Makerere’s Dr Kabumba calls on Judges to ‘Ugandanise’ the Law

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Giving the keynote address at the Benedicto Kiwanuka Memorial Lecture is no mean feat. Before the third lecture on 21st September, two former Chief Justices had successfully delivered the keynote. One is three-time Chief Justice of Uganda, Hon. Samuel Wako Wambuzi, and the other is Hon Willy Mutunga, the first Chief Justice of Kenya under their 2010 Constitution.

Most men would crumble under the weight of the legacy left by these great statesmen and legal icons. But, then again, Dr. Busingye Kabumba is not most men. Clad in a crisp black suit, and the Makerere University tie, the Makerere Law School lecturer looked both legal, and relatable.

In fact, his address, “Black Laws Matter: Benedicto Kiwanuka’s Legacy and the Rule of Law in the New Normal” was something akin to a masterpiece, not for the amount of research, constitutional and historical background  but because of its relatability. And that is something that he was evidently trying to achieve, through undertones in dress and overtones in speech.

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The title was derivative of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States of America, but relatable in the context of Uganda. The history of legalized violence in the history of Uganda, as well as the fact that black laws have been discarded for long in favor of alien laws, inspired the title.


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Dr. Kabumba gave a historical analysis of the early British laws that sidelined and undermined the African customary law. He also highlighted the struggle of Ugandans in the British colonial times at attaining legal education, ably pointing out that the colonial regime believed that lawyers would inevitably turn into politicians, and that is why there were only 20 African lawyers out of 150 practicing advocates in the Ugandan protectorate by 1961.

The historical account then laid way for current Ugandan laws to be placed under the microscope. Article 126 in the Constitution, much as the framers intended on undoing the mess done by the British colonialists, was criticized for maintaining the primacy of English law at the expense of the law recognized by majority of Ugandans. Statutory law such as the Judicature and Magistrates Courts Act were also pointed out by the law don as laws that maintained the “second class nature” of customary law.

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” In the colonial time, Ugandan litigants were faced with the prospect of English Judges, English lawyers and English law. In the post-colonial period, Ugandan litigants now deal with Ugandan Judges, Ugandan lawyers – and again, mainly English law. This is deeply problematic.” He stated, in a factual manner that was cruelly ironic.

Refering to an even more cruel matter of fact in Ugandan society, Dr. Kabumba pointed out that only 5% of Ugandans choose to resolve their matters in courts of law that use “English law”, the 95% chooses to solve their disputes by informal customary law. In the end, this fact laid ground for his conclusion, a task for the Judiciary and members of the legal profession, to create a system that works for the “Omuntu wa’wansi”—the 100%, rather than the 5%.

Dr. Busingye Kabumba’s address, with all its citations in Ugandan case law, and animation with African literature such as the Song of Lawino and Piano and Drums, opened a wound in the Ugandan legal framework and begged that it be addressed with urgency. And it should, lest it cripples the Ugandan legal system.

In the end, Dr. Busingye Kabumba preached about relatability and how the laws must relate to the society. In so doing, he added weight to an already-heavy baton. Whomever he passes it on to, will have a mammoth task ahead of him.


 

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Benjamin is a Digital Legal News Journalist (trained by Reuters) and digital media enthusiast who founded The Legal Reports website in January, 2020 while a fourth year law student at Makerere University school of law.

Prior to that, Benjamin used to write amateur blogs and some of his legal commentaries were published by the Daily Monitor and Independent Magazine - both leading publications in Uganda. He covers lawyers, law students, judges, judiciary, courts, law schools, and law firms.

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