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East African lawyers seek Common Market integration

BY Tom Mugisha, tom.mugisha@alleastafrica.com

KAMPALA – Lawyers under the East African Law Society (ELS) are seeking to be integrated into the regional common market to get cross-border experience and be able to compete with global law firms.

The lawyers made the appeal on Friday before President Museveni of Uganda during the ELS 22nd Annual Conference that attracted law societies   Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar was   at the Imperial Resort Beach Hotel, Entebbe.

Richard Mugisha, the ELS president said that without being integrated in the common market, the law firms in East Africa are will continue to businesses to “foreign firms” that provide legal and consultancy services to the regional governments expensively.

“ There is need for an East African Community policy to consider the integration of local firms to handle cross border transactions because foreign firms have been taking all the high value transactions and only assign us to work on their behalf” said Mugisha.

He added that; “we are always left out on grounds that our firms have no capacity but this should not make us undermined. We need protection for our legal market in the region especially through being trusted to provide legal services to governments”

The president of the Uganda Law Society, Francis Gimara told President Museveni that enabling East African law firms to trade freely across the region will make them suit the growing global competition.

“What is hindering our competitiveness at the global level is the fact that most law firms operate only in their mother countries. But when the EAC heads of state come up with a policy to liberalise our services across the region, we will become globally competitive”. Said Gimara.

In his response, Museveni who spent nearly an hour lecturing the lawyers about the importance of integration, said that he and his fellow heads of state have never received written resolutions from the lawyers seeking their services to be integrated in the common market.

“I am surprised that you are now talking about integration because it is rare for the learned friends to talk about this. But you need to write your resolutions and I carry them in the pocket to convince my brothers- the heads of states because I cannot feed them on rumours” said Museveni.

The president who said Africa has been suffering from “barren legalism” told lawyers that they can only achieve prosperity through promoting economic integration of East Africa and the entire continent because it is the only way they will sell their services beyond traditional borders.

The Attorney General of Uganda, William Byaruhanga said that he and his colleagues from partner states are set to sign a legal profession integration policy draft before it is endorsed by the heads of state.

He asked the lawyers to add their consent to the integration at the legal profession level adding that Uganda is already adding a voice to the process.

Meanwhile, President Museveni has also launched the African Support Fund- a USD 1m project run by the African Legal Support Facility (ALSF).

Stephen Karangizi the ALSF Chief Executive Officer said that the project that starts in January 2018 will help build the capacity of young lawyers across the continent to gain legal professional experience in order to suit the competitive market.

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