The Africa conference on rule of law and development opened in Dar es Salaam yesterday with over 140 delegates attending, including two former Presidents of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa and Jayak Kikwete.
The meeting, convened by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) and the Government of Tanzania, has brought together representatives from 18 countries over two days for interactive discussions on the interface between the rule of law and development in Africa.
In her opening remarks, Irene Khan, Director-General of the IDLO said that at the root of poverty and inequality is a deficit of the rule of law.
“This happens when the state does not have the capacity or the will to protect people or their property; when institutions are not strong enough to resolve political or social conflict; when poor people are locked out of markets and financial services because of discrimination or lack of awareness about their rights; when opportunities are only open to a few based on wealth and privilege; when corruption, bribery and discrimination distort access to basic services; when women and girls have no recourse to justice against gender based violence; when the law is selectively enforced in favor of the rich and against the poor,” she said.
Ms Khan added that it is evident that the standard course of action must change if sustainable development is to be achieved on the continent. “The role of accountable institutions and access to justice will be critical for resource mobilization and attracting international investments and partnerships.”
President Kikwete echoed this theme by stating that resourcing the Sustainable Development Goals remained the biggest challenge to their achievement. The Millennium Development Goals had not been fully realized because sufficient resources had not been mobilized, he said.
Nanette Thomas, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Political and Public Affairs explained how the rule of law underpins economic growth – essential for transformation in Africa. “Respect for the rule of law is a basic requirement for creating conditions that foster business development. It provides the security that protects individuals’ basic political and human rights,” she said.
South Sudan’s Minister of Justice Paulino Unango highlighted the contradictions between statutory laws and customary laws in his country where 85 per cent of the population live in rural areas and the literacy rate is 20 per cent. Land rights, child marriage and domestic violence are of particular concern, he said.
The interactive sessions began with a lively discussion on building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions, led by Albie Sachs, anti-apartheid activist and former judge at the Constitutional Court of South Africa.
Earlier, President Mkapa challenged delegates: “You are African leaders, you can help the formation of more equitable constitutions, more just procedures for enforcement and certainly more speedy retrieval of rights. That is the task before you,” he said.