In 2022, recognising the power of joint action, legal empowerment organisations from across Africa came together to learn from one another, build solidarity and strategize around collective challenges.
Lagos Declaration on Community Driven Justice, Nigeria.
Over 50 legal empowerment practitioners from 15 different countries met in Lagos, Nigeria from March 21st -25th to discuss a joint legal empowerment agenda for West Africa. This resulted in the Lagos Declaration on Community Driven Justice which serves as a guiding framework for joint legal empowerment initiatives in the region. Organisations committed to, among many other things centre communities and community-based paralegals in all national and regional justice initiatives. You can read more about it here.
West Africa Legal Empowerment Network
At the Lagos meeting , organisations also formed the West Africa Legal Empowerment Network( WALEN) through which members will implement a joint legal empowerment agenda. A core group with representatives from selected West Africa countries was constituted to lead WALEN activities. Lead : Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative- Nigeria; supported by Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI)- Nigeria/Benin, Lady Ellen Women Aid Foundation (LEWAF)- Sierra Leone , Natural Justice ( Senegal and Guinea). Strategies are being put in place to expand this core group for better representation and inclusion.
Building community power to fight injustice
Hosted by the West Africa Legal Empowerment Network, this conversation shared stories of ongoing struggles and successes in working with communities to fight systemic injustices. Panellists were drawn from Kenya, Benin, Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria to discuss ways in which they meaningfully centre communities in their work and how they use legal empowerment strategies to harness community power to address a wide range of injustices affecting the urban poor, rural communities and ethnic and religious minorities. Listen to the conversation here.
Building the Legal Empowerment Movement in Africa Shared Learning, Community Power and Advocacy for Justice, Nairobi, Kenya.
Held in July 2022, in Nairobi, Kenya, this convening brought together 15 grassroots and national legal empowerment organisations from West, East, Southern and the Horn of Africa. Among key issues agreed upon was the need to continue building a community of practice and embracing learning through the Learning Agenda for Legal Empowerment. The Learning Agenda puts forth a set of questions for collective learning across our field– and clearly mirrors the pressing issues within the movement in Africa for example, how can we demonstrate our impact? What forms of financing and recognition can help us grow the movement? How can legal empowerment build collective power? More about the convening here.
Why Recognition and Financing of Paralegals is Not Working in Africa and What We Can Do About It
From the discussions, it is evident that justice organisations in Africa need to revisit the question of state recognition and financing which is facing the challenge of state capture, regulation and underfunding. Participants suggested that justice organisations should: continue to build evidence on the important work of community based paralegals and why they need sustainable, flexible and accessible funding, engage in sustained and targeted regional advocacy and document successful cases of State - paralegal collaboration at local levels. Read more about the deliberations here. From this conversation a statement was prepared and shared at the 71st session ofOrdinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. You can access the statement here.
Open Government Partnership Africa and the Middle East Regional Meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.
The event brought together open government champions and stakeholders from the region and key international partners to raise collective ambition, energise the community, and generate new political support to make governments more transparent, accountable and responsive to citizens. Network member Kituo cha Sheria in collaboration with the Judiciary of Kenya participated in a panel discussion on enhancement of access to justice through alternative justice systems with comparative lessons from Sierra Leone. Kituo cha Sheria also participated in another panel discussion on community-based paralegalism in Africa and the urgent need for financing.
Strategies in engaging the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to advocate for more financing for community based paralegals.
The candid conversation, attended by 15 legal empowerment organisations from around Africa focused on how to meaningfully engage the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights on the question of increased financing for grassroots justice work. Listen to the full recording here.
Publication: The Role of Legal Empowerment Groups in Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa During the COVID 19 Pandemic
This study includes findings from Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In summary, the pandemic has highlighted the key role which community-based justice actors play in mitigating violence, enabling survivors to access justice and holding State actors accountable. As the work of gender justice organisations was limited owing to various lockdown measures, it therefore primarily fell on the paralegal networks established prior to the pandemic. This emphasised the role of community based paralegals in addressing GBV at the grassroots level. Download the study here.
Find out what legal empowerment organisation were up to in Africa in 2021