by Titilayo Adebola, Regis Simo and Kwaku Agyeman-Budu
AfIELN 2023: In Conversation with Dr Regis Simo and Dr Kwaku Agyeman-Budu
The 6th Biennial Conference of the African International Economic Law Network (AFIELN) is scheduled to hold from the 21st to 24th of June 2023 at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA). The theme for the Conference is “International Economic Law in an Era of Multiple Crises: Opportunities and Challenges for Africa.”
Accra, Ghana is a timely venue because it hosts the African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat, which embodies one of Africa’s boldest trade projects. Despite the increasing global trade fragmentation, explosion of protectionist measures, breakdown in multilateralism, friendshoring, high inflation, huge debt burdens and economic slowdowns, Africa is pushing for regional integration to boost trade and socio-economic growth on the continent. AFIELN is delighted to collaborate with GIMPA to host its forthcoming conference in Accra.
Could you please tell us about the AFIELN Conference?
Dr Regis Simo: To begin with, the AFIELN is an organization under the auspices of the Society on International Economic Law (SIEL). AfIELN is dedicated to International Economic Law practitioners, academics and policymakers who are interested in International Economic Law from an African perspective (not only those based in Africa, but also those based elsewhere, who are interested in International Economic Law as it applies or operates in Africa). This is AfIELN’s sixth Biennial Conference.
Could you please tell us about the GIMPA Faculty of Law?
Dr Kwaku Agyeman-Budu: The GIMPA Faculty of Law is arguably the leading Faculty of Law in Ghana, based on a number of factors. For example, at the GIMPA Faculty of Law, we deliver holistic education. We just don’t do the regular classroom teaching; we ensure that students who come to the GIMPA Faculty of Law get a full appreciation of law from different perspectives.
We incorporate clinical legal education into the curriculum, we encourage students to take part in conferences, seminars and other relevant events. At the end of the day, we produce graduates who are ready for the job markets, who appreciate law from different perspectives and within different contexts. That is why at a very relatively young age (the Faculty of Law at GIMPA was established in 2010), we have gained a reputation of being the place of choice for students who want holistic legal education. The Faculty that we have, contribute to our success. We have a blend of young and experienced dynamic and energetic law lecturers. The blend that we have ensures that we have an excellent balance in terms of what we put out and how we train our students for the job market. In a nutshell, that’s what I’d say about the GIMPA Faculty of Law.
Could you please tell us the themes that will be covered during the conference?
Dr Simo: This year’s conference is happening at a time of multiple crises – as you indicated at the beginning. The world of international economic law is in turmoil; to say it is in turmoil might be an understatement. Amidst this turmoil, we have seen many countries retreating from globalization, or using measures which were designed to be used only in exceptional circumstances. Remarkably, Africa is pushing towards regional integration amidst this crisis and one of the tools for the push is its African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).
In addition, there are global affairs that affect Africa for a number of reasons. Africa has been a theatre of battles amongst world powers trying to occupy certain spheres. We see countries such as the United States, the European Union, and China trying to secure trade agreements with Africa. These are some of the issues that will be discussed at the conference. For example, we will cover gender issues. Trade agreements that require careful gender considerations are being concluded. We also have informal trade and Sustainable Development Goals, which can be linked to trade and gender issues. In line with contemporary 21st century debates, we will cover issues on Trade, Data and Artificial Intelligence e.g. Chatgpt.
Ghana has been in the news. We’ve heard conversations about the sovereign debt defaults and restructuring. Could you please tell us your thoughts on the state of International Economic Law from Africans perspective?
Dr Agyeman-Budu: I’ll focus briefly on Ghana. The conference, as you rightly pointed out, comes at a very critical time. Ghana has been in the news for all sorts of reasons especially in terms of the health of our economy. People who didn’t even care much about International Economic Law now seem to have an interest one way or the other because it is all around us. The sovereign debt crisis that we’re facing has engendered the government’s introduction of a domestic debt restructuring program, which has created so much controversy because it touches on almost every aspect of the economy that people have safety nets.
The banks have also met with the government to discuss how to deal with individual bondholders. For instance, now there’s a whole coalition of individual bondholders who are pushing back against the government’s attempt to implement its domestic debt exchange program, which is supposed to be voluntary. Some would argue that if you look at the details and some of the information that is being provided, you will find otherwise, even though it is being touted as being voluntary. These are conversations that are now front and centre in our social and traditional media. We have been introduced to terms that a lot of people weren’t even accustomed to – like collective action clauses. All of a sudden people around Ghana are now discussing debt sustainability analysis and haircuts.
The conference comes at a very opportune time, especially in Ghana, because it is not a secret that we are facing a financial crisis; we are seeking an IMF bailout. I think for Ghana, this conference is important because it is going to shed more light on some of these issues that we hitherto had taken for granted either because we didn’t have a particular interest in it or because it really didn’t hit us where it hurts the most. It is now clear that we have a crisis and some of the papers that we’re going to discuss at the conference will cover the ways through which we can come out of this economic crisis that we find ourselves in Ghana and Africa as a whole.
It is crucial that we find common sense solutions – practical and workable solutions to the problems we confront. That is what I am looking forward to in this conference and that is why I would urge everyone, all the participants and persons who may be interested, to come and contribute, so that together, we can fashion out some solutions to help the key stakeholders. I hope key stakeholders will also attend the conference and have broader consultations with subject experts on these crucial issues that affect us all.
Brilliant! That ties in neatly with my next question. What is your expectation from the conference?
Dr Agyeman-Budu: I expect that by the time we are done, we will hopefully have a publication of some sort, of the papers that were presented, which will be reworked on the basis of the comments and feedback that will be received from the conference. I also expect that some policy proposals should come out from the conference, especially in respect of Ghana. I am biased because I am Ghanaian, and the conference is being held in Ghana. Lastly, I’m interested in the stability of our economy. One of the main things that I expect is policy proposals and communiques that will outline these policy proposals to the various stakeholders of our economy, the mangers of our economy on how to get ourselves out of this conundrum that we find ourselves in and fashion out a way forward, a sustainable way in which we will be able to grow our economy moving forward.
Considering the state of health of International Economic Law, what concrete outcomes would you like to see from the AFIELN Conference?
Dr Regis Simo: I would like first to assure Dr. Agyeman-Budu that the African Sovereign Debt Justice Network, part of the Afronomicslaw.org, is addressing many of the issues he raised. I am confident that these issues will be handled by the experts working on sovereign debt. Coming back to your question, The Dean has also addressed this. We expect to, of course, have papers that will be selected to be published based on the quality of the analysis. Papers that will not only discuss the issues, but also present effective solutions. In terms of what contributions we can make based on what is currently occurring at the global level – the issues currently facing the world actually face Africa as well. They may be bystanders in some instances, but they experience unintended consequences of the crises, including the ongoing Ukraine – Russia war.
What key message would you like to share with conference participants?
Dr Agyeman-Budu: I have three key messages. Two are serious and for the third one, it will be determined whether it is serious or not when I get to that. The first message I have for conference participants is: come and experience GIMPA; come and experience Ghana. Ghana is a peaceful, beautiful country with wonderful people. We are famous for our hospitality. The second message is: come and contribute your quota to securing Africa’s space within International Economic Law through your solid, well-thought through arguments and proposals that will hopefully make an impact in terms of how we deal with economic crisis as and when they come and how we position ourselves to be able to withstand some shocks to our economy moving forward. The third message is: come and have fun.
Dr Regis Simo: I will start where the Dean left off. Come and have fun first at the conference, which is very important. Apart from that, the themes of the Conference are really speaking to the global community and the African Community, it is important that you come not only to contribute, but also to learn from the others which is really important. Of course, Ghana is place where African International Economic Law is taking place. Don’t miss this opportunity to visit Ghana and to take part in the Conference.
In closing, let us come prepared to experience GIMPA and Ghana. Let us come prepared with our well thought through critical analysis and proposal. Let us be prepared to learn. Overall, let us have fun. Dr Kwaku Agyeman-Budu, Dr Regis Simo, I thank you.