Jinja District, Uganda, 2009. My colleague Christine Adong had just introduced the Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity to a gathering of pastors and local leaders. There was a moment of silence and then a senior member of the community stood to ask a question that would linger in my memory to this day. “How can you be a Christian and a lawyer?”
Lawyers have long suffered from a bad reputation and in some cases it is justified. In some parts of the world lawyers are synonymous with corruption and greed, and so in retrospect it was a natural question for those Ugandan villagers to ask. In the western world lawyers have been satirised since Shakespeare’s day when some dramas dared to portray lawyers as agents of Satan, or even as Satan himself. Even Disney introduced the evil lawyer “Sylvester Shyster” to its animations, a sinister character bent on disinheriting Minnie Mouse. It may seem like a joke, but at times a great deal of anger resides behind the caricatures and lampooning.
My experience in Uganda is a familiar one for Isaque Bonga, AMAC’s Legal Assistant in Beira. Isaque was raised in a Christian family and his father was a respected pastor but his household also experienced poverty. His determination to become a lawyer was a way of escaping poverty but it was also an effort to provide the access to justice lacking for the poor and marginalised amongst his people. He is keenly aware of the perception of lawyers in his country, and wants to restore the reputation of his profession by living out the Biblical command to seek justice and defend the oppressed. Recently, Isaque was able to take a few moments away from the cases and clients to respond to some of my questions. You can find his full interview here in the ‘Voices of Mozambique’ section of my website. Please follow the link to read more about Isaque’s and AMAC’s justice ministry here in Mozambique.