Legal Diplomacy vis-à-vis Africa

Receive but also give, learn and at the same time teach, and in any case contribute to a common path that concerns everybody – this is the appeal of Makane Moise Mbengue, professor of international law at the University of Geneva. Professor Mbengue, who has Senegalese origins and a global vision, provided the keynote speech for the opening of the second edition of the International Programme for Law and Development (IPLD), a specialised training course which saw the participation of 22 jurists from 17 African countries this year. “We have to be ‘rulemakers’ and not only ‘ruletakers’”, Professor Mbengue declared via videocall from Geneva, disagreeing with any cooperation approach that is not reciprocal.

The participants attended the international Programme during the months of June and July; for three weeks, they covered various topics through dialogue and exchanges organised by UNIDROIT, which counts only four African countries among its current 65 Member States. According to Professor Mbengue, a greater number of Member States from among the sub-Saharan countries could lead to the development of more transparent and reliable legal systems, with positive impact on investments.

The seat of Unidroit in via Panisperna in Rome. © Unidroit

According to Marco Giungi, Head of the Unit for Global Multilateral Strategy for Development Cooperation of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of International Cooperation, harmonising the legal framework helps “prevent problems” and “guarantees equity conditions and equality among the parties”. Ambassador Giungi also read a message from Vice-Minister Edmondo Cirielli, mentioning the “Mattei Plan” that the Italian Government intends to present during the fourth Italy-Africa Conference this autumn, and highlighting that whatever happens on the African continent has direct consequences in Europe and vice versa.

Another aspect underlined by several ambassadors among the 20 that were present at the IPLD opening ceremony was that of the impact of unified law on investment; indeed, “unification of international law is important especially for investments”, stated H.E. Naser Al Belooshi, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain in Italy. The courses of the International Programme for Law and Development are organised and coordinated by Marco Nicoli, supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and sponsored by the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development (AICS).

Maria Chiara Malaguti, Professor of International Law at the Università Cattolica Sacro Cuore and President of UNIDROIT, clarified the IPLD’s objectives by saying, “we have selected Africa for a ‘master’ programme addressed not to young people that have just ended their studies, but to people that already perform in government administrations”. The participants first attended a two-week online session before coming to the seat of UNIDROIT for the three-week in-person module. President Malaguti continued: “We want to raise awareness on the African continent about the possibility to unify law by bringing legal instruments closer: the goal is not to make them all the same nor standardise them, but to modernise laws and make them more compatible and connected”. President Malaguti also touched upon innovation, startups, new technologies and rapid growth, emphasising that great inspiration was originating from Africa and international cooperation needed to provide possibilities for financing and implementation.

A session from the last class at Unidroit. © Vincenzo Giardina

Indeed, this is something that the participants agreed on. Devisha Vythelingum, a lawyer in Mauritius, noted: “Unfortunately my country is not yet a Unidroit Member State, but when I return to Port Louis I will try to share as much as possible of this experience to favour my country’s membership”. Mohamed Dielo, Vice-President of the High Court of Ouahigouya (Burkina Faso), added: “It is difficult to practice law because in some cases, national law is not precise”, but the Unidroit Principles, for example, “can be a useful point of reference”.

Justice Eduard Derek Wille, Permanent Judge of the High Court of South Africa, returned to Rome after having participated in last year’s first edition of the programme: “Our country has a magnificent constitution but, as we all know, the problem is the enforcement of it. Sections 232 and 233 of the Constitution allow, or rather require, judges to apply international principles in those areas that are not regulated by domestic legislation or where domestic legislation is insufficient”. In this way, Unidroit instruments are available to all. According to Wille, “other African countries, like Kenya, provide for this same possibility in their constitution”.

To sum up, Justice Wille stated the following: “My message to magistrates, lawyers, judges and drafters of legislative texts that have a hard time in their jobs, is that there are solutions: there is a bridge that allows you to overcome perilous waters, because the Unidroit Principles can be applied”.

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