“Lawis a system of rules, usually enforced through a set of institutions. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a primary social mediator of relations between people. Law also raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness and justice. “In its majestic equality”, said the author Anatole France in 1894, “the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.”
This is a brilliant definition that I found while doing research as to why we need law and the purposes of law in society. I read this brilliant definition and tried to apply it to the African context to determine whether this was evident in our society. The first question that popped to my mind was, what if the institutions through which this system of rules is supposedly enforced is corrupt and has no regard for excellence for the very laws it seeks to enforce?
This sentence goes on further to state that law shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways. If the fruits of politics in African countries are that of greed and crippling economies what does it say about our rule of law and institutions. Is it safe to say that in fact we operate in systems and society where lawlessness is the norm if a country like Ghana could award 62 billion dollars to an entrepreneur(with no accountability from its citizens mind you) and then in the same breadth ask for an 8million dollar loan from the west?
The definition continues to state that law serves as a primary social mediator of relations between people; that law raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness and justice and that law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.”(Sorry Anatole France… not in Africa)
Why is Africa the richest continent in minerals and natural resources yet home to the highest un-employment rates and the worst inequalities that we see in nations today? Why are we silenced by our leaders when we speak out about important complex issues concerning inequality, fairness and justice? Why do the poor continue to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal, while the rich get richer because these very institutions do not care to ensure accountability? Why isn’t law taken seriously in Africa?
I am of the view that lawyer’s play as much of an important role as doctors in society. Lawyers play an important role to implement and enforce the law and provide services to the public. They play a fundamental role in the administration of justice and the realization of rights enshrined in any countries constitution. They serve a very important purpose in that they can determine the destiny and future of an individual. While doctors can play a role in lengthening ones life expectancy, lawyers can determine the quality of life during ones lifetime regardless of what field of law it is. We can determine whether someone’s liberty is deprived or not. As a result such a responsibility should be taken seriously. In essence both professions deal with a fundamental principle and that is that we deal with the lives of people.
I recently attended a court proceeding where the accused had been in police custody i.e. jail, for a year because his case kept getting postponed and on many occasions the state attorney assigned to provide some form of legal representation for indigent clients would merely not pitch. I’m not sure which one was worse as the state attorney( the fourth one assigned to the accused who did pitch) that I witness representing the accused seemed to do more damage than good. She was not excellent; she was apathetic and was ill prepared for her case. Further she seemed to believe that she was doing a good job as she went out of her way to tell me and my friend to pay attention to how she was performing her tasks. She told us that she was doing it the correct way as opposed to the judge who asked the accused and witness the questions that she in fact should have been asking. (Wow!!! REALLY??). However I stopped my judgmental self in my tracks as I realized that I too have been guilty of being apathetic and I too have settled for mediocrity many times. If you’re a student, ask yourself how many times you waited to do an important assignment last minute and were satisfied with just a pass. If I was not practicing the principles I expected to see in someone else, when was I going to get it right?
How often have we simply ignored an issue because it was inconvenient for us to go out of our way to fix it and address it? When was I ever going to be an excellent attorney if I wasn’t taking the journey to becoming it as seriously as I should? When is Ghana going to change if the Diaspora stays away and wait for it to be fixed before we come home? Perhaps we’re not all called back home but wherever we are do we contribute to change or do we sit in our comfortable homes and continue to speak about how pathetic Africa is and how we will never improve? If you’re guilty of such then my friend you have no right to complain.
The bystander term was coined when there was a certain lady murdered, stabbed to death, over a period of thirty minutes and a distance of a couple of meters. She screamed running down the road crying for help and every one thought that someone else was going to do something about it, and no one did. Yep you guessed it… she died. I need to take ownership of my life, and responsibility for my continent. I suddenly realized that it wasn’t just important for me to get excellent marks because it looked good on my transcript (phew and boy
those A’s would do me a world of good) but because a poor person who could not afford a top law firms fees is depending on me to be as good and as excellent in representing him as I would if millions were at stake. Let’s stop heckling Africa and take responsibility for it in our own spheres of influence. Let us bare the costs of daring to be a difference and changing our continents fate.
About the Author:
Pokuaa Busumru-Banson is a student at the university of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg South Africa. She ‘is a final year law student and also the former SRC president of the University. Pokuaa is the Sub Editor of Feint and Margin.
Photo: Pokuaa Busumru-Banson Third from Left