African Bar Association: Setting agenda for Africa’s development

The African Bar Association, AFBA, which prides itself as the fearless voice of the legal profession on the continent recently held its annual conference in the garden city of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. The conference created an ample opportunity for the body of legal professionals across the entire continent to make a statement on its role and functions in driving the forces of development in Africa.

Certainly, not a few would agree that the continental bar association, largely succeeded in stamping its authority and voice in the current efforts to push Africa on the path of accelerated growth and development that meets international best practices. With over 2,000 lawyers from across the 54 countries in Africa attending the showpiece, coupled with the quality of speakers the president of the Association Hanibal Uwaifo had every reason to be ecstatic. The conference, he noted, “is a huge success and indeed surpassed our expectations in all areas.”

In order to tackle the poor Trans border trade and businesses across the nations of Africa, the theme of the conference was, “dissecting the legal and regulatory framework for doing business in Africa”. The immediate past president of the republic of Tanzania, Dr. Jakaya Kikwete delivered the keynote address. Although, not a lawyer himself, as an economist, Kikwete set the tone for the conference with his erudite delivery and evisceration of the political economy and challenges of doing business in Africa. He challenged the lawyers to tie the knot by suggesting efficient and effective legal regulatory framework to ease the cost and course of doing business in Africa.  The panelists and discussants did not disappoint as summarized in the communiqué issued at the end of the four day programme. The African bar association observed that Africa lags behind other continents significantly in the ease of doing business in the region.

It therefore urged that to “aggressively develop the African continent, the legal and regulatory framework for doing business in Africa must be examined/evaluated as the ease of doing business in Africa is a sure way to promote economic development in the continent.” The body noted that if the continent is unable to develop its massive natural resource will amount to “dead capital” African bar association challenged the political leadership on the continent to promote things and values that attracts investments globally. In short, it urged African nations to provide an enabling environment that will attract investments to the continent as investments “is the food and oxygen that nourishes the economy and which will transform Africa’s natural resources into quality goods and services.”

With a verve of continental patriotism, the African bar association cautioned the continent’s political leadership on the need to attract investments in all areas that will benefit the larger percentage of African people, rather than concentrating on just the extractive industries. Hence, it called on leaders and governments across Africa to design investment policies and contracts that will majorly benefit the African nation.

Africans must lead the way in promoting and projecting Africa’s development. Therefore, intra African trade and encouragement of local entrepreneurs should be a top priority for Africa leaders and governments  policies. “Investment policies and contracts must be designed and structured to benefit equitably both local investors with the capacity and foreign investors”

According to the African bar association, governments must make deliberate efforts to promote, assist, support and protect the local business and local investors if Africa must succeed. “Access to credit, training and mentorship in entrepreneurship services must be accorded these local investors.” Hence, in order to drastically reduce unemployment in Africa, policy initiatives must not only benefit the foreign investors, who own capital and technology, but also the African local communities and entrepreneurs.

Africa, as a matter of necessity and urgency must recognize the peculiar challenges and weakness of local investors and businessmen and women, and therefore formulate policies that will improve their strength and capacity.

Of course, the prominent role and relevance of political stability in attracting investments globally was not underscored. The African bar association harped on the need for African countries to ensure peaceful co-existence on the continent, in order to nurture a vibrant environment for doing business and promoting greater integration and shared vision.

“In addition to peace and stability, democracy strong institutions of government, a strong and independent judiciary, predictability of government actions/policies, enforcement of the rule of law are all essential factors to doing business in Africa, and must be practiced to make Africa a perfect investment opportunity and destination.”

According to the president of the association, Uwaifo, the communiqué of the organisation will be sent to the African Union, AU and other sub regional bodies within the continent, in order to drive business growth and investments in Africa.

The body which was founded in 1971 but engulfed by crises in 1991 had its rebirth conference in 2016 in Harare, Zimbabwe. With just its second annual conference being so successful and remarkable in terms of enthusiasm, attendance, organisation and quality of speakers, undoubtedly, its 2018 annual conference to be hosted in Nairobi, Kenya is already locked down by many legal practitioners and top government functionaries.   

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