Goodbye, Nairobi

The summer program has closed its doors. Exams were submitted and are being graded, the final safari to Masai Mara was completed, and our group has started to dissolve – some directly home, several to Mount Kilimanjaro for a final expedition, and others with a few more days of travel and exploration.

Goodbye to Nairobi’s crowded streets, dust, and the pervasive odor of burning charcoal. Goodbye to the host school, the University of Nairobi Faculty of Law, where U.S. and Kenyan students and faculty exchanged ideas and friendship. Goodbye to our favorite, impassioned cab driver, our faithful escort across city and cultural lines. Goodbye to Indian and Swahili cuisines, to chapati and tea between classes. Goodbye to an over-crowded city surrounded by majestic parks and preserves. Goodbye to Bomas, the dance and tribal life center. Goodbye to the Giraffe Center, where a few shillings get you food which the giraffes will take from your hand or lips. Goodbye, Kenya. Kwa heri, and asante sana.

Widener Summer Students and Faculty, and the Nairobi Dean

Widener Summer Students and Faculty, and the Nairobi Dean

A summer of comparative law

Bomas and Lamu (2) 028Classes are over, exams completed. What have we accomplished?

In our study of comparative criminal law, we began with a fundamental divide between and among national adjudicative systems – the adversarial and inquisitorial models. Despite the imagery of torture that the latter term conveys, a number of us came away appreciative of the many strengths this system of inquiry has. Prosecutorial neutrality and impartiality (at least as a goal); and  a focus on truth-seeking; these were two features that seemed most commendable.

Much more was studied. The treatment of child witnesses – a disfavored class of witness in some areas of the world, a protected group in others. Sexual assault laws were as diverse as the world map, sometimes solicitous of victim-witnesses, and elsewhere skeptical of their testimony. The law of homicide showed greater common threads, but even there national differences – as in the types of behavior that could sustain a manslaughter verdict – were pronounced.

Forensics, interrogation practice, and the law of eyewitness identification – all were matters we studied in this comparative law setting. No country succeeded in all areas – some excelled in but one. But comparative law has the utility of displaying alternative models, and providing perspective. In these ways, we succeeded as a class.

Kenya – The People

On a dhow in Lamu as sunset approaches

On a dhow in Lamu as sunset approaches

It is, of course, impossible to describe a people – especially in a nation as diverse as Kenya, with tribes, nationalities, and a heart-wrenching gap between haves and have-nots. Yet six weeks in Kenya have given me, repeatedly, a sense of warmth and welcome, and of vitality.

Not all has been smooth. There remain tensions between tribal or regional groups, and there has been violence in the debate preceding the August vote on the proposed Constitution. That document itself is one of vision and compromise – defending the rights of individuals while enshrining the right of religious courts to prevail on certain domestic issues, the latter a compromise to ensure passage of the whole.  And the process of considering a new Constitution has engaged the nation.

Yet tensions notwithstanding,  the warmth is undeniable. I have been the sole caucasian in a sea of black and brown, one of a handful of non-Muslims in a landscape filled with kufia-wearing men and veiled women, yet there has been no trepidation or menace. Greetings – “jambo, salaam” – are recurring, as are smiles and inquiries of “where are you from?” The answer “United States” brings, most often, a comment saluting President Obama.

Kenya is welcoming.

The United Nations in Africa

The study of international environmental law took summer institute students to the Nairobi campus of the United Nations, a 100-plus acre setting where UNEP (the United Nations Environmental Program) is headquartered, on July 8. UNEP is a driving force in environmental and sustainability efforts, large and small, around the world.

Dr. Bankobeza, senior legal adviser on the implementation and compliance with the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer under UNEP, lectured on the design and success of the treaty phasing out CFCs and similar chemicals.

What became apparent was that this treaty succeeded through a combination of making financial resources available to developing countries to permit feasible replacement strategies, monitoring and enforcement requirements, and an intense lobbying effort to bring what are now 196 parties into the treaty. The personal touch was also revealed, as Dr. Bankobeza explained how he negotiated with the Vatican to convince that physically small but influential state to become a treaty ratifier.

unep 003

Running in Kenya part II

I did run this weekend in Masai Mara, and was compelled to have an escort (purportedly to fend off lions and rampaging elephants). My 26 year old Masai companion Elijah ran in worn down sneaks, but his gait was strong and I huffed and puffed at first, trying to adjust to the thinner air at a height well above sea level. 8 kilometers on a hilly dirt road brought us past zebras and giraffes, and I finished just behind him.

What a way to see Africa.masai mara 110

Running in Kenya

I run. Everywhere I travel I run. So here is the “runner’s report” from Kenya.

Nairobi running is difficult – lots of smog, crowded roads, no real berm or sidewalk. So I’ve reverted to the treadmill.

When traveling, running is a must. At Lake Naivasha, I ran outside of the lodge and up and down the adjacent road, seeing traditional huts. Returning to the lodge’s grounds, a trip down the path into the woods brought me next to zebra, a giraffe, and more.

On the visit to Samburu, I ran out of the lodge grounds at sunrise, down the road where, the day before, elephants had been traveling. No such sighting, and I found an airstrip, rocky but passable. The solitude was great, but a creeping fear of lions fed my return trip and increased my speed greatly. Back at the lodge, baboons scurried away at my approach.

Then came Lamu. The first run was on a pristine beach, one with sand dollars and the never-ceasing wind. Hard going out, fleet upon my return. Then a second run, the trek into town. The path went along the waterfront, passing men and women in Muslim garb, donkeys carrying material, mosques, children fishing, and bringing me to a small city steeped in Islamic tradition – a heritage sight.

This weekend I head to the Masia territory, but I’ve been told I can run only accompanied by another person, because of the presence of animals. We’ll see.

There are beautiful beaches in Kenya

lamu, kenya 104This past weekend saw travel, for most of our party, to Kenyan beaches. Most of the students, and Professor Gathii, went to Mombasa. Beyond the beauty of the beaches, the learning continued in a day-long session with a lawyer defending some of those accused of being Somali pirates. The independent study this summer includes work on that case.

My wife and I traveled to Lamu, an island with an historic town, one infused with Islamic culture. No bar scene, no nightlife, AND NO CARS. People walk or ride donkeys, which roam the narrow streets freely. Beautiful beaches, delectable fish, monkeys attempting to grab some of our breakfast, and incredibly nice people.

Our second safari

samburu 140We learn (not too rigorously, but certainly richly) as we travel.

This weekend we traveled for nearly six hours to the Shaba National Reserve, seeing a kaleidoscopic view of Kenya.  City slums, coffee farms, cattle herded by the roadside, the increasing Islamic presence as we moved north, camels grazing along the road.  We arrived at a safari lodge, and took an evening ride into a park.  Very few animals but a glorious sunset, and then a surprise – as we approached the lodge, a family of elephants appeared, with one charging toward our van.

The next a.m. was the main safari, and over four hours we saw ostrich, lions, more elephants, warthogs, and a wide variety of birds.  Before returning to the lodge, we visited a village of the Samburu tribe.  Maintaining their traditional culture, we were greeted with song and dance and saw their huts, fire started by the rubbing of sticks, and a rudimentary schoolhouse (one room) for village children and orphans.  The women danced with the women, and the men with the men.  The male dances included a virility one, with the height of the jump ‘proof’ of one’s manliness.
The ‘fence’ of the communal area is made of thorn bushes, although the men need to be on alert at night to guard against hyenas and lions, who seek the tribe’s goats.
The children in the school sang for us (including “I’m a little teapot”) and touched with fascination the pale skin and soft hair of some of the women and at least one of the men.
It was vexing – there is a tremendous respect for those who maintain an allegiance to tradition, and a recognition of the freedom people should have to make such a choice.  This is especially true when it involves living so close to the land.  But this is a tribe that still practices female genital mutilation (politely called “circumcision”) and one where the men will never hold the infants, as this ‘memory’ may afflict them if/when they go into battle.  Some of the women are now resisting FGM, but paying the price of at least the risk of ostracism.   Some in our group returned Sunday a.m. to complete purchases and to donate clothing, as the poverty in the village is severe.

Most returned for an evening safari, and the lions seen in the morning had completed their hunt.  The spectacle witnessed was that of lions enjoying their kill, eating some and leaving remainders for jackals or hyena.

Now we are back for class.samburu 211 Next week there is travel to Monbasa, a trip to the beach with a learning component – me

The first week of classes

The first week of classes ended today.  We have traversed the history of environmental law, the theories supporting and rejecting comparative constitutional law, and comparisons between adversarial and inquisitorial systems, finding many valued aspects in the latter.  We are off for three days of safari (Friday to Sunday), with what I am sure will be more exceptional adventures.

In the meantime, we are all also acclimating to the rhythms and forms of Nairobi life – walks to the market, lots of traffic and pollution, massala burgers and fries, sushi and lebanese food in one restaurant.  And incredibly friendly people.first day of school 003

Classes Have Begun

Amidst the banging sounds as repairs are being made to a portion of the Faculty of Law damaged this past Sunday in an electrical fire, classes have begun.  Following yesterday’s lecture on Kenya’s constitution, students began their ventures into Comparative Constitutional Law, Comparative Criminal Law, and International Environmental Law. first day of school 004

Because we are a small group, the classes range from 5 to 9 students in size.  No ‘safety’ in numbers – it is inescapable that one will be called on and engaged, but these classes have the virtue of being seminar-like.   The main component is discussion – learning through the exchange of ideas.  In Constitutional Law, the discussion ranged from the various schools of thought on comparative analysis to a review of the influence of international law in American death penalty jurisprudence.  Later this week, Criminal Law will study the phenomenon of mistaken identification.