From October 23—26, 2023, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI) Deputy Chief of Party (DCOP) for its Advancing Rights in Southern Africa (ARISA) program, Dr. Makanatsa Makonese, attended the Southern and Eastern African Chief Justices’ Forum (SEACJF) Annual Conference and General Meeting in Arusha, Tanzania. Held under the theme “The Role of National Judiciaries in Dispute Resolution Under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): Application of Modern Technologies for High Efficiency in Justice Dispensation,” the Annual Conference and General Meeting was attended by Chief Justices and senior judges of the high and superior courts from Southern and Eastern Africa.
Since 2018, ABA ROLI's regional work under ARISA has improved the recognition, awareness, and enforcement of human rights across the Southern Africa Development Community region. It has also promoted the protection of the region’s most vulnerable and marginalized groups. The ABA is part of a four-member PROGRESS consortium made up of Freedom House, the Internews, and PACT. This USAID supported program focuses on the following thematic issues: women’s customary land rights; rights of indigenous populations; media freedoms and digital rights; and the rights of human rights defenders as a cross-cutting theme.
At the conference, Dr. Makonese presented during a session on “The Role of Modern Technologies in Dispute Resolution in National Courts, Tribunals, and Other Regional Courts.” She noted the increased uptake and utilization of technology by judiciaries in Southern Africa as part of efforts to modernize court operations. Dr. Makonese also emphasized that while technology has become a necessity to improve efficiency and streamline operations in both national and regional courts, its adoption should not alienate the vulnerable and marginalized from the justice delivery system. Though the narrowing mobile internet gender gap globally could improve technology-facilitated participation of women and other vulnerable groups in justice systems, these developments are not as evident in Southern and Eastern Africa where women, indigenous communities, and people living in rural areas and on the social and economic margins in urban areas still struggle to access internet and other relevant technology due to poverty and discrimination.