Obegbolu Concludes Tenure as PALU President, Review State of Africa

Full text of opening Ceremony Speech of
Chief Emeka Obegolu, SAN, President of PALU

Theme: The Africa we want: From aspirations to reality.

Emeka Obegbolu, SAN, PhD

I would like to welcome you all to our 2022 Conference and Triennial General Assembly, and to, first and foremost, thank you all, for taking time to attend and participate in it. The Conference this year is very symbolic as it will be the first hybrid conference of PALU since the pandemic. It also marks a transition year for PALU, marking the end of the term of office of the Executive Committee of PALU and the ushering in of a new Executive Committee.

Nature of PALU

PALU is a dual membership organization: the national lawyers’ associations and the regional lawyers’ associations, are institutional members of PALU. We welcome you all! There is real strength in numbers!

Individual lawyers can also become individual members of PALU. We welcome you all to join, and commune with professional colleagues from all over Africa and its diaspora.

Over the last 20 years, and certainly over the last 12 years in which PALU has had a Secretariat, the PALU Leadership have ensured to be in all five regions of the continent, as well as the Diaspora, which is our sixth region. We operate in all the official languages of the African Union (AU), actively engaging regional lawyers’ associations and national lawyers’ associations (who make up our corporate membership), and also individual lawyers (who make up, and are welcome into, its individual membership).

PALU offers individual lawyers and law firms a platform to network; build their knowledge base and capacity (especially through Conferences, Seminars and publications); to structure collaborations and work together to develop our law firms; and further to develop our countries and the continent, in political, economic and social terms.

Our meetings, which we hold across the continent, also enable our members to tour and enjoy different parts of our continent.

PALU seeks to use the legal profession as an entry point to add value to the African society and therefore this Conference needs to be viewed as an opportunity for serious introspection on what contribution PALU and partners are making towards creating conditions for better quality of livelihoods on the African continent and for Africans wherever they are. We cannot achieve our organizational goals and obligations towards Africa unless PALU is at its optimum on organizational and institutional capacity.

Beyond membership dues and other material support, we have a duty to contribute intellectually to the organization. Let us please offer and commit to serving on the PALU Members’ Committees with dedication. It is the cross-fertilization of ideas within the professional environment provided by PALU that will move the legal profession and the quality of governance on the African continent to higher levels.

On the theme of the year

Our theme this year is: “The Africa we want: From aspirations to reality” We intend to use the conference to commence a comprehensive debate with our members and partners on our vision for Africa. As this will be my last address to the opening ceremony of PALU conference as President, the theme of this year’s conference presents me with a unique opportunity to make some recommendations on the state of Law, Governance and Economy in Africa, within the context of my welcome address.

  1. Dismal State of Press Freedom

  2. Over the past decade, press freedom has seen the largest decline of any other fundamental freedom in Africa, according to latest reports. Authoritarian governments continue to use legal pressure, imprisonment, and other forms of harassment to suppress independent reporting. PALU requests the African Union to amend Article 12 of the AU Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which calls on State Parties to promote principles and practices necessary for a democratic culture, to specifically include media freedom. The AU should also include a free press as one of the key conditions necessary for free and fair elections as outlined in Chapter 7 of the Charter.
  3. Proliferation of Restrictive Laws

  4. Authoritarian regimes in Africa are increasingly exploiting their country’s legal framework to eliminate opposition rather than relying solely on violence and political suppression. Laws ostensibly designed to regulate civic activity or protect public order are manipulated to restrict the fundamental rights of citizens. We recommend that the AU should work with Bar Associations and civil society to develop standards for drafting public safety legislation that adequately protects citizens without infringing on their constitutionally guaranteed rights. This legislation should include judicial oversight of surveillance, strict regulations on how long suspects can be detained without charges, and protections for media outlets.
  5. Entrenched Leaders and the Abuse of Term Limits

  6. Some African leaders attempt to extend their tenure beyond the constitutionally mandated limit, in some cases setting off violent protests in their countries.

We suggest that the AU should consider passing
a declaration like the one debated by ECOWAS
that would set clear expectations for respecting term limits. AU leaders should also publicly condemn any attempts to change, circumvent or violate established term limits, just as they do when military coups take place in the region.

  1. Weak Regional Human Rights Mechanisms

  2. The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights with headquarters here in Arusha, is tasked with enforcing the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which guarantees citizens throughout Africa a broad array of fundamental freedoms. Unfortunately, the Court has significant shortcomings. Under the current Charter, individuals and human rights groups cannot bring cases before the Court unless their country has signed a special declaration allowing such complaints

We call on Africa’s democracies to push to remove the immunity clause for sitting heads of state and some government officials. Moreover, countries that have signed the special provision granting NGOs and individuals standing to bring human rights cases before the Court should encourage their counterparts to do the same.

  1. Economic Competitiveness
    While Africa is routinely touted as having 7 of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies, it is also home to 15 out of the 20 least competitive. This is according to reports which found that Africa remains the least economically competitive region in the world.

  1. Moreover, Africa’s overall competitiveness has stagnated over the past decade due to structural factors, such as poor infrastructure and high transportation costs, and to socio-economic and political factors.
    Africa remains underrepresented in global trade, accounting for 2.19% of global exports and 2.85% of global imports in 2020. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can reverse this trend if it is effectively implemented. Launched in January 2021, the agreement is a crucial step towards boosting regional trade and economic development, but full trading activity is yet to commence due to ongoing negotiations on various protocols.

  2. High levels of corruption and government inefficiency, combined with low levels of education, make Africa an expensive and risky place to do business. The region’s democratic countries, however, are faring much better than their authoritarian counterparts. The key components of a functional democracy – efficient institutions, responsible government policies, and a strong rule of law – are the same factors that contribute to a competitive economy.

  3. We call upon The African Union, along with the regional economic communities, to include efforts to strengthen democracy and governance in their economic development and integration strategies. The newly launched Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) holds potential: the platform, developed by Afreximbank and the AfCFTA Secretariat, is expected to bolster intra-African trade by facilitating simpler and secure cross-border payments and reducing payment transaction costs by $5 billion annually.

  4. PALU will be continuously training its members on all developments at the AfCFTA, so that we can all advise and assist our clients to radically grow their trade across borders, across regions and across the continent. Our 2018 Annual Conference, held in Tunis, Tunisia had as its core theme the African Continental Free Trade Area. Thereafter, all our annual conferences, including the one we are starting now, has sessions on the AfCFTA.
  5. Security

  6. Intra-state conflict, terrorism, and unconstitutional changes of government are three of the biggest security issues in Africa. These are ongoing concerns, and the continental response (especially that of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC)) to these threats should be closely observed. Deeper underlying governance issues are often at the heart of these events, and it is important that this link is made. Countries to watch following military coups in 2021 include Mali, Sudan, Burkina faso and Guinea. Chad is also of interest following a military government takeover after the death of President Idriss Déby in April last year. The PSC approved an 18-month plan to return the country to civilian rule; it will be important to monitor its implementation. Ethiopia, where intra-state conflict is threatening regional stability, also remains a red flag.
    In Mozambique, a regional military operation was launched to help fight terrorism in the Cabo Delgado Province. Terrorism and violent extremism also threaten stability in other regions. West Africa, the Lake Chad Basin region (Boko Haram is especially active there), the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and East Africa are all at risk.
    We suggest that counter-terrorism efforts will require greater attention to defence spending and improved utilisation of continental early warning systems.

    The above is merely an introduction to the in-depth discussions on all these issues that will take place at this Conference. We have assembled a panel of experts with diverse knowledge base to do justice to the theme of the conference. Our premise is that if we sufficiently raise awareness about and engage with these issues amongst our members (and others), and build their capacity, we would have done our part in moving the continent of Africa from aspirations to reality. We will manage the positive change, direct and profit from it. Otherwise the change will change us, and leave us behind.

We have a duty, as professionals who believe in the rule of law and in political, social, economic and cultural development of our continent to actively get involved in these issues. This is what will guarantee a life of dignity for our people, and peace and confidence in our governance systems in Africa, whether at national, regional or continental levels.

In concluding, I wish to place on record, my gratitude to the outgoing Executive Committee of PALU. We met ourselves as strangers but on Thursday, we will depart as friends and family. My appreciation also goes to the Secretariat Staff of PALU for all they do to support the Executive Committee. I remain eternally grateful to the Past Presidents of PALU, particularly Akere Muna and Elijah Banda, SC, men who laboured to bring us thus far and, on whose shoulders, PALU has been carried. To them, and many others, I say, may your labour never be in vain and may history be kind to you. My gratitude also goes to the sponsors and our partners for this conference. We are grateful for your continuing support to the Legal Profession in Africa.

May I congratulate my friend and brother, Kari Abdoul Bagui on his emergence as the President elect of PALU and also the officers elect of PALU Executive Committee and also assure them of the support of the legal profession in Africa as they commences their tenure on Thursday, 30th June, 2020.

Finally, let me just reiterate our gratitude for your participation at this Conference, and to hope that it meets your expectations. We look forward to interacting with many of you over the next three days.

Chief Emeka J. P. Obegolu
President, Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)
Arusha, Tanzania
27th June, 2022.

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