GODFREY EBREYU has a captive audience, in every sense. A throng of inmates has gathered in the prison yard in Gulu, northern Uganda, as he explains the intricacies of plea-bargaining. Like 55% of prisoners in Uganda, these men are awaiting trial; some have been here for years. They are still asking questions when, at four o’clock, they are ushered back into their crowded cells for the night.
Mr Ebreyu is a paralegal working for the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, a Ugandan NGO. Paralegals have some legal training, but they are not lawyers. Across Africa they are helping to unclog courts, resolve disputes and bring justice to the most vulnerable, from suspects deprived of their liberty to farmers robbed of their lands. Some are paid, others are volunteers; they typically work for civil-society groups and tend to be locals.
Their work is desperately needed. Africa’s people are mostly rural and poor; its fully qualified lawyers are mostly urban and expensive. In Uganda just one in a hundred disputes ever reaches a lawyer. When the civil war ended in Sierra Leone, the country’s legal fraternity could have fitted in a couple of buses. In Malawi, murder trials were suspended in April this year because the legal-aid board couldn’t afford defence lawyers; it has just nine of its own, and four of those are studying abroad.
The above is an excerpt from an article published in the print and online versions of The Economist on October 22, 2016. To view the full article on The Economist’s website, click here.