Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A conversation with Senai W. Andemariam


Attorney Senai W. Andemariam

Part I

Issayas: Would you briefly tell us about yourself?

Senai: I was born and raised in Asmara. I joined the University of Asmara in 1995 and earned my LL.B. in 2001 after working as a judge during my university national service. In 2003, I went to Georgetown University where I got my LL.M. Since 2004 I have been teaching law at the school of law here in Asmara. Parallel to teaching law, I have also been engaged in part-time commitments including consultancy works with a law office as well as with the Ministry of Justice. I was also the legal adviser of Eritrean Airlines for a few months.

Issayas: You have been teaching a number of law courses. A lot of people don't even know that there is a law school in Eritrea. Would you tell us about the law school, the students, etc.

Senai: I am a little surprised that a lot of people [if you were referring to active Eritreans] don’t even know that there is a law school in Eritrea. Anyways, there is a law school which has been there for many years. There was a diploma-conferring Faculty of Law before Eritrea’s independence and in 1996 it was elevated into a four-year degree program (2nd year to 5th year). After phasing out in 2007, the school was reinstated in 2010 and at the moment we have close to 90 students in their 2nd, 3rd and 4th year studies.

Issayas: You once told me that you work at Berhane Gila-Michael Law Firm. It is a private practice, right? Are there other private law firms in Eritrea? What kinds of work do you/they do?

Senai: Yes, it is a private, part-time engagement. I work under the supervision of the Senior Counselor Mr. Berhane Gila-Michael, my former lecturer when I was an LL.B. student. I am not licensed to represent clients in courts; however, I provide clients (most of them international) with consultancy and legal advice services. It has been an eye-opener experience which linked me with foreign companies and law firms with interest in Eritrea. In recent years, I have been particularly active in providing legal services to investors in the up and coming mining business in Eritrea. I also advise in aviation and maritime matters. With the range extending from preparing a legal memo for one or two legal questions concerning an interest in Eritrea to preparation of a fully-fledged legal due diligence and beyond, I had the opportunity to advice companies such as Boeing, Morgan Stanley, the World Bank, Zurich Insurance Company, Amazon, Total, Boart Longyear, Antofagasta Minerals etc. and worked in communication with law firms such as Sherman & Sterling, Allen & Overy, Eversheds, Norton Rose, Eversheds and Cassels Brock & Blackwell.   

You can’t say there are law firms in Eritrea as one understands its conventional meaning in the legal services industry, but law offices such as the one I work with engage young law professionals who work in specific fields of consultancy. You can obtain description of the law offices and private practitioners in Eritrea in the databases of the websites of Chambers & Partners, Who’s Who Legal, LexVisio, etc. Eritrean private legal practitioners do all works of client representation and consultancy, contract negotiation and drafting, advice on company formation, preparation of legal documents, debt collection, due diligence etc.

 Issayas: I would like people to buy and read your monograph entitled, "Sustainable Management of Eritrean Traditional Medicinal Knowledge". It's excellent, but briefly, what are the main points of your new monograph?

Senai: The monograph basically argues that since Eritrea has ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity, it has the obligation, and the fact on ground calls upon the government, to regulate the development of traditional medicinal knowledge which is widely practiced in Eritrea. I had the opportunity to test the thesis in a couple of articles that I published on the subject as well as during my recent presentation at the Second African International Economic Law Network Conference. Just read the following excerpt to understand the magnitude of the use of traditional medicine in the world:

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that traditional medicine, inclusive of herbal medicines, are used in every country around the world in some capacity and that “in much of the developing world, 70–95% of the population rely on these traditional medicines for primary care.” It is also estimated that at least 25% of all modern medicines are directly or indirectly derived from medicinal plants and that regarding certain classes of pharmaceuticals such as antitumoral and antimicrobial medicines this percentage may be as high as 60%. In fact, some sources claim that that nearly a quarter of all pharmaceutical products [which were priced at US$ 700 billion at least in 2008] worldwide are derived from plant sources. There is a global increase in interest in the use of traditional medicine. In 2005 the expenditure on global TM market was estimated at US$ 60 billion; the value increased to US$ 83 billion in 2008 and is expected to reach US$ 114 billion by 2015… 

The reality is the same with Eritrea which is one of the least developed countries in the world. With the obvious dearth of health professionals, the majority of our people make use of traditional medicinal practices including massaging, bone setting, cupping, herbal medical treatment, hydro-healing, thermal-healing etc. for treating various physical, mental and spiritual ailments. The monograph is an attempt not only to bring these practices into the highlight but also to discuss alternatives on how this age-old practice can be sustainably developed and changed into a money-making pool through policy and legal instruments. If traditional medicinal practice is properly exploited, you are looking at health, trade, intellectual property, biodiversity, tourism, cultural heritage and other benefits and through this monograph I tried to show an alternative to do so.

To read some of  Senai's articles: 
Next, part II.