Initiative Stocks African Law Libraries

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A Minnesota-based initiative has shipped 115 law and human rights libraries to 24 African countries since 2008, and new initiatives seek to strengthen the collaborative enterprise involving law firms, government officials and a leading legal publisher.

The Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative began as a result of the chance meeting of two neighbors, who just happened to be lawyers, at a neighborhood potluck back in 2008. Lane Ayres is a retired assistant Hennepin County attorney. Tom Pfeifer is an executive at Thomson Reuters.

Ayers had volunteered with Books For Africa, a large shipper of donated books, and had focused on sending law books. He asked Pfeifer if Thomson Reuters could assist, and the rest is history.

“To promote the rule of law in Africa is a heart-warming effort,” Ayers said. “It is not a political thing. Who can say no to sending books supporting the rule of law to legal organizations in Africa who have no books?”

The Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative was named for Mason, a federal magistrate judge and Books For Africa board member. The collaboration has grown over the years with the support of several Twin Cities law firms such as Robins Kaplan, Fredrikson & Byron, Ciresi Conlin and Dorsey & Whitney. Walter Mondale and Kofi Annan were honorary founding co-chairs. Funding comes from Twin Cities lawyers and judges, as well as individuals interested in this project from across the country.

Each reference law library consists of more than two hundred titles. Many have multiple volumes for teaching on subjects including business law, common law, human rights and international law, and legal process. While most of the books go to English-speaking countries in Africa, there are also legal titles in Portuguese and French. The main library comes from Thomson Reuters’ Eagan facility, although smaller collections from their divisions in Canada, Brazil and Great Britain are also included.

Ayers says that most African court systems have few books in their library rooms and that what they do have tends to be older books. For instance, Ayers said he attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate Namibia’s library in the High Court in Oshakati. Although the new court building had a gorgeous library, the Thomson Reuters reference law library comprised all of its books.

Books were first shipped to Tanzania. In 2022, the Somaliland Bar Association received a shipment. Over the last couple of years, female lawyer organizations have been recipients. These organizations include the South African Women Lawyers Association, the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, and the International Federation of Women Lawyers (Ghana).