UCU graduates in BarefootLaw seek justice in un-just world (Part II of II)
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2018/09/ucu-graduate-in-barefootlaw-seeks-justice-in-un-just-world-part-ii-of-ii/
By Brendah Ndagire
This second of two segments follows last week’s story of how UCU Law graduates are making a difference in the lives of Ugandans with the non-profit BarefootLaw (BFL) organization. This week features an interview with BarefootLaw’s Program Director, Timothy Kakuru, to understand why BFL is doing the type of legal work across Ugandan communities. This interview is edited for clarification purposes.
What attracted you to Uganda Christian University Law School?
When I applied for the law program at UCU, it had a very good reputation among legal practitioners in Uganda. Before I came to UCU, all I knew about (studying) law is that you were in the program to graduate and make money. That I would become a lawyer, go to court, (argue a specific case) and get money – to somehow become rich. After I got to UCU, I learned that they were other ways to use my law degree. Primarily, UCU School of Law put a Christian aspect to legal practice, which changed the dynamics (of practice) for many of us (law students and graduates). I know many UCU graduates who are working within the non-profit field, because for the most part, the law program at UCU was about service, doing work for the greater good of the community, than serving to gain some sort of financial gain. Most other law schools in Uganda teach law in (the lens) of justice, but in UCU, it was not only through (the perspective of) justice but also in terms of Christian ethics.
How is the Christian ethic approach different?
Justice is what is right, according to the law. The difference lies in how a crime is prosecuted. For example, if someone burns your house, justice for you would be in terms of (monetary) compensation. To put a Christian aspect to that example, then one seeks to understand why the other person burnt your house, and seek to reconcile the two parties. The big gap is that often time in the legal system, there is no element of reconciliation, where as at UCU we were taught to try to reconcile the two parties by looking at the whys and the hows of a specific wrong action, and then solve the issue amicably.
How did BarefootLaw evolve?
The BarefootLaw was incorporated in 2013 as non-profit legal agency. The idea of BarefootLaw came from Gerald Abila in 2012 who begun a Facebook Page to share legal information. I met him at Law Development Centre in 2013 and he shared the idea with me, I liked it and agreed to join him and slowly the team grew from there. The grand idea was to make justice available to people through giving them legal information. The crux of it was that if people knew their rights, then they would be able to enforce them. They would not really need legal representation because they would be able to avoid (potential) conflicts. For example, if that businessman knew that defilement was a crime, he would avoid having relationships with young girls. Many people are not aware that certain actions are legal offenses. The idea was to provide as much legal information that people would know that they would avoid engaging in crimes.
What did the implementation process of the idea look like?
We thought using technology would be our best strategy. Gerald (CEO) had already opened up a FaceBook page and I came on board to partner in writing content and publishing. Later, we came up with the an idea of doing sms, small call centers, website platforms and other mechanisms including community outreach and legal training with people in rural communities. We thought this would be our way of empowering people with legal information so that they may be able to avoid crime, or know what to do in case of a criminal offense.
But why BarefootLaw as a non profit legal agency and not as a profit-making law firm?
I had worked with the Uganda Law Council during my time at LDC, and had witnessed how many people had been taken advantage of. The Uganda Law Council disciplines lawyers. There were cases where lawyers were accused of taking someone’s property such as land, and in other cases a son of an elderly man working with corrupt lawyers to take away his father’s land. I thought I was already in a toxic law field. There were backlog of cases dating to 1994, and just so many unethical issues that was disillusioning, and I was not ready to jump into such a legal (justice) system.
I had always wanted to do something more meaningful and impactful to the ordinary person with my law degree. BarefootLaw to me was an opportunity for us to have every individual be ‘their own lawyer’ – we thought if people knew just enough information about law or human rights, they would be able to know if, for instance, you are entitled to bail once you have been arrested and detained for more than 48 hours. BarefootLaw is about making sure that ordinary people are empowered by understanding their human rights.
How do you reach out to people?
We have a very big social media presence. We have over 200,000 Facebook followers on our platforms, and in that sense most people do come to us for legal help. We do have community outreaches in some Districts, such as Soroti, Arua, Apach, Lira, and we try to get as many people as possible. We have an SMS and call center platform where most people can reach us. In a day, we can get about 50 cases. Some days are more others days less. Some cases are serious, others are not.
What has stood out for you working with BFL?
Most of the lawyers who work with us at BFL are from UCU. They are UCU graduates. And this shows that we are attracting young lawyers to do things differently within the Uganda legal system. As you may know, money drives most people, including in Uganda. And at BFL we try to challenge that by providing our services at a free cost in most cases. The admirable thing about BFL is that people who work with us are aware that they are not doing it primarily for the money.
Stories such as Timothy’s and the experiences of the people they have walked with to seek free legal support, are the reason why Uganda Partners supports law students so that they may have access to empowering and Christ centered education – a type of education that is making a huge difference in their communities. If you are interested in supporting students who are making a difference in the communities around Uganda such as Timothy Kakuru and the UCU graduates team at BarefootLaw, contact Mark Bartels, UCU Partners’ Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow our Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin pages.