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July 5, 2008

Real Solutions to Problems Facing Africa Presented at Forum Sub-plenary

Months before the World Justice Forum was convened, the World Justice Project invited project participants from sub-Saharan Africa to propose projects that it would fund to strengthen the rule of law in their communities. These projects, which were conducted in the spring, forged cross-disciplinary collaborations that are considered vital to spread the rule of law. At the Forum this week, organizers of four pilot projects presented the outcomes of their efforts during “Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Rule of Law.”

From Nigeria, Kemi Asiwaju, regional representative of the Altus Global Alliance and the CLEEN Foundation in Nigeria, discussed new policing services that provide security to many poor communities. These services are informal, set up by people living in poverty whose police force is unable to protect them from crime. The CLEEN Foundation’s surveys have found that these informal services elicit greater support than the formal system; but concerns exist about the lack of accountability, susceptibility to mete out mob justice and lack of awareness of human rights among those running the new security teams. To address the problems, the Global Alliance conducted a one-day forum that yielded several suggested strategies, which included having the state police provide training; defining the informal policing structures to increase accountability; securing equipment such as walkie-talkies; and transparency about the sources funding the new police force.

The second project involved the 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone, which works for the equality of women. After three important laws were passed to increase women’s legal rights, the 50/50 Group set out to simplify the language of the acts to make their content accessible to Sierra Leonean women. 50/50 held a one-day meeting attended by legal practitioners, women’s and peace advocates, local leaders, and others, to summarize the laws in language that is clear and simple. They then translated the laws into 16 local languages and, since so many women are illiterate, got tribal chiefs to read the laws on the local radio.

Nemata Majeks-Walker, founding president of 50/50, explained the importance of legal projects that help the women of the Sierra Leone, “We women don’t have access to justice. We are told we should just be showing deference to the man, in the home, in the kitchen.” Yet women have limited rights to inherit property from their husbands and are not adequately protected from domestic violence. She added, indicating her elaborate white dress and headdress, “I come from a very traditional family and I believe in conserving African culture. [But] wife-beating and maltreatment of wives should not be part of African culture.”

For their WJP initiative, the Zimbabwe Institution of Civil Engineers focused on the issue of corruption in the construction industry. They invited doctors, architects, social scientists and civil society representatives to sit down together in an exploratory meeting on how to fight corruption. Together, they developed a broad action plan based on four elements: speaking out publicly against corruption; increasing public awareness through publicity and training; working with business associations and professional institutions to maintain and enforce effective codes of conduct; and helping companies develop anti-corruption policies. Martin Manuhwa, president of the Zimbabwe Institution, acknowledged that group’s initial efforts were met with skepticism. “As engineers, it was tough to convince our constituency that we had something to do with the rule of law,” he said. But eventually, “this project changed how we look at rule of law and how we do business.”

Employer-employee relations was the topic of a fourth project, conducted by the Global Challenge Initiative in Tanzania. Workers on flower farms and in weaving factories face unhealthy conditions including heat, noise pollution and exposure to industrial chemicals. Most workers are employed without work contracts, and child labor abounds. Moreover, production-constraining strikes are common, due to some employers’ refusal to pay the minimum wage. To help, Global Challenge began a process to educate both workers and employers about their rights and obligations.

Global Challenge held a workshop with managers from seven factories and five flower farms who sat down with a union representative, regional labor officers, two factory inspectors and representatives of other disciplines. They concluded that the rule of law cannot be separated from the daily lives of people at workplaces, and that they need to establish strategic partnerships between employers and employees; train farm and factory workers; and increase the awareness of the rule of law.

“The rule of law is an essential feature for a country requiring economic growth and seeking international investment,” stated Onesmo Matei, Global Challenge’s country coordinator for Tanzania.

The session was moderated by Adama Dieng, assistant secretary-general and registrar, U.N. Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Learn More About:  World Justice Project

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