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Why lawyers can fast track East African integration

Legal guidance in walking trade pacts rhetoric is inevitable

 

Saturday December 29, 2018

By Joe Lihundi

Tranquility News Reporter

Unless lawyers play their part in unleashing the potential for East Africa’s economic growth, the region will not attract meaningful investors, an expert has cautioned.

Different legal practices and ways of doing business among the East African Community (EAC) partner states made it difficult for investors to access the market, he said, challenging lawyers to consider taking their professional measures to improve access to market in the region.

The Chief Executive Officer with Centum Investments Plc based in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr James Mworia, told members of the East Africa Law Society (EALS) that besides the attractive size of the market, investors were also keen in other factors, including the practice of rule of law.

The Centum Investments Chief Executive Officer, Dr James Mwroria, presents a paper on an Ideal Law Firm during the 24th East Africa Law Society Annual Conference held in Mombasa, Kenya, recently.

“Movement of people, goods and services as well as harmonisation of regulations are totally in our ambit, we have to move fast to resolve them,” the Kenyan business executive, who doubles as lawyer, told a leading law firms forum organised by the EALS in Mombasa, Kenya, recently.

When Dr Mworika took over Centum Investments, the firm had only Ksh10 million in cash, an overdraft of Ksh180 million and a total assets of about Ksh6 billion.

Eight years down the lane, the company boasts having Ksh70 billion plus worth total assets, thanks to his belief in prompt decisions for enabling the firm to register the growth.

The ongoing integration process notwithstanding, the EAC partner states were still busy competing with each other instead of with the world, and in so doing escalating barriers to movement of goods, people and services across the region, he observed.

Members of the East Africa Law Society (EALS) follow deliberations of the 24th EALS Annual Conference in Mombasa, Kenya, recently.

He said the region’s $147 billion gross domestic product was not only small when spread across six partner states with a combined population of 150 million plus people, but also sent a message to potential investors that the market was inaccessible.

“Even when Ethiopia with its $90 billion GDP joins as the EAC seventh partner state, the region will still not be as attractive to investors as is the case with South Africa with $300 billion GDP,” he said. East Africa needed at least $400 billion for the bloc to have economies of scale, he explained.

The forum themed African Continental Free Trade Area: Challenges and Opportunities for the Legal Profession attracted about 500 lawyers from across the region, including some from two leading law firms from South Sudan which have just joined the bar.

Mr Richard Mugisha, the former EALS president, said governance, corporations, civil societies and the general public needed the lawyers’ guidance and legal support in implementing protocols under the continental and regional trade pacts.

“This forum unpacks them to build professional capacity of members to give advisory and dispute resolution services under the pacts,” he explained.

Some experienced speakers were invited to share their experience on rising influence of technology on law and policy implementation and on the role of good governance and rule of law in promoting cross-border trade.

The Microsoft Emerging Markets Attorney for Middle East, Ms Otilia Phiri, said rapid technology changes raised complex questions that called for concerted efforts to create systems that were fair, reliable, inclusive, transparent, accountable and compliant with privacy laws.

Ms Sara Mhamilawa from Lexsynergy Limited said much as 80 per cent of Africans were expected to be connected to the internet by 2020; the rate of cybercrime would significantly rise.

The former Kenya Chief Justice, Dr Willy Mutunga, delivered key note address during the East Africa Law Society (EALS) 24th Annual Conference in Mombasa, Kenya, recently.

Ms Mhamilawa called on the leading legal firms in the region to consider using domains instead of webs in a bid to protect their information in the digital world.

“Otherwise, a conman can use documents such as forms for payment of various bills belonging to online businesses or e-government for stealing from your customers or taxpayers,” she cautioned.

While a domain is a distinct subset of the internet under the control of a particular organisation or individual, the World Wide Web consists of pages that can be accessed by a browser.

While the Tanzania National Arts Council has banned countrywide music concerts organised by a renowned artiste Naseeb Abdul Juma, aka Diamond Platinumz, allegedly for playing a forbidden song, members of the East Africa Law Society show residents of the region how to dance legally outside courtrooms. PHOTOS | COURTESY OF EALS

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