An account of the beginnings of IBA Legalbrief Africa as it reaches 20 year milestone
On 4 November 2022, IBA Legalbrief Africa turned 20. It is incredible to think that this publication, which provides a succinct weekly round-up of legal news from across Africa and is delivered each Monday, by email, to people interested in what is happening on the continent, only exists today because of a single auspicious moment.
This is the story of how IBA Legalbrief Africa came into being…or almost did not.
In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years. In 1994, he became President of South Africa. Apartheid was ended, a full-blown race war averted and in 1996 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established. In 2001, Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, launched the New Partnership for Africa's Development that sought to promote unity, democracy, human rights and the independence of the judiciary throughout Africa; the launch of the programme was shortly followed by the opening of the International Criminal Court in 2002. This extraordinary period coincided with the Internet revolution that swept across the planet, a factor that would become key to the success of IBA Legalbrief Africa.
Underpinning the grassroot efforts that brought about these developments were the selfless efforts of human rights lawyers and legal activists around the world, a process in which the International Bar Association’s (IBA) – the global voice of the legal profession – had been vigorously involved.
In 2001 the IBA’s African focus was being significantly expanded, largely due to the IBA’s Human Rights Institute, whose Honorary Life President at that time was Nelson Mandela, and a newly developed and inspiring partnership with the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. At this convergence, in 2002, the IBA’s Annual Conference took place in Durban, South Africa. It was the first time the IBA’s flagship event had been held on the continent, and the IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis and IBA Deputy Executive Director Tim Hughes wanted a tangible legacy to follow the Conference.
In the preceding years, the IBA’s work in Africa had made the Association very aware that many communities of African lawyers had insufficient access to key legal news developments. This was perhaps particularly true for lawyers working to protect people’s rights and freedoms. There followed an aim to provide a service to the wider community of African lawyers that could help to address the information gaps that seemed in part responsible for holding back the fuller development of law and justice in at least some parts of the continent.
Into this environment came a meeting, during the IBA Annual Conference, between the IBA and the respected journalist, William Saunderson-Meyer, Founding Editor of Legalbrief – a stable of e-publications of timely, topical and digestible insights, delivered to inboxes on a variety of topics. William’s ideas fitted perfectly with how Mark and Tim were seeking to serve. After brainstorming, the idea emerged to have a weekly round-up of legal news from across Africa; IBA Legalbrief Africa was born. It was agreed to launch a publication quickly, and to test reaction among delegates at the IBA’s Annual Conference. It was to be free to all subscribers and remains so today.
Mark, Tim and William knew from the outset that the publication would have an African readership, but what also developed early – and surprised them with its enthusiasm – was another large readership from across the world that was strongly supportive of and interested in Africa.
The original hope of the trio was that IBA Legalbrief Africa could summarise key legal news developments effectively for African lawyers, and by doing so, help to connect more lawyers – showing those in one country that the issues they faced had parallels and connections across the border, in a neighbour or near-neighbour.
The Conference delegates’ reaction to IBA Legalbrief Africa was so pleasingly positive that William and Tim embarked on a weekend road-trip across the red mountains of KwaZulu-Natal, up as far as the Tugela River, on which they discussed a wish-list of readerships, types of content, style, and above all hopes for the publication.
These hopes might have been among the world’s most short-lived, because somewhere on the road a rootless teenager pulled out a gun and shot at the duo. The life of IBA Legalbrief Africa, as well as that of two fortunate individuals, owes something to the jamming of the gun after the first bullet. The story of too many African countries has been summarised as ‘from the bullet to the ballot’. It was not quite expected that IBA Legalbrief Africa should start from the same place. But that moment serves as a reminder as to what the publication remains passionate to be part of: the drive towards stronger rule of law and justice, served by a thriving, connected, thoroughly well-informed community of African, and pro-African, lawyers.
For a free IBA Legalbrief Africa subscription, sign up here: https://legalbrief.co.za/diary/legalbrief-africa-new/newsletters/
Notes to the Editor
- For a free IBA Legalbrief Africa subscription, sign up here: https://legalbrief.co.za/diary/legalbrief-africa-new/newsletters/
- The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
- Over the past 170 years, Juta has established itself as a brand synonymous with trusted African legal, regulatory, business, and tertiary content. Today Juta is a leading provider of legal technology platforms, tools for lifelong learning and solutions to grow businesses under the slogan, “Inspiring Possibilities Together”. Juta is committed to perpetuating meaningful change in the lives of the government, business and legal sectors by leveraging a vast library of quality content to support and streamline legal services, accelerate legal research results and drive value for the practice of law today and into the future.
- The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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