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Olufunmilayo Arewa, Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law

  • When: January 27, 2021, 12–1:30 pm
  • Where: Zoom: To register, contact Sophie Kofman at

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Nigeria and other countries in Africa sit at the crossroads of future paths that may be enabled by digital transformation and past approaches that have been a product of colonial and post-colonial authoritarian rule. New technologies spread in contexts defined by a collision of the past, present, and visions of the future that may be preconditioned by what has come before. In Nigeria, digital era collisions highlight the divergence between the future as envisaged by many young people and present realities of legal and governance frameworks that continue to benefit those who govern and the laws that empower them.

Protests today in Nigeria and elsewhere make use of digital era technologies, including social media and cryptocurrencies. Governments in Africa have used Internet shutdowns, facial recognition technologies, violence, and other means of suppressing protestors’ communication and funding, with varying degrees of success. The Nigerian government, for example, has not been able to control or entirely contain digital era insurgencies and protests, including #EndSARS protests that erupted in October 2020. At the time of their emergence, the #EndSARS protests were a spark in the midst of a forest that is ripe for conflagration. The presence of other simultaneous fires from insurgencies and other spaces in Nigeria where the Nigerian government no longer effectively governs, magnifies prospects for future disruption.

The #EndSARS protests also underscore tension between the young and those who govern. Africa is presently the youngest continent in the world with the oldest leaders in the world. By 2100, youth in Africa are projected to be twice Europe’s entire population and close to one half of the youth in the world. This confrontation between the old and the young, the past and potential futures is about governance in large part and is of critical importance for the future. A key question that emerges from this confrontation is how diverse countries in Africa full of young people should be governed in the future in light of past and present approaches to governance that have led to significant poverty, marginalization, and scarcity of opportunity.

Legal and other institutions in Nigeria reflect a familiar pattern in Africa of use of legal, policy, and governance models from outside of Africa to create and shape institutions within Africa. This has been problematic due to processes of adoption of such models in many African contexts. The essential problem is not that African countries relate to external powers and policies or use external models but rather how African countries have internalized the external, all too often in indiscriminate ways. Widespread cut and paste borrowing processes have also often failed to take sufficient account of local considerations and local needs.

This presentation relates to the forthcoming book Disrupting Africa: Technology, Law and Development (Cambridge University Press, 2021), which is based on a decade of archival research about patterns of colonial era law making in former British colonies and the continuing implications of such patterns today.

Photo and bio courtesy of Temple University.

Olufunmilayo (Funmi) Arewa’s major areas of scholarly research include music, business, entrepreneurship, technology, copyright, film, and Africana studies. She has taught varied courses including Business Associations, Private Equity and Venture Capital, Securities Regulation, Corporate Finance, Accounting, Mergers & Acquisitions, Investment Management Regulation, Startup and Small Business Clinic, Intellectual Property, and African Legal Systems.

Prior to becoming a law professor, Professor Arewa practiced law for nearly a decade, working in legal and business positions primarily in the entrepreneurial and technology startup arena, including law firms and companies in the Silicon Valley and New York. She also served as Chief Financial Officer and General Counsel of a venture capital firm in Boston. Before becoming a lawyer, she was a Visiting Lecturer at the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies (CAAS) at the University of Michigan and served as a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. and Montevideo, Uruguay.

In 2019, Professor Arewa will be a fellow at The Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture” at the University of Bonn, Germany, where she will undertake research activities on the topic “Disruptive Technologies, Digital Colonialism, and the Construction of Commercial Law in Africa.” In 2015, Professor Arewa received a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Faculty Visit Research Grant for a research project entitled Cultural, Legal, and Business Considerations in the Diffusion of Jazz in Germany, a project that is connected to her forthcoming book on the development of global markets for African American music. She served as Vice Chair of the Nigeria Copyright Expert Working Group. She has also worked as a consultant on various projects, including engagements relating to education and scientific and technological capacity in Africa, and as lead consultant on a project examining the feasibility of establishing a venture capital fund in the Eastern Caribbean. 

In addition to her book on African American music, Professor Arewa is also currently writing a book on technology disruption in Africa. She received an M.A. and Ph.D. (Anthropology) from the University of California, Berkeley, an A.M. (Applied Economics) from the University of Michigan, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and an A.B. from Harvard College. In addition to writing about music, Professor Arewa has studied classical voice for many years.

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