The ASK Justice project and network

The African Scholars for Knowledge Justice (ASK Justice) project was launched in November 2014 on receipt of a grant from the Open Society Foundation (OSF), which had already been developing capacity in the IP/human rights domain. From 2007 to 2012, the OSF supported short courses on A2M, IP and human rights at the Universities of Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and Makerere University in Uganda. These courses were successful in training campaign participants and law students. However, the context in which these initiatives operated has changed due to ongoing regime shifting by multinational interests, an altered funding landscape, and demographic changes in civil society movements for A2M. A concern for sustainability thus motivated several participating faculties to champion initiatives for mainstreaming teaching at the intersection of human rights, IP and A2M, with the support of OSF. In 2013, OSF awarded funding to the Universities of Makerere, KwaZulu-Natal and Nairobi (Kenya) to develop courses on human rights and IP.

The ASK Justice project has sought to bring together, build upon and ensure the sustainability of these initiatives.

Aims of the project

The overarching goal of the project is to contribute to positive policy change – specifically, informing and influencing current and future IP law and policy reform processes, from a human rights perspective – with regard to increasing A2K and A2M in four Southern and East African countries: Botswana, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. The project sought to achieve this using a multipronged approach involving networking and collaboration, teaching and research, capacity-building, and contributing to public understanding, discourse and debate.

The original planning for the ASK Justice project was undertaken by the participants of a workshop on Human Rights and the Public Interest organised by OSF and held in March 2014 at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

The project comprises three core components – policy research, teaching/curriculum development and public voice/outreach – which are intended to work in an interrelated and mutually informing manner.

The network

Given that making a positive contribution to policy change at the intersection of human rights, the public interest and IP in Africa is a challenging task for any individual faculty member, it was recognised that there was a need for a supportive and co-operative network of higher education institutions in order to be more effective. The starting point for the project was thus to facilitate the development of the ASK Justice network which would form the core of the project activities.

The ASK Justice network comprises academics from law faculties and centres at six Southern and East African universities, namely the University of Botswana, the University of Nairobi and Strathmore University’s Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) in Kenya, the University of Cape Town and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and Makerere University in Uganda. Network members engage collaboratively in research and the development of new curricula, as well as outreach activities related to the project, with a specific focus on A2M and A2K. A number of network members bring existing expertise to the project based on their prior experience with OSF initiatives in this field.

Benefits for participating faculty members include the following:

  • Developing an increased understanding of the intersection between IP and human rights.
  • Both teaching and research skills are improved through the application of the human rights analytic frame to IP.
  • The capacity of faculty and students to recognise and contribute to issues in this area is developed.
  • The teaching capability of participating faculty increases through the production and introduction of a new curriculum.
  • The network fosters an environment of mutual assistance between faculty and institutions through the co-creation of teaching and knowledge resources.
  • New research skills can be applied to pressing problems in other fields of expertise.
  • Equipped with experience in communicating through mass and social media, participating scholars increasingly become recognised sources of objective and reliable research across a range of issues, raising the profile and increasing the impact of their institutions.