How “Books for Africa” Impacts Literacy and the Rule of Law

Topics: Access to Justice, Government, Justice Ecosystem, Legal Education, Thomson Reuters

books for africa

A new article on Thomson Reuters’ Answers On website details how the “Books for Africa” initiative has had a positive impact on literacy across the continent and had also enhanced the rule of law.

The article describes how, somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean, a shipping container full of books is currently making its way to a port of call in Africa, where it will be ushered through customs, and unloaded into waiting trucks. The books, thousands of them, will be distributed to children and adults across the continent, many of whom have no access whatsoever to technology. Books are the only way these people can read and learn — the only way, really, they can participate in the modern world.

Over the past 30 years, the organization making these donations possible, Books For Africa, has delivered more than 41 million books to classrooms and libraries throughout the continent, the article explains, pointing out that children aren’t the only beneficiaries, either. Among the many books that Books For Africa has delivered over the years are thousands of legal textbooks, donated to law schools, courts, bar associations, and other legal organizations in desperate need of up-to-date resource materials. In Africa, many jurisdictions have to make do with worn copies of old, out-of-date legal texts, or no texts at all, according to the article. And in some law schools, 10 or 20 students must often share a single book.

“Maintaining the rule of law in Africa is a constant challenge,” says Sharon Sayles-Belton, Thomson Reuters VP of Government Affairs and Community Relations. “In many places, it’s a question of whether decisions are going to be made in a court of law or at the point of a gun.”

The Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative

Indeed, the scarcity of law books in Africa is a matter of such civic urgency that Books For Africa partnered with Thomson Reuters 10 years ago to create the Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative, a program dedicated specifically to providing legal textbooks to law-school libraries, social-justice organizations, and other legal-aid agencies in Africa. Former United Nations Chief Kofi Annan and former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale co-chaired the new venture to get it off the ground. And through this program, Thomson Reuters now donates up to 10 complete law libraries each year to support legal professionals in Africa who are otherwise operating without the benefit of adequate research materials.

The larger purpose of this effort isn’t just to provide books, however — it is to help sustain and develop civil societies based on the rule of law, judicial fairness, and trust in government institutions. Without access to the fundamental texts upon which the rule of law is based, it’s difficult for lawyers and judges to create and enforce legally binding arguments, which can undermine market growth and economic prosperity. It’s also much easier for criminals to go free.

The Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative is part of an ongoing effort to help build the legal framework necessary for democratic stability and improved social outcomes, as well as to provide legal professionals with the intellectual tools they need to combat such widespread problems in Africa as human trafficking, corruption, wildlife crime, human-rights violations, and terrorism.

You can read the full article on Thomson Reuters’ Answers On website.