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LSF set to launch urban legal empowerment

Jul 31, 2017

For many years, provision of legal aid services in Tanzania had been confined to the rural areas. Legal aid organizations have made considerable efforts to take legal aid services to the rural communities, due to the fact that people in rural areas are subjected to different forms of injustices and are not able to access justice because of limited resources, ignorance etc.

“A focus on the rural was made purposely because most of the rural people are poor, who cannot afford costly legal services offered by lawyers or advocates,” said Abraham Musa, a lawyer and human rights defender. “That’s why many legal aid organizations decided to set up legal aid projects in rural areas, so that they could easily assist rural communities to access justice,” he added.

In 1990’s, when the concept of “paralegalism” was introduced in Tanzania, some legal aid organizations recruited few paralegals and deployed them to some few areas in the rural areas to assist those in need of legal assistance—in the wake of increasingly reported incidents of torture, gender-based violence, sexual abuses, wife-beating, land grabbing, human rights violation in rural areas.

Although paralegals recruited in “those days” were few, not more active and effective (because of various factors—inadequate funding, lack of coordination, lack of systematic model of operation), but “they tried (to a certain extent) to help rural people to access justice,” according to Morogoro-based activist, Halima Chalanga.

But the focus on rural community was also adopted by the Legal Services Facility (LSF)—a basket funding mechanism incepted in 2011, which provides financial and technical support to legal aid organizations involved in the implementation of paralegals and related projects in Tanzania.

LSF had already issued grants over 20 billion to more than 50 legal aid organizations, which have managed to recruit around 6000 paralegals, who are currently providing legal and related assistance to the needy people in the rural areas. Paralegals use legal empowerment approach—a unique model which combines various approaches (litigation, legal education, reconciliation, counselling, coach etc) in the settlement of community disputes and grievances.

But LSF’s legal empowerment focuses on rural areas on the premises that victims of exploitation and various forms of violence resides in rural settings and can hardly access justice due to economic constraints, lack of knowledge and other factors. Through legal empowerment approach, LSF grantees have managed to take legal aid paralegal services across all districts of Tanzania, support establishment of over 180 paralegals units countrywide, spread legal education and knowledge to many rural communities, resolved thousands of cases--gender-based, inheritance, matrimonial, criminal, land cases in rural communities.

“Of course, LSF’s legal empowerment strategy has produced remarkable results in rural areas--in terms of increased and improved peoples’ understanding on legal and human rights issues, increased access to justice for the rural poor, but we have not done enough for the urban poor, who also needs legal assistance,” said James Marenga, a High Court Advocate and seasoned media practitioner.

According to Marenga, there are millions of poor people living in urban areas who face discrimination, denied their rights but unable to access justice through formal court and law-enforcement systems, because of poverty, lack of legal knowledge etc.

“In fact, the early focus on rural areas is not a wrong decision, but it’s time now for legal aid stakeholders to ‘re-focus and re-think’ and step up affirmative measures to rescue urban dwellers (poor man and women) from legal and related troubles,” noted Marenga.

Considering the growing number of urban poor needing legal assistance, LSF is now coming up with urban legal empowerment—a new and strategic strategy which guides paralegals in the provision of legal assistance to the urban poor.

“It’s wrong to believe that everybody living in Dar es Salaam, Arusha or Mwanza does not need legal assistance. There are many urban people whose rights are violated and denied, but they fail to access justice because of poverty and ignorance of the law,” said Ramadhan Masele, LSF Programme Manager.

“That’s the reason why LSF has come up with new approach (urban legal empowerment) to make sure that urban poor facing legal and other problems are assisted to access justice,” said Masele.

Already, the facility has set aside funds for the implementation of urban legal empowerment, which would start as a pilot project in some parts of Dar es Salaam, according to Masele.

LSF plans to provide grants to six legal aid organizations for the implementation of the project, which would start with legal education for poor urban communities--building the knowledge of the law and human rights to the urban communities and how they should use the law to bring about economic development in their localities.

“Under this project, we will support different combined legal aid and economic empowerment approaches in order to increase access to justice for poor urban communities, thus build the capacity of individuals and communities to exercise and effectively claim their rights,” said Fortunata Kitokesya, a Women Rights Officer at LSF.

“It’s about empowering urban poor to employ formal and informal justice systems, legal and other means to protect and advance their rights and interests to improve their social and economic welfare,” said Kitokesya. Scheduled to be launched officially soon, the urban legal empowerment will focus on providing assistance to entrepreneurship groups such Vicoba, street vendors, “mama lishe”, “bodaboda riders, and other urban dwellers who struggles with access to justice and in areas of gender-based violence, security and safety, income, health, education, water supply and land rights, according to LSF official.

“Basically, the assistance provided by paralegals to economic groups in other contexts (rural) often rendered good results to increase success of businesses. That’s why we have decided to adopt the same idea of integrating legal empowerment and other non-law oriented empowerment activities in the urban legal empowerment approach.”

The main drivers of urban legal empowerment approach would be urban-based paralegals and other legal aid providers, said the official, adding that “once the pilot project is successfully implemented in selected areas, LSF would duplicate the concept across Dar es Salaam and other urban areas countrywide.”

Posted on Jul 31, 2017

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