‘Fog of war’ is the best law teacher – Ssemakadde counsels Makerere law students

Isaac Ssemakadde is a celebrated lawyer and human rights activist

Celebrated human rights lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde has observed that the best lawyering tutor is during the energy-sapping fog of war that exposes lawyers to the gruesome court duels.

Ssemakadde made the observation on Friday, 19 November, 2021 at a guest lecture convened by Makerere Law School, and organized on the Zoom platform.

The topic of discussion was The Art of Lawyering: Legal Writing and Court Submissions. The popular advocate who was the guest lecturer.

He dissected the finer details of how an intense court duel prepares one to enter the exclusive bracket of ‘critically acclaimed lawyers’.

Ssemakadde said: We learn through the fog of war…So, if you are exposing yourself to low-end battles, you are going to have a low-end art of lawyering.

‘That is why it is helpful and advisable to do some pro bono work, and some public interest work. Even though David v Goliath battle situations may not pay as much, or at all, they hone ones skill in legal writing.’

The combative advocate, who is also the chief executive of Kampala-based human rights watchdog Legal Brains Trust, noted that a lawyer is distinguishable by noticeable results from the horizon-broadening exposure that he or she attained, in interacting with credible and competent adversaries.

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English is a handicap to lawyering

Ssemakadde, who is the practice leader in the sought after non-profit Centre for Legal Aid, explained how and why the English language is a handicap to lawyering in Uganda.

‘Legal writing is predominantly in English but English isnt our mother tongue. English isnt our first language. Most of us have learnt English as a foreign language, and we havent learnt English in a decolonized manner. We have learnt English through the most colonial mechanism,’ explained Ssemakadde.

‘So, we associate with English blindly, forgetting that it was imposed on our people as a scheme of plunder, subjugation, exploitation, tyranny, oppression. It was part of the mission of exclusion and marginalization. It was not introduced because English was advanced, no! It was introduced to inspire and promote the goals of Empire, to kill the traditional system of knowledge.’

The advocate expressed disgust at the tyranny of English’ that has impeded pro-active lawyering, with even bright lawyers continuing to transact in English, for indigenous business, and indigenous dispute resolution.

Ssemakadde said unlike the native English speakers who strive for perfection, and read widely beyond law, the reverse is true for the Uganda situation the post-colony, where elites dont write or read books, not even the handbook Common Mistakes in English.

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’‘I submit that English, the very fact that English, is a medium of legal writing, has created the orthodoxy of mediocrity in legal practice in the post colony.’‘

“Many of us take it for granted that we know English, and that our English is correct and sufficient to transact in a specialist field like law. This is not true. So much is lost in nuance, and approach. Many of you dont even know when to use a dictionary. You dont even buy a dictionary and other texts that are useful. You dont even read at all!”

Read or perish.

The tough-talking human rights activist poked holes in the bubble of many law students and recent graduates that have fallen for the phantasmagoria of social media.

He stated: ‘I receive so many recent graduates and I find that they dont read anymore! And woe unto your generation which is living in the age of illusion, the age of foolishness brought on about by social media, where you have access to too much to read, that you do not read anything at all. Legal training has no time to teach you grammar. You have to do more on your own!’

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