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In pursuit of justice

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 22 – When Tom Ojienda tells me that his career in law began as a sheer coincidence, I laugh. He was forced into it by his parents (the price we pay for doing well in school).

Serendipity, perhaps? "It’s a calling," he tells me.

The towering lawyer had initially intended to study French with no intentions to champion the pursuit of justice. Somehow though he still is a good speaker of the language. But yielding to his parent’s will, Mr Ojienda enrolled at the University of Nairobi’s School of Law. Years later he is a senior lecturer of law at the Moi University.

"Law is about everything I do," he says, revealing that he is in pursuit of a PhD at the University of South Africa. He got his Masters from Kings College, London.

Mr Ojienda’s accomplishments are noteworthy. He has already run the top Kenya and East African Law Societies.

He is the immediate former East African Law Society (EALS) President. He was elected in Uganda in 2006 after leaving the helm of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK). It was later that year that Kenya took over the rotational leadership of EALS.

"I felt the need to serve in the regional bar and that is taking into account that I still serve as the Vice President of the Pan African Lawyers Union and I sit in the Council of the International Bar Association," he tells me at the Capital FM studios.

Mr Ojienda describes his career as a pursuit to defend his clients and his country, advising society and providing guidance on international best practices on advocacy.

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But quite literally, he is very soft spoken. "It’s misleading," he informs me. "I am soft spoken but firm. You must know when to push, negotiate and go tough. These are the qualities of a lawyer. It depends on the issues to be addressed."

Last year he was appointed to a fact finding taskforce on rights violations to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. He cites this deployment as one of those moments which require the man to be made of steel, speak his conviction and not bulge. Not for anything.

But Mr Ojienda is leaving. He is leaving the Presidency of EALS to Allan Shonobi of Uganda and he says there is unfinished business.

Mr Shonobi takes over the expanded EALS at a time when Kenya’s regional image is dented because of ugly post election violence and a flood of corruption scandals raging the coalition government.

"His biggest challenge (Mr Shonobi’s) will be bringing together the five countries of East Africa (EA). There are little pockets of differences amongst the EA Countries. We have the tinkering question of an incomplete constitutional process in Kenya and that raises a lot of concern in East Africa."

Most EA countries wondered how Kenya could descend down the abyss of a lack of political control that was witnessed early last year. "Kenya has the task of regaining the confidence of EA Countries," he says.

Then there is the question of free and fair democratic elections. By the year 2012, most of the EAC countries will be going through a transition of new governments taking over. None of the Guinea and Mauritania coup business is welcome.

"The challenge for the East African Law Society is to ensure they are relevant to the process, that they keep up with monitoring compliance with electoral laws and build partnerships that will ensure that all the countries in East Africa have constitutions that are based on Constitutionalism."

This, he explains, is a situation where the constitutions are alive to the views of the people, have a separation of powers and have good governance.

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It’s been two years since he took over the EALS and Mr Ojienda tells me he is proud that under his leadership Burundi was incorporated into EALS. A programme on peace settlement was also commenced for that country, part of a conflict resolution programme.

Under his instruction, EALS engaged the government of Tanzania on the questions that at are slowing down integration in the EAC. "During my tenure we took the governments of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to court over certain amendments to the East African Treaty. Largely we won."

An East African wide continued legal education is ongoing with the aim to familiarise lawyers on the trends in the profession and encourage the understanding of Common Law which is not applied in Rwanda and Burundi.


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