PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
First Woman Lawyer and Minister of Justice
By Mariama BARRO
Fatoumata Sylla, fondly called Fanta Sylla, was born on December 11, 1954, in Ségou. She is the first female Malian lawyer. She later became the first female Batonnière of the Bar Association of Mali. This icon of law was also appointed the Minister of Justice in 2004. Therefore, it is fascinating to know about the credentials she has obtained and her professional career.
Fatoumata Sylla was passionately dedicated to her studies. She earned an LLB and a certificate of private law at the University Of Social Sciences of Toulouse. Fatoumata then obtained an MPhil in public and private international relations (1979-1980) and a certificate of aptitude for the legal profession at the University Paris X Nanterre. The certificate allowed her to begin her professional career the same year, especially after being sworn at the Paris Court of Appeal. She spent her tenure internship (1980-1982) at the professional training center of the bars of the jurisdictions of the Court. After the end of her tenure, she had to choose between staying in France and working in the French administration or returning home to serve her motherland. She made the latter choice without any hesitation because of her attachment to the pink land of Ségou.
Back home, Mrs. Sylla was sworn at the Bamako Court of Appeal in 1982. She became a member of the National Council of the Bar Association from 1987 to 1992. In her own words, the choice to become a lawyer was not made by default, but rather out of desire, pleasure, and love for the profession. The general public got introduced to Fanta Sylla after her remarkable pleadings for President Moussa TRAORE and other dignitaries of his regime accused of the so-called “blood crimes” (1992-1993) and “economic crimes” (1998) trials. The “economic crimes” mostly were related to the embezzlement of financial resources during Traore’s rule while the “blood crimes” were mostly the result of the killing of 300 pro-democracy demonstrators. As a fervent defender of individual and collective freedoms, she had- for long a time- campaigned for the protection and promotion of human rights. It should also be noted that Mrs. SYLLA took a stand in claiming democratic opening and a multiparty system on behalf of the Bar for her country. It made her an incredible supporter of the rule of law, freedom, and democracy after they won the fight. Sylla’s openness and popularity made her a founding member of the International Training Center for Francophone Lawyers. It aims to promote initial and permanent professional training of lawyers who are members of these bars and regional integration as well as to harmonize the law initiated by the OHADA Treaty. This entity was founded in 2000 and worked in close collaboration with the Association Afrique & Droit, which aims to organize training centers and institutes, courses, and seminars for African lawyers.
Fatoumata Sylla’s appointment as the Minister of Justice on May 2, 2004, probably topped her already significant influence in the field of law. She remained in the position until October 3, 2007. Mrs. SYLLA is the first woman appointed to this post. She had given a new face to Malian justice by addressing the roots of evil. She toured around the Timbuktu region as part of her duties. She would never falter before the magistrates and was very demanding towards them to ensure they were doing their jobs properly.
Moreover, it is known to all that she urged the courts to respect the rights of the defendants. Sylla also worked to improve living conditions in prison a priority. It can be unequivocally assessed that Fatoumata Sylla succeeded in doing a remarkable job at the Ministry of Justice. However, it should be recalled that in 2005 when Mali welcomed the OHADA family, she was appointed the President of the Council of Ministers of the Organization for the Harmonization in Africa of Business Law. However, her work was not at all easy, and no one is infallible. That is why some shortcomings caused her to lose the status of the minister in the following elections. Even if President Amadou Toumani TOURÉ was victorious again, her mandate was not renewed, and Maharafa TRAORÉ replaced her.
After her tenure ended, she opened her law firm. Being a lawyer registered with the International Criminal Court, Fanta Sylla is a founding member of the International Criminal Bar and a member of the board of directors in charge of coordinating the sub-Saharan Africa region. In the process, she is the godmother of the cohort of young Malian lawyers of 2014 called the Fanta Sylla Cohort. It is to be noted that she has not stopped her activities. Fanta Sylla participated in the training day of lawyers on criminal practices organized by the International Conference Center of Bamako in 2014. She enjoyed a radiant career of more than 40 years and continues to develop a real passion for law. Regarding her legal and political career, I believe Mrs. Sylla became a pioneer in law as she made extraordinary achievements while remaining attached to her principles and values. No need to remind people that she proved to be Malians’ pride as the first female lawyer, the first female Batonnière, the first female Minister of Justice, a founding member of the International Criminal Bar, and a founding member of the International Training Center for French-speaking Lawyers.
With such a journey, everything suggests that Fanta has devoted much time to the field of law, bringing her success as she has managed to be on the top of the hierarchy to lead men. Thus, she succeeded in bringing her legendary story into the history of great African jurists. So through the eyes of the people worldwide, Fatoumata Sylla is an inspiring and very dynamic figure of law, a role model, and reference for all Malian youth, especially for young girls.