On November 27th and 28th, IBJ Burundi Fellow – Astère Muyango – and IBJ Rwanda Fellow – John Bosco Bugingo – attended the 14th East Africa Law Society (EALS) Annual General Meeting in Kigali. The event was co-sponsored by our local partner in Rwanda, the Kigali Bar Association, and opened by the President of the Republic of Rwanda himself, Honor. Paul Kagamé.
The conference brought hundreds of lawyers from the Law Society of Kenya, the Tanganyika Law Society, the Uganda Law Society, the Zanzibar Law Society, the Kigali Bar Association and the Burundi Bar Association together on a path of reforming the legal aid system across the region. The progressive integration of all five East African countries demands the harmonization of practices and procedures across the region.
While the first day of the conference was dedicated to business law and economic integration, the second day focused on the role lawyers can play in promoting the advancement of human rights and access to legal aid across the region. Each country introduced its legal aid system, highlighting the specific challenges to universal access to legal counsel.
Herbert Rubasha, a member of IBJ’s Rwanda Country Advisory Council, presented his paper on access to legal aid in Rwanda. He was echoed by representatives of the Uganda Law Society, the Burundi Bar Association, the Zanzibar Law Society and the Tanganyika Law Society. They all stressed the urgent need for a State-sponsored system which ensures timely access to counsel for all citizens, regardless of the crime they are suspected of having committed.
Burundi’s situation is particularly alarming: as opposed to the other East African countries whose law societies bear the burden of legal aid, the sporadic legal assistance provided in Burundi is exclusively manned by non-governmental organizations and a handful of young passionate lawyers, who take on their own time and resources to protect their fellows’ legal rights.
Astère and Bosco kept abreast of the latest regional innovations. They also built connections with senior members of other countries’ bar associations. Dr Fauz Twaib, the President of the Tanganyika Law Society, and member of the EALS Executive Council, Bruce Kyerere, President of the Uganda Law Society and member of the EALS Executive Council, and other key members of the EALS Executive Council all expressed a desire to work with IBJ to promote systematic access to legal counsel across the region. Don Deya, the CEO of the EALS, displayed a particular interest in IBJ’s idea of a regional training hub in Kenya. Relationships have also been initiated with other African countries’ bar associations, in particular the Law Society of Zambia and Ghana Bar Association.
Above: Bosco (left), IBJ Rwanda Fellow and Astère (right), IBJ Burundi Fellow pausing together during a break.
Above: Astère (left) and Bruce Kyerere, the Uganda Law Society President (Photo by John Bosco Bugingo)
Above: Astère (right) with Dr. Fauz Twaib, the Tanzania Law Society President (Photo by John Bosco Bugingo)
Above: Astère and the President of the Ghana Bar Association (Photo by John Bosco Bugingo)
Above: The recipients of Awards at the 14th East Africa Law Society Annual General Meeting (Photo by Astère Muyango)