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Guest Column Feature

An innovative model of legal cooperation between Africa and the West, called the International Lawyers For Africa (ILFA), has silently but firmly been sweeping across the corridors of top international law firms for the past five years. It will be taking new intakes in March, reports Yoletta Nyange.

ILFA celebrates fifth milestone

directors at the programme’s annual fundraising dinner in London

The ILFA class of 2010 and their T

HE INTERNATIONAL LAWYERS FOR Africa (ILFA) programme is an award-winning pro-bono initia- tive that aims to equip African lawyers with additional skills and

expertise in areas of international, commer- cial and corporate law, during a 3-month work placement at law firms in London. Te brainchild of Tim Taylor, a part-

ner at SJ Berwin, the international law firm headquartered in London, ILFA was launched in 2006 and represents an alli- ance between top UK law firms, world- class academic institutions, local in-coun- try legal committees, and inspirational speakers – all distinguished individuals who contribute to the project free of charge to strengthen the rule of law in Africa. In 2011, 16 African countries will com-

pete for places on the ILFA programme: Botswana, South Africa, Ghana, Namibia, Tunisia, Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe. ILFA is a breath of fresh air in inter-

90 | February 2011 New African

national business, a revolution in its own right, as by helping to sharpen the reflexes of African lawyers, it will help the rule of law in Africa to develop and attract in- ternational investment to the continent. Often, the lack of exposure and experience in Africa leads to legal work being done by non-Africans, denying Africans the chance to develop their own jurisdictions. To date nearly 50 African lawyers have benefited from the “ILFA experience”. And they form a network across Africa, exchanging knowledge and growing in confidence. “What is unique is that ILFA can

be duplicated around the world – ILFA France for Francophone Africa, ILFA Dubai for the Maghreb,” said Toyin Ojo, an associate in international arbitration at SJ Berwin and an ILFA director. Watching the ILFA candidates inter-

act during their time in London, one gets the sense of bold and bright personalities, thinking as a group rather than individu- ally, showing the kind of drive it takes to push things forward, yet with the African touch that runs through the continent. As Sabrine Makkes, a Tunisian ILFA

alumna explained: “One of the challenges was to prove that we lawyers from devel- oping countries are as fully equipped and trained as those in international law firms. You have to prove yourself, prove you are worth the confidence invested in you.” Shaking off biased perceptions of Af- rica in the international business commu-

nity was also a challenge noted by Goku- lan Tambapilai, an energy lawyer from Namibia who was voted the 2010 ILFA Ambassador. Describing his work, he ex- plained: “It is crucial to understand how participants in the global market want to do business. To enable us to be prepared to engage with them at a fair negotiat- ing table, we want to make sure what we are offering is commensurate within the market. Tat because it is Africa, we are expected to pay more, or asked to give un- fair securities or unnecessary government guarantees – this we can no longer take.” Te exchange of knowledge on the

ILFA programme is a win-win process. Tambapilai’s mentor, Chinyelu Oranefo from the London law firm Nabarro, was full of praise for her protégé: “I definitely benefited from mentoring him. He trans- ferred knowledge to me. As a firm now, I think we know more about Southern Africa because of him than we did before.” With the growth of legal work in Af-

rica, the importance of programmes such as ILFA is undeniable. “It has to do with where we are in the market right now, be- ing willing to make the commitment and seeing the benefits to it. Building capacity is a huge thing, but the end justifies the means. Tis is not about money, though; it is about sustainable experience, which is more valuable,” commented Oranefo. Dr Mo Ibrahim, founder of the Mo

Ibrahim Foundation and the Mo Ibrahim African Governance Index, said he was “impressed to see the commitment of in- ternational law firms in assisting Africans via the ILFA programme”. (Interested lawyers and sponsors can visit the ILFA website,

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