man wearing suit, glasses, standing inside a hallway, smiling.

A multidimensional voice joins the faculty

Dr. Theophilus Edwin Coleman, who joins the UB Law faculty this spring as a visiting assistant professor, knows how to command an audience.

Partly that skill stems from his early-career work as a television reporter, anchor and program host in the African nation of Ghana. But also, Coleman brings to the classroom his own extensive experience as both student and teacher, and rigorous training in international law in both Africa and Europe.

After completing his undergraduate degree from the University of Ghana, in the capital city of Ghana, Coleman went on to earn a bachelor of laws degree at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, and a master of laws degree in international commercial law from the University of Johannesburg, in South Africa. As a recipient of that university’s Global Excellence and Stature Scholarship, he completed his doctor of laws degree in 2020.

He also has undergone advanced legal training at The Hague Academy of International Law, in the Netherlands, and completed an internship at the Permanent Bureau of Hague Conference on Private International Law.

His extensive publications include the book, Labour Law in Ghana (LexisNexis, 2022), and reflect his academic interests in labor law, social security law, contract law, international commercial law, private international law and African legal philosophy.

Coleman comes to UB from the University of Johannesburg. There he served as a senior postdoctoral research fellow at its Centre for International and Comparative Labour and Social Security Law, which seeks to address inequality and bring about social justice in the developing world.

UB Law Links asked him to reflect on his work and the international scope of his education and teaching.

You spent the first years of your professional life as a television news reporter and anchor in Ghana. What prompted you to pursue law and then academia?

My role as a television reporter and anchor created a platform for me to understand and experience firsthand the needs of the people in the central region of Ghana, especially those in rural areas and in the informal sectors. My team and I identified a gap regarding the commitment of TV stations in Ghana to educate the public about their fundamental rights and responsibilities. With the approval and support of the management of Coastal Television, a TV station based in Cape Coast, we designed a TV program dubbed Mmra, meaning “Law.” The aim of the program was to educate the public about their rights and duties contained in the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana.

As a law student, I got to understand the practical operations of the law and utilized that to engage guests on the show as we dealt with topical issues, such as women and children’s rights, domestic violence and prison reforms. Through this program, we engaged eminent jurists, such as Frank Panford, Queen’s Counsel; law professors/lecturers; and industry leaders. We also worked with the University of Cape Coast Law Students’ Union to develop an outreach program called Mmra Community Outreach Program. Through this program, law students went to markets and other places to engage traders and educate them about critical legal issues. The consistent engagement with guests, educators and the public ignited and cemented my interest in academia and the desire to pursue further studies in law.

You’ve taught and done research in Ghana, South Africa, Germany, the Netherlands and now the United States. Does that varied geography introduce new perspectives in your understanding of the legal world?

Yes, it does. The research and teaching experience from different jurisdictions in my view is very significant. The experience in those jurisdictions have not only introduced new perspectives in my understanding of the legal world, but it has also enabled me to build a strong social capital in academia. This is very helpful as it enables collaboration and cross-fertilization of ideas with academics in those jurisdictions.  

As we enter the spring semester, tell us about the courses you’ll be teaching. What do you hope to see in the students who enroll?

I will be teaching Employment Law and Conflict of Laws this semester. I am excited and looking forward to a vibrant class and engaging with the students on both doctrinal and practical dimensions of employment law and conflict of laws.

One area you’ve looked at is the nexus between international commercial law and African values and ethics. How have you seen that intersection evident in legal systems beyond the African continent?

The infusion of African traditional values and ethics into law, in general, forms an important agenda of decolonizing legal philosophy on the African continent and providing a contextualized African stamp to law in Africa. It is an evolving idea, with courts in many countries hinting at the necessity of infusing African values into law. My research has focused exclusively on the African continent. My goal currently is to widen the scope of my research to explore the sociocultural and communal values that characterize American societies and the nexus between those values and the law.

You’ve written articles and book chapters on legal structures brought in Africa against LGBTQ+ people. What do you see as the impetus behind those laws, and do you think they’ll change any time soon?

One of the reasons behind the wave of recriminalization of LGBTQ+ activities in many African countries is the erroneous perception that homosexual practices are an imposition by morally depraved Western countries. There is a strong perception in many African countries that LGBTQ+ practices are alien to African culture and tradition. To many, African tradition and culture abhors homosexuality and should not be permitted.

Also, the imposition of criminal sanctions on LGBTQ+ persons has been justified by the conservative and religious nature of many African societies. What my articles, book chapters and TV interviews sought to do is to challenge the very reasons advanced by the sponsors of the bills and laws. At the core of my argument is that factual inaccuracies and misinterpretation of law cannot be a justifiable reason to limit the fundamental liberties of individuals.

In terms of whether the laws will change, I am optimistic. I have seen a new generation of Africans who will approach the issue from a multidimensional perspective to make those laws otiose. Also, with concerted efforts and investment into advanced legal research, a strong counternarrative can be created to oppose this wave of recriminalization of LGBTQ+ activities in Africa.