I’m sure they would be quite shocked to learn that the vast majority of lawyers in Free Market Economies practice their professions on matters of business [Corporate Law as it is called], and are not involved in criminal matters.
Every day, millions of agreements are entered into in the world of business, between business entities. And when there is a disagreement between the parties over some of these agreements, the matter could end up in court.
This is not a CRIMINAL MATTER, but a CIVIL MATTER. But in most African countries, it is the same judges who oversee both. In London for instance, there are judges that only deal with business disputes.
EVERY single business that is growing will at some point or other face issues that require it to go to court, either as a defendant or as a complainant.
Additionally, large companies actually have full time lawyers who handle hundreds or thousands of cases, depending on the nature of their business.
Don’t panic simply because you have received some court papers, okay! As a business, you should already have approached a lawyer or better still a law firm that you call “MY LAWYERS”!
It’s your job to make sure that you find someone competent in Corporate matters.
Judges are as important to serious investors as the President or Ministers. In fact if you are mature, you will come to appreciate that JUDGES ARE MORE IMPORTANT TO CREATING A GOOD INVESTMENT CLIMATE THAN MOST PEOPLE REALIZE.
As most of you know, I have been in some difficult BUSINESS CORPORATE legal battles. I won all my battles including some which took up to 10 years:
1). In Zimbabwe we went to court to have the monopoly of the Zimbabwe Telecoms Corporation [ZPTC] struck down. It took 11 different court appearances, including 3 Constitutional Hearings, over a period of five years. It was resolved by a Judge: The late Justice Sandura.
The key judgments issued in all those cases are now taught in some law schools in Africa.
It would not have been possible without a courageous “BENCH” [as judges are collectively called] willing to listen impartially and render a judgement.
In Nigeria, the Chief Justice of the Federal High Court set up a Special Tribunal, which included two Nigerian judges. The decision of the CJ, and that of the Tribunal was just amazing. It is the highest Corporate Financial Settlement in Africa.
We had a less known case in Nigeria, in which we had our share certificate cancelled, and our ownership removed. It took a Federal High Court Judge sitting in Kaduna, to restore those shares.
Our lawyers in London told me that his ruling was one of the best reasoned they had ever seen!
3). In Kenya our license was cancelled by a Minister for no reason. I told you how we rushed to court against a Minister of government. It took the judge just 1 hr to render a judgement in our favor. The judge was scathing to the Minister who actually apologized!
Does this mean all judges in Africa are fantastic?
No, and I have met some really bad ones that forced us to go on Appeals. But we must not throw away the baby with the bath water. There are some really good judges and judicial officers in Africa who are fighting to do the right thing.
Have faith in the system whatever happens. I would never have gone to court if I believed that they would not render judgments fairly.
If there is no “Rule of Law”, it is impossible to do business in any country, even if it has the best opportunities. Investors will stay away.
Our businesses need to be protected by the law. However, we need judicial systems that are efficient, competent, and quick to render judgments.
We also need more lawyers to specialize in Corporate Law. And we need them to be accessible to small businesses. Some of you young lawyers should set yourselves up to be there to help small business people, particularly women, and the informal sector.
If every big lawyer in Africa set aside time every week to help small businesses and entrepreneurs, the impact would be huge. Also, more investors would have confidence to invest money.
By Strive Masiyiwa
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