Monday, 16 June 2014

Connecting African jurisprudence to universal jurisprudence through a shared understanding of contract

Chapter I've published in the book African Legal Theory and Contemporary Problems by Oche Onazi


The chapter considers African understandings of the person as a social being and connects these to relational theories of contract law. By merging African experience with a universalistic approach to persons’ capacities to form contracts, a jurisprudential position is proposed that is inclusive of, and yet not particular to, the continent of Africa. The chapter begins with the examination of those aspects of social and political culture that are considered more pronounced in Africa, and then explores the reasons for general disillusionment in them, specifically the view that African culture is anathema to the consolidation of the nation-state. It is argued that the conceptions of neutral-bureaucratic models of statehood or contract do little justice even to the normative underpinnings necessary for Western political systems. A truly African jurisprudence does not lie, therefore, in claiming particularism on the part of African legal or political systems but instead in understanding how jurisprudence learns and develops through human experiences of reality, and how the continent of Africa therefore brings rich material to this general debate. The relational nature of contracts renders their jurisprudence inclusive of the social contexts surrounding promise-making, and this presents an extremely worthwhile example of how African jurisprudence can meet with universal jurisprudence. The so-called ‘particularities’ of African social interpretations of the person thus help inform general understandings of the nature and purpose of legal frameworks everywhere.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Trust Creation in the Informal Economy: The Case of Plastic Bag Sellers of Mwanza, Tanzania

An article I've published in the African Sociological Review:


Consideration is made of the early stages of trust in a tiny political economy. The article presents an embedded account of the social status and economic position of plastic bag sellers of Soko Kuu market in Mwanza, Tanzania, to demonstrate the dilemmas of trust faced and the solutions that are found. Evidence is taken from interviews with boys and young men whose profession consists of the wholesale purchase and individual retail of different types of plastic bag in the main market of Mwanza. The reputation and standing of bag sellers is very low, presenting a tough challenge for maintaining networks of trust within their own professional group or when bridging trustful relations to other economic groups. Plastic bag sellers tend to be young and bearers of a reputation for thievery. At the same time, the fact that they achieve relatively high levels of profit in such an informal setting presents a puzzle as to how the trust needed for all economic activity has been secured. Acknowledging the lack of institutional guarantees for entrenching or enforcing these relationships of trust, the phenomena of anchors of trust is identified as having supported the early hardening of social norms between parties. Amongst plastic bag sellers, the dire need for short change in order to make a sale ignites participation and cooperation with goods sellers, who in turn come to distinguish between good and bad plastic bag sellers. Trust anchors are the positive opposite to social dilemmas: opportunities for building relationships of trust, based on mutually understood vulnerability. For future social policy attempting to grapple with the informal economy, such zones of trust creation must be identified and worked with.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

How an attempt at 'libel tourism' rebounded on a Tanzanian tycoon

Article originally appeared here on Free Speech Debate.

In 2000, Sarah Hermitage and Stewart Middleton settled in Tanzania, buying a 550 acre farm on which they employed about 150 Tanzanian staff. The British couple purchased the land from Benjamin Mengi, who later claimed he had not been paid in full. Following legal disputes, the staff of the farm suffered assault, arrest and imprisonment from local authorities, and the property of the farm was damaged. Alongside this treatment, The Guardian and Nipashe – two Tanzanian newspapers belonging to the IPP Media group run by Benjamin’s brother, Reginald Mengi – conducted a defamatory campaign against the British couple.
In 2008 the couple left Tanzania, fearing for their safety, and Hermitage blogged about her experiences, discouraging others from investing in Tanzania. In particular, Hermitage wrote five blog posts and two emails which accused Reginald Mengi of influencing the output of newspapers under IPP media. In response, Reginald Mengi sued for libel in a British court, arguing that he “was not responsible, not accountable and not answerable” for the newspapers’ editorial content. In an important decision, the judge found in favour of Hermitage, concluding that “the campaign in the Guardian and Nipashe facilitated Benjamin’s corruption of local officials and intimidation of the Middletons and thus helped Benjamin to destroy their investments and grab their properties; and that Mr [Reginald] Mengi, since he either encouraged or knowingly permitted the campaign, was in that sense complicit in Benjamin’s corruption and intimidation.” Reginald Mengi was ordered to pay over 1 million pounds for the cost of the lawsuit.
In a similar vein to Rupert Murdoch’s defence when News International was accused of phone hacking, Reginald Mengi’s position rested on a claim of ignorance, arguing that Hermitage was exaggerating his influence when she accused him of masterminding a media campaign. If media houses are to be held to account, however, their proprietors and management must accept responsibility for their editorial content. To refuse this responsibility renders citizens at an unfair disadvantage by making media strategies almost impossible to source.
Unfortunately, the actions of the Mengi brothers have encouraged a view of Tanzania as a place of lawlessness and unpredictable investment, like Zimbabwe, when the reality is that Tanzania is one of the most stable and peaceful countries in Africa. This framing will not be helped by the decision of the British couple to take Tanzania to an international arbitration court over their lack of state-provided protection as foreign investors. How the libel case even came to the High Court says something about the over-breadth of UK libel laws at the time. Under the new British Defamation Act, which became law in 2013, such a ridiculous piece of ‘libel tourism’ would no longer be possible.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Pressures on the middle class in Kenya's 2013 election

Article I've published in the Journal of Modern African Studies:


Whilst the middle class are often heralded as forerunners for consolidating democracy, the experiences of Kikuyu in Kenya's 2013 election reveal how under-problematised the socio-economic group is for understanding the pressures faced in voting. The article presents evidence from diary entries of young middle class Kikuyu residing in Nairobi who recorded their feelings and impressions across a period of one month surrounding the country's elections. The diary writers describe the key moments at which they felt the need to switch from supporting third-placed presidential hopefuls to supporting one of the two favourites. Topics felt to pressure voters most keenly were ethnicity, social media, debate surrounding the International Criminal Court and the lack of confidence in others of the middle class. Unlike election analyses which assume static preferences and voting blocks, this methodology allows exploration of the ongoing negotiations and deliberations that influence voting intentions over time. The tensions felt by middle class Kikuyu during the election period made them wish they were members of either of the two other classes, who were in turn viewed as able to influence politics through money or popular power. These feelings of disempowerment ensured voting attitudes fell closely in line with ethnic affiliations, despite members of the middle class remaining wholly dissatisfied with ethnic labelling throughout. It is argued that the economic autonomy of middle class voters did not help disengage them from political tribalism in assessing how to vote.