Africa, Innovation and Access To Law

A few years ago, I decided to buy a plot of land in my father's homeland of Angola. I split my time between Europe and Africa and it had always been a dream of mine to have even a small part of this wonderful country to call my own. I filed the necessary paperwork and went through all of the administrative and legal procedures to obtain the land and the ownership rights. I soon discovered, however, that the land did not belong to me unless I performed the traditional rites to assign ownership. These ceremonial rites included offering food and wine to the ancestors and other traditions that were not familiar to me. I weighed my options and ultimately decided to take part. It was a fascinating experience that left me with more questions than answers, such as why were there two very different processes required to obtain land and, which one should take precedent? That is why my African Innovation Foundation (AIF) initiated the African Law Library (ALL). The ALL is an online legal database that is free to all Africans. The ALL offers access to the different legal texts and secondary literature on African law and governance and provides a source of reference of various legal systems and judgments.

My work has always been fueled by the passion and desire to see an Africa without war, famine or poverty, which will allow its countries to stand on an equal footing with others in the global economy. I believe that in order for us to get there, we must further strengthen justice, accountability, predictability and democracy on the continent.

Africans have to build irrevocable trust in their political and legal institutions and not only feel protected, but also have the freedom and access to information that allows them to make their own choices about the future of their countries and the continent as a whole. Their choices however, cannot solely be based on modern law. We must take into account the traditional laws that have shaped cultures, traditions and ideological hierarchies for centuries. We have to build a bridge between modern law and customary law to overcome colonial law.

It also saddens me to think that at present, African students are often trained and educated based on foreign law because their national law texts are not available or affordable. These students are the leaders of tomorrow's Africa. How can we possibly expect that they will drive Africa's development forward in a sustainable manner if they are not provided access to their own corpus juris? More importantly, access to the law will ultimately strengthen their sense of identity. We would be denying them valuable information on which they can base the decisions that will affect future generations of Africans.

With Africa under tremendous pressure to face its challenges and achieve economic growth, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set for 2015 are no longer a distant, hypothetical ambition. I have always believed that innovation is the key driver for development on the continent and the African Innovation Foundation, an initiative I started in 2009, supports projects that stimulate African ideas and perspectives in emerging industries and disciplines to release untapped potential in Africa.

As we focus on encouraging and supporting innovation from Africa's brightest minds, the question I continuously face is: How do we ensure sustainable economic growth and an ecosystem that promotes innovation without the legal frameworks in place to guarantee transparency, accountability and good governance?

The difficult access to law in many African countries is an obstacle to developing a stable rule of governance and attracting Foreign Direct Investment. I believe that the work my team at the AIF does will help strengthen accountability and predictability for business in Africa and enable African entrepreneurs, start-ups and investors the ability to make quick and informed decisions. It will provide them with information that is easily available, as it is in most of the developed world, to drive Africa's development forward.

With innovative access to information, we are one step closer to fulfilling Africa's developmental potential. I remain optimistic and encourage everyone to continue to set new standards of excellence around promoting innovation and African-led development. We have to enable and encourage the great minds of this continent.