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Does Africa need more lawyers?

James Nurton

This blog post is something of a mea culpa. It stems from comments made by Brad Smith of Microsoft at last month’s Fordham IP Conference in New York.

During a plenary discussion with other general counsel, the topic of emerging markets and specifically Africa came up. Smith noted that IP protection requires “a healthy rule of law” and “a healthy legal profession” and gave the example of Kenya, which has only about 8,000 lawyers in total. As Smith commented, you would probably find as many lawyers in one block on Park Avenue, Manhattan. “I think there’s a limit to what you can accomplish in a country of 40 million people if you only have 8,000 lawyers,” he said.

Fernando Dos SantosSitting in the audience, I tweeted something sarcastic along the lines of “Just what Africa needs to develop – more lawyers!” That prompted a response from Justin Watts of Freshfields (who was also in the room), drawing my attention to the Africa Justice Foundation and commenting: “Africa needs IP lawyers to incentivise, create and bring in its own tech/creative base.”

Since then, I have had more discussions about IP in Africa with Brenda Kahari, who is leading INTA’s Africa Rising Initiative, and with Dario Tanziani and Darren Olivier who spoke at our International Patent Forum last month. I was also pleased to be able to interview the new ARIPO Director General Fernando Dos Santos (right) at the INTA Annual Meeting last week. This has probably been predicted wrongly before, but it does look like there is real and growing interest in investing in and protecting IP in Africa.

Unfortunately the lack of legal infrastructure (including the difficulty in procuring and enforcing IP rights) is still a deterrent to many IP-owning companies. And this is where the Africa Justice Foundation comes in. Justin put me in touch with his Freshfields colleague, Jonathan Kewley, who is a Board member. He explained how the Foundation helps to build legal capacity through legal scholarships and mentoring.

AJF websiteIt started its work in Rwanda, where among other things it is helping to create the first database of case law in the country. Partly thanks to its improved legal infrastructure, the World Bank named Rwanda the most reforming economy in the world in 2010. Other target countries include Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi and Nigeria. Jonathan says the aim is to make doing business easier and more certain: “Any lawyer knows that having a contract that is not clear only makes your job harder.”

He also emphasised that economic development and legal development go hand-in-hand. So perhaps I was a bit too quick to be cynical about Brad Smith’s views at Fordham. We all have a part to play in helping facilitate Africa’s development. Yes, even lawyers.

You can find out much more about what you can do to help legal development in Africa on the Africa Justice Foundation website (pictured above).


Article Comments

As a lawyer in Africa I agree that a lot still needs to be done to improve the legal infrastructure and education in Africa. The last thing Africa (or anywhere for that matter) needs are lawyers who haven’t had the benefit of thorough training, who operate in an under-resourced or dysfunctional system. Our clients’ interest in Africa has grown exponentially over the last few years but the frustration remains that while new laws are being passed and treaties being signed there appears by comparison, very little being done to recruit, train and motivate those responsible for administering and enforcing IP rights. There is no question that interest in Africa is phenomenal but, from an IP point of view, we hope that the less glamorous aspects of building a sustainable infrastructure are not left behind.

Wayne Meiring, Spoor & Fisher Jersey May 15, 2013

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