The documented history of the legal profession in Africa is that, previously, from the 1970s, there were a number of continental-level lawyers’ associations, which were divided along linguistic lines. They were of course weak, due to the small number of lawyers then, as well as the significant cost, and other difficulties, of travel across the continent at the time. The ‘Anglophones’ had an African Bar Association (ABA). The ‘Francophones’ had a separate one, and so on. At the turn of the millennium, a group of far-sighted African lawyers begun conversations across the continent, which culminated in the merger of existing lawyers’ associations into a single, multi-lingual, continental lawyers’ body, i.e. the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), on 9th September 2002, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Bar leaders and eminent lawyers present in Addis Ababa on that day signed a Constitutive Act, establishing PALU.

The then leadership of the African Bar Association (ABA) expressly dissolved the ABA, signed the Constitutive Act of PALU, and merged the then ABA into PALU. As a consequence:

  • The last President of the ABA, the (late) Right Honourable Peter Ala Adjetey (R.I.P.) from Ghana became the first President of PALU; and
  • The last Secretary General of the ABA, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN from Nigeria became the first Secretary General of PALU.

Femi Falana SAN has taken Life Membership of PALU, and remains a strong supporter to date. Over the last 13 years, and certainly over the last 6 years in which PALU has had a Secretariat, the PALU Leadership have ensured to be in all five regions of the continent, operating in the official languages of the African Union (AU), actively engaging regional lawyers’ associations and national lawyers’ associations (who make up its corporate membership), and also individual lawyers (who are welcome into its individual membership). We currently have 3 Special Endowment Members, over 35 Life Members, and over 1,000 ordinary members.

It appears that in the last two years or so, a small group of lawyers, have resolved to ‘revive’ the African Bar Association (ABA), which had been voluntarily and completely dissolved and subsumed into PALU 14 years ago. They now appear to use a slightly different acronym, i.e. AfBA. In terms of freedom of association, which is guaranteed by, amongst others, Article 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, African lawyers are entitled to form as many organizations as they want, and to name them as they wish. To the extent that there (probably) was no organization existing called African Bar Association (the previously existing one having been dissolved 14 years ago), they could possibly be entitled to use that name. But it is incorrect to say that they are ‘reviving’ a body whose leadership deliberately dissolved for the greater good of Africa, and that (former) leadership still exists and reiterates this. It is also incorrect, and possibly unethical, to go around the continent, engaging currently elected Bar leaders and telling them that their Bar Associations/ Law Societies had been active members of the (current) AfBA! The ABA that existed, and which some Bar Associations/ Law Societies may have been part of no longer exists. There is absolutely no link between the former ABA and the current AfBA.

The approach of the PALU Board, and of many of our members, including Femi Falana, SAN, the last Secretary General of the dissolved African Bar Association (ABA) and the founding Secretary General of PALU, is that resources are thin on our continent, yet challenges are many. Our further reflection, and our experience striving to build PALU, especially in the last 6 years in which we have had a functional Secretariat, is that it is extremely difficult and costly to set up a vibrant continental membership body that is truly inclusive, multi-lingual and multi-cultural, that reaches out and involves as well as tangibly touches the lives of individual and corporate members, across the five regions – and 55 countries – of Africa and our diaspora. Our view is that African lawyers and lawyers’ associations (both Bar Associations and Law Societies) should continue to work, as best as we can, within the unified framework that had been created by our Founding Fathers and Mothers, and fulfil their vision of fostering a single, multi-lingual, continental lawyers’ body, i.e. the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU).

In the last 13 years, PALU has, among other things: –

  1. Recruited 3 Special Endowment Members (SEM), over 35 Life Members (LM), and over 1,000 Ordinary Members (OM).
  2. Held over 50 conferences, workshops and seminars in all 5 regions of Africa, as well as in Europe and the United States of America.
  3. Engaged and hosted, in its meetings, each of the 55 national lawyers’ associations and 5 regional lawyers’ associations, several of whom keep their institutional subscriptions up to date.
  4. Participated and made presentations in General Meetings and Conferences of most of the national and regional lawyers’ associations (both Bar Associations and Law Societies).
  5. Intervened and assisted its member lawyers’ associations as well as individual lawyers, judiciaries as well as individual judicial officers in matters touching on independence, sustainability, efficiency and effectiveness of the Bar, and of the Judiciary; constitutionalism, democracy, good governance, rule of law, human and peoples’ rights, and also socio-economic development of the continent, its regions, its member countries and of the people.
  6. Attained formal Observer Status with the African Union (AU), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).
  7. Chaired the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC-AU), and continues to chair the Centre for Citizens’ Participation on the African Union (CCPAU0, and continues to be a member of the Executive Committee of the African Court Coalition (ACC).
  8. Been appointed official Legal Aid Provider for the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR).
  9. Been an official partner of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Legal Support Facility (ALSF).
  10. Consulted for the African Union (AU), including successfully drafting the most complex legal instrument that the AU has ever adopted, i.e. the Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court on Justice and Human Rights (the ‘international crimes protocol’).
  11. Consulted for the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), including successfully conceptualizing its legal aid funding strategy and drafting the Statute for the Legal Aid Trust Fund for the African Human Rights System (AHRS), which the AU Summit (Assembly of Heads of State and
  12. Consulted for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), including in building its capacity to refer and litigate cases at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR).
  13. Published the Pan African Yearbook of Law (PAYL), compendiums and books, and also Electronic Newsletters and Bulletins, in English and French.
  14. Done more than 20 cases in the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), and 5 cases in the East African Court of Justice (EACJ).

Over the last 3 years, we have regularized and institutionalized an Annual Conferences for our members and other stakeholders, as well as an annual meeting of the elected Bar leaders (the PALU) Council. Over the last year, in order to serve our members better, and also provide for them opportunities to build their capacities, profiles and networks, we have established over 40 Members’ Committees, divided into 3 Sections: –

  1. Section on Business Law (SBL)
  2. Section on Legal Practice (SLP)
  3. Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL)

Our work continues, and, with your support and active membership, we are well on our way to achieving that vision.

Elijah C. Banda SC
President – Pan African Lawyers’ Union (PALU)

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