The bright promise that was the Africa Parliamentary Knowledge Network (APKN) is seemingly fading away. This important project, where African parliamentarians and their staff committed to help each other build capacity and share information was making a real difference in the governance of Africa. Sadly, when the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Advancement (UN/DESA), using funds provided by the government of Italy, stopped supporting the APKN financially a few years ago, the Network not only lost momentum, but seemingly stopped altogether. Just because the Network has been quiet, and perhaps has frayed from lack of use (the Network’s website, APKN.org, is now a Japanese fashion page) does not mean that it is lost. The talented and dedicated people from the various parliaments who made the APKN so promising should take the lead and chart a new course for the Network. This will take participation from across the Continent and should be driven by African voices. This effort will also take money. It is unlikely the UN will be a source– but perhaps between the APKN members and the partners who have already shown a willingness to support the Network, we can find a new vision and the money to make that vision a reality. For instance, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is a potential partner. This conversation could start at the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel (CALC) conference that will take place in Livingstone, Zambia April 1-3, 2019.
The APKN was established in June 2008 by the international conference “Africa Parliamentary Knowledge Network – Building Together Open and Learning Parliaments in Africa” in Cairo, Egypt. The APKN operated under the authority of the Speakers and Presidents of APKN member assemblies–30 assemblies in all. Representatives of the APKN assemblies met in plenary every two years to approve the reports of activities, the Executive Committee’s strategic action plan, and to set new priorities and goals for the next two years. The Network was “hosted” by a variety of Parliaments who took the lead in putting together conferences and led the Executive Committee. The first host was Egypt, before the turmoil and revolution in that country. The next host was South Africa, and finally the Pan-African Parliament took the lead.
During its short life, the APKN had a string of successes; thanks in large part to the tireless work of the UN/DESA technical advisors, Flavio Zeni and Dr. Cecilia Matanga. The APKN issued a comprehensive set of legislative drafting guidelines for use across the Continent to allow better informatics sharing while remaining true to best practices in legislative drafting. An assembly of drafters from APKN countries refined and ratified the Guidelines at a 2010 conference in Cape Town South Africa. In 2011, UN/DESA, in conjunction with the APKN issued a handbook on designing legislation for the free use of drafters everywhere.
Perhaps the greatest victory is that earlier this year the legislative platform designed for APKN, Akoma Ntoso V1.0 became the newest Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) Standard— the only OASIS standard with an African name (“linked hearts” in the Akan language of West Africa) to honor those who nurtured and promoted the platform. This platform is used by many institutions around the world — the European Parliament, European Commission, the Italian and Swiss parliaments, and other parliaments in both America and Asia. Still, no African parliament has adopted Akoma Ntoso platform —perhaps because of the missing APKN.
APKN served other important functions: one was simply bringing African legislators and drafters together to meet, talk and exchange ideas at periodic conferences. In addition, the APKN LawClinics had law students at Boston University School of Law drafting legislation with African drafters and law students at African universities for parliaments in Uganda, Zambia, Liberia and the East African Legislative Assembly.
Where do we go now? At a conference in 2011, when participants asked what APKN would do next, Flavio Zeni responded, “You are APKN!” The Network was never meant to be driven by the UN or an outside partner such as a European parliament or American university. African parliamentarians and African drafters must lead the Network and give it vitality.
Should there be a website to share legislative ideas and language like the United States’ National Council of State Legislatures? Should the Network train legislative drafters? Should it train new members of parliament? Should it take position on and suggest methods for legislative reform? Should there be an annual conference, and what would be the goals of that conference?
We will send this posting to the various African parliamentary leaders, those who have been active with the APKN in the past, and to the CALC community at large. If anyone who would like to make suggestions, on either a vision for APKN or a source of funding, we will post the ideas on BU Law’s Dome blog webpage. Our hope is that we can bring several potential suggestions to the CALC conference in April for discussion amongst drafters from APKN countries and their allies. Together, we can reinvigorate APKN and support stronger parliaments across Africa.
Elizabeth Bakibinga-Gaswaga was involved in AKPN as a legislative counsel for the Parliament of Uganda and is an active member of CALC. Elizabeth represented Africa on the CALC Executive Council and later served as CALC’s Vice President.
Sean J. Kealy is a clinical associate professor of law at Boston University School of Law where he directs the legislative clinical programs. Sean helped organize the APKN LawClinics and is an associate member of CALC
April 25, 2018 at 5:57 am
For those of you loyal readers of the BU Law Blog, you may have seen Brynn’s earlier post about the International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform in Washington, DC. I also had the chance to head down to our nation’s capital last week and participate in the conference, which was co-sponsored by BU Law.
When Professor Kealy first sent out the email letting us know about the conference, I jumped at the opportunity to spend a few days in DC and hear from some of the experts who write the words that become law around the world. The agenda was packed with an interesting and diverse set of speakers who covered a wide range of topics relating to the creation and refinement of legislation.
I took the overnight Amtrak from Boston and arrived in DC to a spectacular spring morning. On the drive from Union Station to the conference at American University, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom as if to welcome the conference attendees in a uniquely Washingtonian way. Right off the bat, Professor Voermans from Leiden University set the tone with an interesting presentation on the balance between legislative efficiency and transparency. Of note, he cited Professor Kealy’s study of American legislative drafters to illustrate the role technology has played in the field. I have to say, it was pretty exciting to see my clinical professor’s work globally recognized; it just goes to show what a terrific opportunity the legislative drafting clinic is.
There were other great presentations, including U.S. Congressional and Senate drafting veterans discussing their experience with the demands of legislators who want bills written in impossibly tight timelines. They provided a glimpse into the practical realities of Washington, and how we, as the public, often think that laws should just magically appear when we want them. There were presentations on the legislative approaches in the EU, Ethiopia, and China. Still others discussed some of the hot topics of the day, such as ways that legislation can address climate change and the needs of post-conflict states.
Overall, it was an extraordinary privilege to sit in on some of these discussions as a law student and gain an appreciation for the technical and professional complexities that come with the work of making law. For those of us who took the legislative drafting clinic, we had some exposure to the effort that goes into each bill, though we mostly worked on a single piece of legislation. It is quite another thing to deal with demand of dozens of different constituencies, so it was fascinating to meet the community of a scholars and drafters who do so on a daily basis.
…and I finally got to wear my lapel pin.
After the conference wrapped up for the day, I had dinner out in town and took a walk around the capital. I felt that I had a different appreciation for the city and its inner workings. Among the neo-classical buildings, windows were lit sporadically, behind which government employees were likely burning the midnight oil to do the work of the people. As serendipity would have it, earlier that same day, the bill I wrote in the legislative drafting clinic was reported favorably out of committee in the Massachusetts State House. I am grateful that law school has given me the tools to do my part—perhaps one day in the not-too-distant future, the bill I worked on will become part of the Massachusetts General Laws and I can count myself among those who have helped translate an idea into legislation.
By William Wilson | Posted in Clinics, Extracurriculars, In the Community
April 22, 2018 at 5:46 pm
Last week I had the privilege of once again attending the International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform, held at the Washington College of Law at American University. I had attended last year’s conference along with several other alumni from BU’s Legislative Policy & Drafting Clinic; you can read that blog entry here. This time around I had the honor of participating in the conference as a panelist!
Several old favorites returned as speakers, such as the inimitable Judy Schneider, although the conference also featured a number of new panels.
Judy, a legislative expert at Congressional Research Service who co-authored the Congressional Deskbook, captivated the audience with her witty rendition of how Congress really works. Judy runs a boot camp for each new class of U.S. Representatives on congressional procedure. She shared with us the magic formula for passing bills that she gives to incoming members of Congress: You need the policy; you need the politics (though this is not to be confused with party politics); and you need the procedure. She went on to explain that most of us learned civics incorrectly—Congress was not created to pass laws, but rather “to prevent bad laws from being enacted”—then walked us through each chambers’ political and procedural hurdles in committee and on the floor.
I also really enjoyed a panel on Outside Drafters, which was new to the conference this year. The panelists were Rochelle Woodard, from the Department of Commerce, and Ronald Lampard, the Criminal Justice Task Force Director at the American Legislative Exchange Council. Both brought fascinating perspectives on drafting language for lawmakers, although neither worked within the legislative branch. Rochelle spoke of the challenges she faces as an agent of the executive branch whose job is to implement treaties and consult on export control, and discussed how she goes about balancing these responsibilities with drafting language for Congress that Legislative Counsel will inevitably review and revise. Ronald, by contrast, works for a national advocacy organization that drafts both model legislation and state-specific legislation for lawmakers. With respect to the latter, he emphasized the need for local buy-in and how he approaches collaborative drafting with stakeholders.
I had the great honor of participating in the last panel of the conference, Teaching Legislative Drafting, with my clinic professor, Sean Kealy. Professor Lou Rulli, who runs the Legislative Clinic at Penn Law, was also on the panel with one of his former students. Both professors spoke of the importance of teaching legislative drafting to law students and discussed their respective curricula. I talked about the bill that I drafted when I was a member of BU’s Legislative Policy & Drafting Clinic. My client was a State Senator who asked me to draft a bill from scratch, aimed at mitigating collateral consequences to incarceration in Massachusetts. I had a great time sharing my experiences as a student in the clinic and how the skills that I learned have come in handy during my externship with the Senate HELP Committee.
While there were far too many fabulous panels to highlight here, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the international nature of the conference. Half of the panels were dedicated to legislative issues that drafters in other jurisdictions face. I heard from drafters from Ghana, Ethiopia, China, the EU, and members of the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel. They spoke on topics ranging from telecom regulations in Uganda to public participation in the legislative process in Korea to promoting drafting uniformity in Australia.
If you are interested in gaining insight into the intersection of policy, drafting, and law reform, this annual conference is not to be missed! For information about future conferences, visit http://www.ilegis.org/.