Hello from Kampala, Uganda! My name is Emma Melvin and I am a rising 2L at Regent Law. This summer, I have the unique honor of working with the Ugandan Supreme Court, as well as other judicial bodies, in connection with Regent Law’s Center for Global Justice and the Global Justice Institute at Pepperdine School of Law. In this blog post, I will introduce you to Ugandan culture and share my initial experiences through three fun topics: boda-bodas, Café Javas, and courtrooms.
Boda-Bodas are undoubtedly the most common form of transportation in Kampala. The number of “bodas” – a dirt bike looking motorcycle – clearly outnumbers the cars and vans on the road. I’ll preface this section with a disclaimer: we are not allowed to ride boda-bodas. When traffic is at a dead stop, you will experience dozens of bodas weaving their way in and around traffic, giving mere millimeters of distance as they navigate the road. To our knowledge, most Ugandan drivers detest bodas. As one Uber driver put it, “Bodas are the only artificial disaster in Kampala.” However “disastrous” bodas may be, they remain a preferred form of transportation by locals because, as you might guess, people often prefer to be on the vehicle weaving its way through traffic than on the normal vehicle stuck at a dead stop.
Unfortunately, boda accidents are not uncommon. And as one of the judicial members informed us, if he were to let us drive a car in Kampala, by the end of the day, we would surely have gotten in a Boda accident.
As pedestrians, we had to get comfortable with the unfamiliar traffic rather quickly. After a week, we had finally figured out the rhythm of traffic and the dynamic between pedestrians and vehicles and walking became significantly more enjoyable. Each day, we walk approximately thirty minutes to the courthouse, and we were very proud of ourselves the day we discovered a quiet, shaded backroad that allows us to comfortably carry on conversations while we make our way to work.
When we travel further distances for special functions, we will get a bus as a group. During our bus rides, we love to do “high, low, buffalo,” where everyone shares their high of the day, low of the day, and then something random or fun.
Bus rides are often the best time to find things to add to our Boda List. Our team has been keeping a list of all the surprising things we’ve seen creatively strapped to (or held by a passenger on) a single boda. Here’s a snapshot of our list:
- a TV
- a dog
- a queen-sized bedframe, completely intact
- a patio table and chairs
- bundles amounting to at least 100 bananas
- a car windshield
- at least 7 car tires
Fun fact, I’m actually writing this blog post in a Café Javas, right now!
Café Javas is one of the few local chains here in Kampala. We’ve seen KFC and Pizza Hut, but no other American chains.
The first time we went to Café Javas, we had asked an attendant at the front desk of our hotel, a shorter Ugandan man with the most infectious smile you’ll see here in Kampala, to give us directions, and in response, he offered to personally guide us for a 15-minute walk to the one close by. His authentic, deep sense of hospitality is reflective of so many Ugandan values.
As you may expect, we have also had substantial opportunity to try Ugandan food! Ugandan meals are starch-heavy, lots of potatoes, rice, and a mashed banana dish called “matooke.” One of my favorite moments so far was eating pork on a stick served at a rugby game. A favorite dish among this group of interns has been “rolex,” an African flat bread called “chapati” generally filled with egg or meat.
Being the judicial interns that we are, our first week in Kampala featured a variety of visits to courts of many levels.
The first hearing we got to observe was in the Magistrate Court in Mukono. After the hearing, the Chief Magistrate joined us for lunch (incidentally, the very same outing where we were all introduced to rolexes).
The next day, we visited the High Court, also in Mukono, where we observed a land case. After the hearing, to our surprise, the judge began to cold call us and test our knowledge of legal concepts! Luckily, we all knew our stuff and were able to answer each one of his questions.
Also, during the week, we had the chance to meet the Deputy Chief Justice, representatives from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and representatives from the Human Trafficking Institute.
Our introduction parade ended at the Supreme Court of Uganda, where we met the two justices who affectionately referred to themselves as our “guardians” for the summer.
The vast majority of our time in Uganda this summer will be spent at the Supreme Court, where we will serve by doing legal research, briefing cases, and supplying our justices with draft judgments. In addition, we have already had a special opportunity to do some comparative law research concerning the appeals process to the Supreme Court. I look forward to an amazing rest of my summer at the Supreme Court!
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice intern. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.