The article headlined “AfBA revival illegal as lawyers groups merged”, quoting the Pan-African Lawyers Union (Palu) president Elijah Banda, as carried in the Star newspaper of July 5, was a deliberate distortion of the true facts about AfBA, deserving clarification and correction.
The African Bar Association (AfBA) was formed in 1971 and was the pioneer pan-African lawyers’ organisation. It was christened “the fearless voice of the legal profession” by virtue of its human and civil rights activism in speaking for the voiceless and the weak. This is did at a time when African countries were young and had just gained independence, and most of its leadership was dictatorial.
The organisation later had its headquarters built in Lagos, Nigeria, by the Nigerian government, and the same was opened in 1991, in a ceremony attended by none other than the then US Vice President Dan Quayle.
The last conference of AfBA was held in Ivory Coast in 1997, and among those in attendance within its membership was the current Ghanaian President Kuffor Ado. The organisation, nevertheless, had its last meeting in 2000.
AfBA went docile and moribund under very regrettable, unfortunate circumstances, but proactive lawyers in Africa started the discussion on how to revive it in 2015. Interim officials were appointed in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and confirmed in a subsequent meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2016. This was closely followed thereafter by a rebirth conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, from September 4-8, 2016.
The key speaker at the conference was Justice Navanethem Pillay, the UN rapporteur on human rights. A second conference, whose key speaker will be former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, is slated for Port Harcourt, Nigeria, from August 6-10 this year. Kenyans have been given a special conference package, starting three days earlier and ending on August 6, to enable them to participate in the forthcoming general election.
The local AfBA chapter was inaugurated on June 20 in a glittering ceremony graced by Attorney General Githu Muigai, LSK president Isaac Okero and LSK Nairobi chairman Charles Kanjama. Present were more than 200 lawyers, including former AfBA chairman (1982-89), our very own Justice (Retired) Lee Muthoga.
INSULT TO MEMBERS
For the Palu president to suggest that the revival of the AfBA association is illegal as it had been merged with another non-existent lawyers’ body to form Palu is regrettable and an insult to its members. Is it not a contrast for him to say that article 10 of the African charter on human and people’s rights entitles African lawyers to form as many organisations as they want, then again castigate and suggest that the revival of AFBA is illegal?
The relevance of any lawyers’ association should be in what it should be able to offer its membership, and that is not to forget that AfBA membership is purely for advocates who have been called to the bar, and is therefore not in competition with anyone.
Within two years of AfBA’s revival, it has undertaken several interventions in Africa, more specifically in the Gambia, Burundi and Cameroon crises. In the Cameroon crisis, where lawyers and human rights activists are currently detained by the government for demanding the rights of the Anglophone-speaking region of Cameroon, AfBA has partnered with international criminal lawyers, led by Karim Khan QC, to represent one of the lawyers in detention, even when the Palu secretary general coincidentally is Cameroonian.
In this liberal, democratic, free world, it is not understandable how an organisation would want everyone to believe that they have a monopoly of the existence of lawyer organisations in Africa, at a time when even the most dictatorial regimes in Africa have opened up and embraced democracy and, by extension, freedom of association.
It is therefore in bad taste to paint any organisation in bad light. Let the relevance of every organisation be left to the individual lawyers to decide.
If the dismantling of lawyers’ organisations in 2000, as stated by the Palu president, was due to the small number of lawyers, then the scenario is quite different now. A country like Kenya, which by then had about 5,000 lawyers, now has 16,000 lawyers, while Nigeria has about 250,000.
The needs and interests of all would therefore be diversified and catered for in their choice of whatever organisations they would wish to belong, without having to be whipped to join any particular organisation. AfBA’s being moribund did not amount to its dissolution, and its revival cannot be termed as illegal, as it is a registered association with a registration certificate.
AfBA secretary general Feni Falana, who is among those alleged to have dissolved the association, never had such powers, as he never held any position in AfBA but was an official of the West African Bar Association.
The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and the International Liaison Manager, AfBA