The opportunity to place the rule of law at the heart of the development agenda must not be missed.
In September, the United Nations General Assembly met in New York to debate the future of the international development agenda. This meeting represented another step in the vital process of deciding what follows the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are due to expire in 2015.
Many will have been heartened to see the discussion ‘reaffirm the importance’ of the rule of law, while regretting the explicit inclusion of a target in this regard. Many economists, lawyers and development practitioners lamented the exclusion of the rule of law in the original MDGs; but it need not happen again as we now have the opportunity to make the rule of law an explicit target in the post-2015 development agenda.
There are many reasons to value the rule of law – it underpins security and ensures a just society – but it is also essential for economic reasons. This perspective is sometimes overlooked, but when we consider the rule of law as a development goal it cannot be neglected.
There are many ways in which more effective legal systems and more robust laws can encourage economic growth, but a few stand out.
First, the rule of law ensures the protection of property rights which are essential to encouraging investment. By guaranteeing the enforcement of contracts, domestic businesses can more confidently deal with each other and foreign direct investment is encouraged. By introducing effective legislation to target crime and corruption, and safeguarding the independence of the judiciary so that it can prosecute those responsible for these social ills, the economy becomes more attractive to investors.
A sound legal system is also a pre-requisite for the development of a domestic taxation base; this in turn creates a virtuous cycle of investment, growth and accountability. Alongside this is the importance of strengthening governmental legal capacity. This is essential for developing countries to engage effectively in international negotiations with global and regional institutions, other countries and foreign investors, in order to benefit from international trade in a fair and equitable manner.
We cannot delay our drive to see the rule of law targeted in the post-2015 agenda; especially considering the results of the recently published Mo Ibrahim Foundation Index of African Governance, which shows that more African countries have experienced a decline in the rule of law over the past six years than have seen improvements.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a region endowed with vast and rich natural and human resources, but its full potential remains unrealised. There is a sad track record of these resources becoming more of a curse than a blessing due to examples of poor management and exploitation. Even today, far too often natural resources are extracted, transported to foreign countries with greater manufacturing capacity and sold back, at a mark-up, to the established and new middle classes of African consumer.
There is so much potential for African economic powerhouses, built on natural resources, manufacturing and services. However, many domestic businesses lack capital and expertise, and international businesses are too often unwilling to invest. The consequences can be dire, the results all too real: too many families live in abject poverty; too few children receive a decent education (whether to primary, secondary or university level); too many never have the opportunity to succeed.
Building legal capacity and developing justice systems is not an easy task. It will take time, but its rewards will have a significant impact and crucially, be sustainable. The UN has invited citizens to participate in a ‘global conversation’ (myworld2015.org) which will inform policy debates and help to prioritise goals, suggesting the rule of law as a custom goal represents one practical step that everyone can take.
Let us seize this opportunity with both hands.
Cherie Blair CBE QC is president of the Africa Justice Foundation and a barrister at Matrix Chambers in London