Through several online exchanges, we learned from each other and deepened our knowledge on legal empowerment; how we understand it, what works and what we can do to improve our approaches. More critically, we began to explore the impact of legal empowerment - has it truly transformed lives?
In West Africa, the virtual exchanges analyzed the relationship between paralegal support organizations and community based paralegals attached to or working with these organizations. Members discussed the Structure of Paralegal Programs in West Africa, Paralegal Support and Training Methods and what it really means to ‘Supervise Paralegals’. Community paralegals are central to legal empowerment as they are are the ones on the front lines, collaborating with communities to resolve and prevent justice problems. They, therefore, need flexible, responsive, and creative structures, training and supervision methods that support their effectiveness- and not undermine their work.
In the East and Horn of Africa, members looked at the progress they have made against systemic injustices. In this conversation, members agreed that legal empowerment should not be just about transforming individual lives but also transforming systems that perpetuate injustices and that this does not happen overnight. We are fighting deeply rooted structural inequalities, change will often be very slow and incremental.
With Francophone members, conversations focused on how members use legal empowerment strategies to support their justice work on land matters and natural resource governance; and their engagements with community-based paralegals. From these exchanges, one phrase emerged: “The land belongs to the state” - this phrase has been used by the state to disempower and disenfranchise communities, while undermining efforts towards land and environmental justice.
Health justice emerged as an important theme for members around the continent. Organizations working on health justice issues convened virtually to discuss key lessons and challenges they face as they work with and support communities to realize their right to health. Members acknowledged that legal empowerment plays a vital role in advancing the right to health, and underscored that long-term improved access to healthcare and health services requires accountability between healthcare providers and the communities themselves.
With regard to advocacy, members worked in partnership with the African Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice to advocate for increased financing and recognition of community-based paralegals. We called on the African Union to explicitly include a target towards promoting people-centred justice in the next 10-year plan of the AU 2063 Agenda under Aspiration 3 which identifies justice as a key aspiration for member states. You can click on this link to access and endorse this initiative.
In Kenya, members advocated for the inclusion of an access to justice commitment in the 4th Open Government Partnership National Action Plan (2020-2022). The justice commitment focuses on the implementation of the Legal Aid Act and the Alternative Justice Systems Policy, which are imperative in setting in place legal and policy frameworks for the promotion of access to justice in Kenya. Members presented a memorandum to parliament on the need for increased budgetary allocations towards accessible justice.
Lastly, members convened an online panel discussion reflecting on the benefits of the OGP Platform in promoting access to justice and shared lessons from individual state processes in Indonesia, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. Challenges notwithstanding, members agreed that what OGP brings to the table is its network value: OGP convenes, connects, and catalyzes specific actions very much centered on citizens in a way that focuses on the values of transparency and accountability.
A big thank you to all our members who have contributed to deepening the legal empowerment agenda in Africa. In 2022, we hope to continue this journey together.
If you have not joined us yet, please sign up here and look out for activities happening in your region. We would love for you to be a part of the legal empowerment movement.