Today is one of those days when I feel sad that I am a lawyer, when I feel bad about the way rulers use and abuse the law for their own selfish ends.
Just a little background of how I became a lawyer: When I was in Primary 7, a gentleman came to talk to us about children in conflict with the law and about remand homes. That talk started my interest in becoming a lawyer. When I got to secondary school, it was quite clear from my grades that I was not cut out to be a scientist. At A-level, I read history, literature and economics in readiness to becoming a lawyer. I put all my heart into reading and fortunately for me, I passed the exams and was admitted to Makerere University to do a Bachelor of Laws. During my first year in law school, I attended the annual law students’ conference, and one of the speakers was the then chairperson of the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (also known as FIDA). She spoke to us about how FIDA was using the law as a tool for social justice and I knew there and then, that I wanted to do that kind of work – to give people hope, to restore dignity, to champion human rights using the law.
After law school I went on to work at FIDA. I really believed in the power of the law to change lives. I believed in the purity of the letter of the law – until I bumped into the politics that drives the law. Then I saw how the law and the judicial system can be used as a tool of injustice, as a political tool for purely political ends. And when I realized how those in power can manipulate the law, I felt deeply saddened. It’s a kind of sadness that is hard to explain – it’s like a broken promise, a shattered dream.
That’s how I felt today when I heard the news that the Constitutional Court in Burundi had ruled that President Pierre Nkurunziza could run for a third term. It is quite telling that the Deputy President of that court fled to Rwanda last night, because he felt that the court had come under undue pressure to ensure an outcome that was favorable to the President. I am sure the rest of the bench knows that their ruling was not legally right, but was politically prudent, and so politics won over justice.
And that’s what breaks my heart as a lawyer – to see how politicians and powerful elite groups flaunt the law with impunity, or use the law for their benefit. And though we may blame the ruling elite for using the law to defeat justice, I think we need to ask hard questions of ourselves in the legal fraternity. When and how did we get to the place where we are used to drive political ends? Why can’t we stop this abuse in its tracks? Why do we keep quiet when politicians use their position to subvert the law so openly and so obviously? The legal profession is said to be a noble one, but there is nothing noble in being used and made to serve the self-centered whims of politicians as though we have no backbone, as though we don’t know right from wrong.
We in the legal fraternity need to stop being used to perpetuate injustice; otherwise we are just as culpable as the politicians who use us, for the consequences arising from the wrongs we aid and abet.
I rest my case.