By Dr. Desmond Oriakhogba
On 25 to 27 September 2019, the Law and Development Research Network (LDRN) held its 4th annual conference at the Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany. The conference attracted over 220 scholars, both established and emerging, from the Global South, including Africa. With generous funding from the LDRN and UCT’s IP-Unit, I had the opportunity to participate in the conference and speak about my ongoing research being conducted under the Open African Innovation Research (Open AIR) network.
According to the host of the conference, Prof Philipp Dann, the LDRN aims ‘to pool […] knowledge to understand better the role that law plays in creating [and] combatting inequality, environmental degradation and social injustice, particularly in the Global South [and] through the entanglements between the South and North’. To this end, the conference, which devolved into 55 panels running through eight tracks, sought to highlight the plurality and diversity of the ‘voices and stories that mark’ the field of law and development. In this connection, discussions in the panels addressed diverse and cross-cutting issues relating to socio-economic development; human rights; international and regional trade; technological changes in law and development; legal pluralism and non-state law; intellectual property (IP); gender identities, empowerment and development; among others.
In addition, each of the three days of the conference included a keynote session. I took particular note of the keynote by Justice Madan Lokur of the Indian Supreme Court who spoke on social justice as a vehicle for transformative constitutionalism. In particular, he mentioned the Social Justice Bench of the court, which was created to adjudicate matters relating to social justice, especially those concerning economic, social and cultural rights in the Indian constitution.
Justice Madan Lokur’s keynote was of interest to me because the Social Justice Bench he spoke about is something that is worth studying, in my opinion, for possible adoption within the South African constitutional context, especially since it may be an effective judicial mechanism for addressing the social justice challenges, including access to affordable and quality education, healthcare and housing, in South Africa.
More importantly, his keynote set me in the right frame to discuss, in the following day, my ongoing research, which is exploring the empowerment, innovation, entrepreneurship, and IP dynamics at play in the work of a group of rural Zulu women bead-makers participating in the Woza Moya project of the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
The conference was not just all about academic activities. It afforded opportunities for participants to take of their academic gowns, unwind, connect and socialize over lunch, coffee and tea breaks, and most especially, a boat cruise on the big river of Berlin. Also, there was an evening event organised for PhD students and early career researchers (like myself) to connect, reflect, discuss and exchange ideas, experiences and insights on their research and academic work in general. Besides all those, the conference afforded me a rare, but brief, opportunity to visit the historic city of Berlin, and to behold its ancient and modern architecture, and experience the complexity of the German language.
The 5th annual conference is scheduled for late September 2020 in Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.