More than 100 Fordham Law alumni, faculty, staff members, and friends gathered virtually on Feb. 17 to celebrate the launch of the Africa Alumni Association regional chapter. Special guests in attendance included Dr. Willy Mutunga, former chief justice and president of the Supreme Court of Kenya; Professor Kofi Abotsi, dean of University of Professional Studies Law School, Accra; Bigirimana Fructuose, dean of The Faculty of Law at the Institute of Applied Sciences-Ruhengeri; Elizabeth Black, senior manager of White & Case’s legal education programs and volunteer activities globally; James Leitner ’82, president of Falcon Management Corporation; Hon. Ann Claire Williams, head of Jones Day’s legal advocacy work in Africa; Diana Asonaba Dapaah LL.M. ’11, deputy attorney general and minister for justice of Ghana; and Dr. Kwaku Agyeman-Budu SJD ’18, LL.M. ’12, senior lecturer and head of Law Centers at the Faculty of Law at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration.
“This new initiative brings together all the friendships, ties, and relationships that individuals in our Law School have built over the years,” said Dean Matthew Diller during his opening remarks. “Having an Africa chapter of our Alumni Association is a way of making official this community that has developed over the past 20 years, and I look forward to working with you for years to come.”
“Our students and alumni from the African continent enrich our classroom and community,” said Toni Jaeger-Fine, assistant dean of international and non-J.D. programs at Fordham Law. “I’m so grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to learn from you and your experiences and backgrounds. I thank you all for being part of our community, part of my education, and part of what makes Fordham Law School so special.”
Special Guests Sound Off
Chief Justice Matunga, who served as a visiting professor at Fordham Law from October 2016 to May 2017, expressed optimism for the new chapter—stating his belief that it will not only foster solidarities among Fordham Law projects in Africa, but among other groups as well.
“I am of the view that global solidarities among global citizens are going to be very important, and this association should be part of that,” Chief Justice Matunga said. “As Dean Jaeger-Fine said, reverse learning—where we educate each other—is a great thing.”
Judge Williams spoke to the importance of working towards one’s dreams and strengthening unity. “Having an Africa Alumni Association strengthens and supports that dream of working together with alumni who continue to do amazing things, sharing knowledge, building a foundation that will last, and joining hands to ensure that that dream of equal justice for all in Africa is alive and continues to grow,” she said.
Fordham Law Alumni and Students React
During the launch, alumni recalled their first encounters with Fordham Law faculty members, shared fond law school memories, and expressed excitement for this momentous occasion.
“The Fordham Law experience has afforded us many special gifts beyond the degree, including a shared value of giving back to our community, passion for human rights and social justice, being ethically aware and compliant in our professional lives, and—equally important—striking lifelong friendships,” said Dapaah, a former Vivian Leitner Global South LL.M. Scholar at Fordham Law. “The Africa Alumni Association presents us with the opportunity to sustain these values and friendships.”
Samantha Brener, a 2021 Vivian Leitner Global South LL.M. Scholar from South Africa, said the alumni association will be a “huge benefit to current and former LL.M.s and any member of the Fordham Law community who has an interest in learning more about the enormous and diverse continent of Africa.”
“An Africa Alumni Association provides an opportunity for African students to inject far greater depth, detail, nuance, beauty, and diversity into campus conversations about our continent,” Brener said.
Bané Touré ’23 reacted to the news positively from the perspectives of a current law student and a Black Senegalese first-generation American. “John Yeboah Mensah ’19 [Dean’s Fellow at Fordham Law who moderated the conversation] connected me with other African Fordham Law alumni women, who have provided me with excellent guidance as I journey through my law school career,” she said. “With an established Africa Alumni Association, I’m excited to see how such an organization will open doorways for students like me—students who need connections, investment, representation, motivation and teaching. With such a network, I plan to go back and work towards a stronger Africa.”
Fordham Law’s Presence and Partnerships in Africa
For the past two decades, Fordham Law has provided invaluable educational experiences in New York City to hundreds of legal professionals from Africa, introducing them to the U.S. legal system and preparing them for the global legal market. The Law School has also developed and expanded its presence across Africa through collaborative projects led by the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.
The Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic, for example, has done field work in Kenya on gender and juvenile punishment, in South Africa on employment and housing discrimination against LGBTQ+ refugees, and in Malawi on arbitrary detention, among other projects, since 2007. The Crowley Program in International Human Rights, which is a key program offered by the Leitner Center, has also worked on issues related to women’s inheritance in Ghana, the right to health in Kenya, and rights for people with disabilities in Rwanda. Professor Paolo Galizzi, director of the Sustainable Development Legal Initiative at Fordham Law, has overseen the development of legal aid programs and access to justice in Ghana and helped launch the Great Lakes Moot Court Region Human Rights Competition in Rwanda in 2008. The Supreme Court of Ghana Clerkship Program—the first judicial clerkship program in that country, established by the Leitner Center in cooperation with the Judicial Service of Ghana—and the Ghana Summer Law Program have also been important in bridging connections between students, faculty, and legal professionals in New York and Africa.
“As a group, we have amazing strengths and it’s important to share those strengths and mentor others across the whole network,” said Leitner. “We need to continue to embrace scholarship and to think deeply about the role of law in our society and development. You have to continue to be thought leaders in the world and at home.”
“Always remember that you have friends here at home, at Fordham Law School,” he said to the alumni. “We will do whatever we can to be there with you.”