Review - AFBA 2017 Annual Conference in Port Harcourt (6-10 August 2017)

Following the successful “rebirth conference” in Harare/Zimbabwe last year, expectations were high regarding this year’s African Bar Association's annual event and to say the least, they were exceeded on all accounts. An unexpected number of 1,200 delegates from across Africa (up from roundabout 300 last year) demonstrated the interest in coming together as the African legal community and clearly added weight to the various sessions under this year’s theme “Dissecting the legal and regulatory framework for doing business in Africa”. Key note speakers such as His Excellency, Dr Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, Immediate Past President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Honorable Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, Attorney -General and Minister of Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Chief Charles Taku, Vice President of the Internal Criminal Court Bar Association and other prominent members of judiciary, government and private practice provided a remarkable framework for discussions during the respective breakout sessions (link to the full programme).

Without going into too many details, three recurrent themes seemed to drive this year’s conference:

1)      In today’s volatile times and political uncertainty, the Rule of Law must be upheld, which requires an independent and active legal profession. Good governance and transparent and practical frameworks are crucial to attract the much need intra-continental and foreign investment.

2)      Africa has far too long accepted a passive role on the backseat. Given the strategic strength derived from the abundance of raw resources, it must take a more proactive role and start shaping its own destiny. Accordingly, introducing more African attorneys to arbitration cases related to Africa and strengthening African-based arbitration platforms is not a choice but imperative.      

3)      Contrary to last year, there is no debate anymore whether the legal fraternity undergoes a change process or not. It has become obvious that change in form of disruptive technologies, foreign firms entering African jurisdictions and new client expectations is already happening and affecting day-to-day business. Hence, there was a lot of debate how to best equip sole practitioners as well as medium-sized and large law firms in order to embrace and take full advantage of the changing environment. The idea of “skills development” as well as new ways of collaborating across firms and borders were comprehensively discussed.

Days of intense and constructive debate, networking and experiences sharing were framed by the warm hospitality of Nigeria and Port Hartcourt in particular. Our heartfelt thanks go to the leadership of the African Bar Association and the organising committee and staff who made this conference a huge success.

Please visit also the AFBA 2017 page of our affiliated company Avuka (link).