Thomson Reuters and Books for Africa mark milestone of 100 law libraries to Africa

John Elstad (middle) leads Thomson Reuters and Books for Africa staff in toasting to the 100th law library milestone delivered to Africa during a reception at the Thomson Reuters headquarters in Eagan, Minnesota on Tuesday, December 10,2019. Photo: Jeannette Appold for Mshale

EAGAN, Minn (Mshale) – Books for Africa, the largest shipper of donated school text books to Africa, and Thomson Reuters which donates law books through Books for Africa to African institutions achieved a milestone this week. The two delivered the 100th law library to the continent when the Supreme Court of Namibia received a law library from Thomson Reuters staff.

The Thomson Reuters and Books for Africa partnership was formalized in 2009 (which you can read about here).

Former Minneapolis mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and Thomson Reuters’ VP for government relations and strategic partnerships described the partnership as “unique and special” and “the most treasured” by her company, as it touches millions based on the impact the law books have had on the countries receiving them, a view shared by her counterpart John Elstad, the company’s head of legal editorial operations.

“Our goal in establishing this partnership were very simple but powerful,” Elstad told a gathering of supporters and dignitaries at Thomson Reuters headquarters assembled to mark the milestone. Among them were Justice Barry Anderson of the Minnesota Supreme Court and Judge Bridgid Dowdal of Minnesota’s Tenth Judicial District, as well as former Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie who now heads Global Minnesota.

Elstad said in partnering with Books for Africa, his company wanted to address the scarcity of law and human rights books in Africa, adding that “we wanted to do this so we can promote and support the establishment and preservation of the rule of law and independent judiciary in Africa.”

Congratulatory messages from former US Vice President Walter Mondale and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison were read on their behalf by Elstad. Mondale is the co-chair of the Books for Africa Jack Mason Law and Democracy Initiative under which the law books by Thomson Reuters are donated. Mondale has co-chaired the initiative since its inception alongside former UN Secretary General, the late Kofi Annan until the latter’s passing in 2018.

Mondale in his message described  the rule of law as being fundamental to the development of a healthy democracy and good governance and added that the provision of law books to the receiving institutions “has had a transformational impact well beyond the classroom or courtroom as it has helped improve the rule of law and transformed the lives of millions of people.”

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in his message to mark the milestone recalled how during his days as a congressman serving in the foreign affairs committee, he would carry as many books from Books for Africa “as they would allow me on the flight” during official congressional trips to Africa.

Outgoing Books for Africa board president Jote Taddese thanked Thomson Reuters and especially its 6,000 employees for their spirit of Ubuntu, saying “when you place a book in the hands of an African child, you are not changing the life of that just person but the lives of others that you have not even met.”

Also speaking at the milestone celebration was Lane Ayres who gave a historical context of the founding of the law and democracy initiative. A retired lawyer, he directs the initiative on behalf of Books for Africa.

The 100th law library came about following a fortuitous conversation between the counselor to the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and Tom Leighton of Thomson Reuters. According to Leighton, the counselor had visited the Namibia Supreme Court and found that they did not have enough law books even though they had capable lawyers and good facilities. The Books for Africa Jack Mason Law and Democracy Initiative is named after a federal judge who was a board member at the Minnesota non-profit that has become the largest shipper of donated text books to Africa, make it all fitting that the 100th law library comes about following a conversation in the hallowed halls of the US Supreme Court.

About Tom Gitaa

Born and raised in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa, Tom is the Founder, President and Publisher of Mshale. As the founder, he did a lot of the reporting during the humble beginnings of the newspaper. While he still does the occasional reporting, he now concentrates on the publishing side of the news operation. Tom was also the original host of Talking Drum, the signature current affairs show on the African Broadcasting Network (ABN-America), which was available nationwide in the United States via the Dishnetwork satellite service. On the show, he interviewed Nobel laureates such as 2004 Nobel Peace prize winner, Professor Wangari Maathai, the first woman from Africa to win the peace prize and heads of states such as the president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh at State House, Banjul. Tom has served and chaired various boards including Global Minnesota (formerly Minnesota International Center), the sixth largest World Affairs Council in the United States. He has previously served as President of the Board of Directors of Books for Africa, the largest shipper of donated books to Africa. He also serves on the boards of New Vision Foundation and the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium. Tom also served two terms on the board of the United Nations Association. He retired from running full marathons after turning 50 and now only focuses on half marathons.

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