View {title}

In My View

January 27, 2015

An empowered Africa begins with an informed Africa

When I reflect back on how the African Law Library (ALL) came to be, I am humbled to observe that in just two short years, it has become a tool that is helping to empower African citizens.

I founded the ALL as a direct result of a personal experience I encountered when I bought some land in Africa. An old soba from Cabinda was quick to point out that the land still would not belong to me as long as I had not performed the traditional rites to assign ownership. This completely threw me because I had diligently followed all the necessary administrative and legal procedures to obtain rights to the property. We eventually went to the village to offer food and wine to the ancestors. With the mediation of an elderly local wise man, I was guided to perform the necessary traditional rites before the ancestors allowed me to own the land.

These parallel legal realities confounded me, but more importantly it got me thinking that if I could be caught in such oblivion, then what about the millions of Africans out there with no access or knowledge to their legal rights? Would they simply go through life in ignorance and lose out on opportunities to enhance their lives?

I felt compelled to take action. And so the ALL was formed and implemented as a free online public portal that provides African people with vital access to legal information that can help them take charge of their lives. Today the ALL contains thousands of legal documents ranging from legislations, acts, court rulings, and customary laws in various languages from many African nations, as well as a host of secondary sources including legal commentaries, journals, dissertations, books and articles.

In a special issue published by MIT Press on Digital Inclusion: The Vital Role of Local Content, one can easily grasp the enormity of the ALL initiative. But it would not have been possible without the steadfast commitment of my team at ALL and of our partners at Digital Divide Data (DDD).

It is evident that the same passion that motivated me to launch the ALL is the very same fuel that drives them to do what they do day in, day out. I am especially touched by the story of DDD’s Danson Ireri, who spends hours each day painstakingly scanning and indexing thousands of legal legislation for the ALL. I am happy to hear that he feels his work is important because he is helping other Africans have easy access to the laws that affect their communities.

Today, with the help of our regional partner institutions as well as our national, library and service partners, the ALL is helping to champion freedom of information and public access for Africans all over the continent. Together we are able to help thousands of people in Africa to understand their legal rights.

The ALL now has over 50 partner entities in 20 African countries, with plans to extend our services to the rest of Africa by 2017. With many sub-Saharan African nations now moving towards e-governance, the ALL will be able to work more cohesively with relevant legal authorities to digitize data and provide the public with up-to-date legal information that can change their lives for the better.