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Monday, January 16, 2012

50,000 reasons

this year the Kenya School of Law increased their fees by 50,000 shillingswithout warning. My former classmates and a lot of other potential lawyers have been organising to protest this until the fees is cut down, since i can't help with that i hope some words can.

Let no one lie to you law school is hard. For four years you go through cases and statutes. For four years you learn about how the English do things and how Kenyans still do the same things. For four years you meet angry exams and unreasonable professors then it’s over.

You read tree loads of books; you photocopy Amazon’s worth of paper. Your eyes ache, your brain fades, your soul dies. Your faith in humanity is challenged with every class. How we learn in Kenya is by going over old case law, cases by definition are not happy stories of triumph and the beauty of humanity. They are stories of the failure that human beings are. They are stories of people who didn’t have to do that wrong thing but did anyway. They are the worst statistics of the soul. And they drain you. Hour after hour you hear about, write about and read about the very worst things that can happen. 

Then you read about how laws are made and changed, you go through the philosophy of law in your third year a subject called jurisprudence and for me in this moment it started to make sense to coalesce out of the fog into something that mattered. The law is no t about the people who break it though it can seem that way, it’s not about the people who make it and it’s not about making people happier. It’s not synonymous with justice, it’s a philosophy it’s a way of life. The law is about which kind of world you want to see and how to make the world seem that way. Justice is for the gods all we can aim for is right and wrong. 

Is this right? The average law student works his ass off and can’t expect a salary of more than 30,000 and that’s on the really high side most of them settle for 11,000 and less. This in the city of Nairobi where half goes to rent and half to clothing. Food can become a distant memory but that’s ok since you’re in that office from sun-up to sundown. That’s ok since you’re too tired to think about anything but the musty documents that surround you the whole day. Seeping into your soul as you work through motion after motion. That’s really ok since there’s a pay off at the end of the day or so we are told/ maybe that is right. 

What about their place in society, wakili you are crowned as soon as you walk out of the university doors with your gown draped over your shoulders. That word still bears some weight. The sins of the fathers and the honor of their fathers. You are a liar and a thief, you have money and esteem and the only thing you really do have is the esteem but you can’t preserve it without dignity and you can’t have dignity unless you work for it. Maybe that’s right too. 

The weight of the world on your shoulders is a horrible feeling but you wanted to be a lawyer and now you can be, but can you? Kenya is a poor country that promises dreams in return for work. The scholarship program in our universities reward the best and the brightest. If you can pass high school you only have to pay 16,000 a year to attend any course of your choosing. That’s right, that’s fair. That’s more than your first month’s salary but for many people it’s more than the whole year’s income. These are the people who really do hold the world up on one tattered shoulder pad. Their parents scrimp and save so that they have a wakili in the family. They are sent from all over the country to Nairobi and they need the HELB loans just so they can breathe. And if you went the parallel way the degree will cost your family about 640,000 shs. Harambee after harambee are held so that people can go to school and it’s never enough. You need to kill the trees I mentioned earlier. But it’s difficult, its difficult but no one says dreams should be easy and maybe this is right too. The culture of sacrifice for gain is the only way we can progress in a country like Kenya. 

Then you finish and you have a degree. By now you have a healthy dislike for lawyers, the exams do not need to be so hard or to be marked so strictly. A first class honors does not need to be something of myth only whispered about in the dark dreams of na├»ve first years but it is and maybe this is right too. But only maybe. 

To be a lawyer however a degree is not enough. After four years of cramming ad reading, of researching and reviewing they tell you that you have not learned enough that you are not good enough to join the noble profession. After all that you are sent back to school for another year. It’s a slap in the face of the system. A heavy handed fist to the gut. It began with a simple enough explanation, there are people who went to school outside Kenya and we need to standardize what they learned. For this reason the students in Kenya did not need to attend law school they went straight to their internship. This changed along the way, now everyone needs to go to school of law. The syllabus is prepared by the council of legal education the same organization that prepares the syllabus for the universities. This would mean there is no overlap, no relearning concepts and procedures previously studied. But it doesn’t it means that you instead go to learn n the same things in the same classes from the same teachers and maybe this is right but the justification is harder sought. 

But a dream is a dream and unless completely taken away people will fight for it forever. Which is when you come to the fees. The fee is 190,000 this year. This could pay for 13 years of university for the regular student, a quarter of the degree for the parallel one. How long are you given before you can raise this amount? One month. One measly month. That of mid December to mid January. A message is sent to those who want to go. It speaks of discrimination and unfairness. It brought you this far and then left you hanging over the edge. The fee increased dramatically by 50,000 in a year. Are there new structures? More infrastructure? Better teachers? No just a bigger class. The reasoning behind is vague and unmentioned.  

After four years of reading of the worst of humanity this is what you get, the worst of humanity. Suddenly the dream is snatched out of your hands. You have 50,000 extra reasons not to go to school of law. Everyone says lawyers are thieves but no one mentions how much they steal from themselves and their future. This is what is happening. A chance for education to those who worked hardest for it, who fought most with no tools on their side but their brains and their dreams, is taken away. One short month after the euphoria of graduation after being wakili you are told you can’t be, not really. Is this right? 

Law is not about justice because that’s for the gods, it’s about fairness and inequity, it’s about right and wrong, its about making the world more like we want to see it. A society needs lawyers; it needs smart people to replace the old blood. It needs fire in the independent t judiciary that’s a critical part of any democracy but that’s being put out too, 50,000 reasons are given why people can’t be lawyers. 50,000 reasons for broken dreams and shattered hopes, 50,000 reasons why a journey must come to an end. The worst thing is that not even one reason is given for those 50,000.

That is not right.