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Apr 11, 2018

From Nairobi to Strasbourg: What future leaders are learning on overseas academic trips

Students at the European Court of Human Rights

Andrew Ojowi, Natasha Muhoza, Aliasgar Dar, Maria Angela Maina and Bavo Bennett represent five different and interconnected worlds. They have little in common, perhaps only one thing — they are all brilliant law students.

 

Andrew is originally from Kisumu. Natasha is a Rwandan performer and poet from Kigali. Aliasgar is of Indian descent and was born and bred in Mombasa. Maria Angela grew up in Nairobi; her father is from Murang’a and her mother is half Luhya and half Taita. Bavo is a Tanzanian from Dar es Salaam.

 

They are part of a group of 65 law students on the 2018 academic trip. This year’s edition includes visits to The Hague, Cologne, Bonn, Strasbourg, Zurich and Dubai.

In The Hague, the students visited the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the UN Mechanism for International Tribunals and the Kenyan Embassy to the Netherlands.

 

In Cologne, they attended several lectures organised by the law faculty, and made fantastic presentations. They also sat an exam on the topics covered so far during the trip and on other areas dealt with during the semester, such as the treaty ratification process in Kenya, restrictions on the use of force, and the structure, functions and powers of the International Court of Justice.

 

Immediately after the exam, our drivers, Less and Chris, were waiting for the group to drive us to Strasbourg to visit the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.

 

As I write this piece, the two buses traverse a wonderful and neatly manicured highway between Cologne in Germany and Strasbourg in France.

 

Less is an amazingly good and kind British bus driver who has driven our group for two consecutive years. He is demanding and patient, kind and severe, he tolerates no nonsense…just the perfect combination most millennials need today.

 

Why foreign trips?

When Less says, “The bus is leaving at 7:10am” he actually means 7:10am, and not between seven and 10 as we usually understand punctuality in Kenya. More than once somebody has been left by the bus to find their way at their own peril and cost.

 

At Strathmore Law School, we have asked ourselves many a times, “Why do we make these trips to Europe and not within Africa?” Aren’t we encouraging neo-colonialism or brain-drain?

 

The answer is simpler than it seems. The students do not pay extra for the trip, which is factored within the four-year fees and Europe is cheaper than Africa.

 

It would be great to visit Africa’s continental or regional courts, but intra-Africa travel is not only unpredictable but also quite expensive. An air ticket for Nairobi-Lusaka or Nairobi-Cape Town costs almost twice what we paid from Nairobi to Amsterdam via Dubai.

 

The second, and most important, consideration is that to choose Europe over Africa is more intellectual and cultural. It came up in a deeply emotive conversation with Aliasgar, Bavo and Andrew. We were climbing the tower of the Dom of Cologne, an imposingly beautiful cathedral built in the 13th century.

 

Cologne reborn

Cologne was practically flattened and erased from the map during the Second World War but this cathedral stood the test of the time, war, destruction, hatred and malice.

 

Aliasgar and Bavo said that there is no reason Africa should be so backward. “We blame the colonisers,” Bavo said, “yet, we have been independent for more than 50 years.”

 

As we enjoyed Cologne’s majestic view from the top, “Look at this town, sir” Bavo added. “Germany was destroyed and flattened by two most destructive and miserable wars, but look at it now. By 1965, just 20 years after the war, Germany was already a superpower.”

 

Aliasgar said that Germany had a purpose and a plan. Just like the Netherlands, which suffered a horrible famine that killed between 10,000 to 20,000 people at the end of the Second World War. This could not happen again.

 

The Netherlands put in place agricultural policies that turned the country into Europe’s food store and today it is the world’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, only second to the United States, which is 270 times bigger.

 

Dutch ingenuity

As we climbed 159 metres of steps, Andrew gathered enough oxygen to add that he had read in a recent article by Frank Viviano that the Netherlands is one of the smallest countries in Europe (the size of Maasai Mara), flat, below sea level, naturally unattractive and highly overpopulated with more than 1,300 inhabitants per square mile.

 

Yet it is amazing. It is a top producer of tomatoes, dairy products, flowers…for some crops it produces more than the whole of Europe combined.

 

The Netherlands’ greatest asset is its people’s kindness, hard work, determination and innovation.

Andrew added that Dutch farmers have reduced their dependence on water as much as 90 per cent since 2000, and they have almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides in their greenhouses.

 

As we climbed down from the mighty tower, we met Maria Angela. She had been shopping for a few gifts for her brothers and sisters. She quickly joined the conversation.

 

Clean, orderly cities

She was amazed at how clean, safe and orderly the cities we had visited were. She complained bitterly that “after 55 years of independence in Kenya we still blamed the colonisers.”

 

Maria Angela was accompanied by Princess Mbeyu, Strathmore Law School’s assistant administrator. Princess, like most of the students in the group, had never been outside Kenya.

 

She asked herself why we had so little to show for 55 years of independence. Our tourism infrastructure is built on God-given gifts: animals, scenic mountains or parks, and beaches.

 

“Europe has none of this”, Princess retorted, “yet Amsterdam alone receives more than 18 million visitors per year because they have added value to creation, while we deplete what God has given to us.”

 

The conversation got more engaging and more interesting, but the article must finish here. Natasha gave a fantastic closure when she reminded us, “Guys (the millennial polite way of saying ladies and gentlemen), it is our time to eat…literally”.

 

Thinking outside the box

Then she added, “I guess this is what Strathmore wants us to learn by exposing us to new cultures and institutions. We are the future; we must learn to plan cleverly and execute; to think of others, to grow in national pride and sense of identification. So far our national goals have been simplistic, abstract and imaginary. We have lost the true harambee spirit, and this trip has made me realise that. We must change, and I want to be part of that change. I am grateful.”

 

These future leaders’ insights and resolutions make the whole effort worth it. A new generation of leaders is breeding. They are all over East Africa. Young minds who are thinking outside the box.

 

Youngsters who are not focusing on the problem but seeking solutions, ideas, deeply in love with their culture, their race and background; ready to build on experiences and the good other cultures may bring so that they may be able to take Africa to the next level.

 

We then continued our trip to Strasbourg. After that, the trip will end in Dubai with a quick visit to the Dispute Resolution Authority, a special set of courts the government set up to deal with big investor disputes.

 

And in everyone’s mind is the desire to learn more, not only about law, but about life, justice and development.

 

 

Article by Dr. Luis Franceschi – Dean Strathmore Law School. 

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