertheless, there is still a need to strengthen the legal capacity within Africa to enable the continent to truly become an international force with ­credibility on the world stage.

In the spirit of the age-old adage ‘teach a man to fish that he may eat for life’, International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA) was launched in March 2006. ILFA is an initiative of SJ Berwin in partnership with leading international lawyers, major City and international law firms and academics aimed at tackling some of the needs of African lawyers. In particular it aims to address the need for local lawyers to ­develop international skills and provide an insight into how global institutions work.

The aim of the ILFA programme is to assist African nations by helping them to equip some of their brightest lawyers with the legal and commercial skills ­necessary for their nations to compete and excel in the global economy. The ­initiative is open to all African lawyers from throughout the continent. ­Recognition of ILFA’s efforts came recently when SJ Berwin became the recipient of the Pro Bono Team of the Year Award at The Lawyer Awards 2008.

The concept behind ILFA is not new, but its message is no less important. ILFA forms part of the growing response of the City to the development of international lawyers. It cannot be denied that the gap in international legal expertise in Africa has been lucrative for the City, but it is time for a more symbiotic relationship between Africa and the West. Strong legal systems in Africa will be beneficial to all, enabling globalisation to thrive.