African women have made inroads in the legal sector, where top positions are still largely dominated by men.
African women are increasingly able to choose their own course in life and the number of African women in law is steadily rising. While they continue to make big strides across all practice areas of law in the continent, we would like to highlight a few of the most influential African women in law.
Justice Amina Augie
On 7 November 2016, Justice Amina Augie was sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (SCN), the highest court in the land. This makes Justice Augie the sixth woman to serve on the SCN, out of about 104 past and present judges of the court. The appointment of Justice Augie to this position is a modest indication of the progress of women’s entry into, and rise within the ranks of the judiciary in Nigeria. Justice Augie received her undergraduate degree in law at University of Ife, Ile-Ife, continued to the Nigerian Law School and qualified as a barrister and solicitor. After completing the mandatory national youth service in Sokoto State, she enrolled at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria to pursue a masters in law (LLM). She obtained an LLM degree in Criminology and related subjects at University of Lagos. Aside from her formal education, she is also certified by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Nigeria and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. Justice Augie has authored and published over 70 conference papers, articles and book chapters on various aspects of the law with a focus on human rights.
Aisha Zumo Bade, Tanzania
A bachelor of Laws and Letters (LL.B) honors graduate from the University of Dar es Salaam, Aisha Bade started off as an intern in the chambers of a renowned land lawyer in Tanzania. She later went on to study in New Zealand and spent some time working as a legal officer there before returning to Tanzania to take a position in the country’s Lands Ministry. Bade went on to found Chipeta Bade and Associates, and later Bade Attorneys. She is currently a partner at Leo Attorneys in Dar es Salaam and chairs Tanzania’s Women Lawyers’ Association. Ms. Aisha was a council member of the Tanganyika Law Society, a member of the East Africa Law Society as well as a member of the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association where she has been responsible for advocacy work, legal aid clinics and fund raising.
Beatrice Hamza-Bassey, Nigeria
Hamza-Bassey is hailed as the first Nigerian-trained woman lawyer to make partner at a major American law firm. A graduate from the University of Maiduguri in Borno State, Nigeria, she is currently based in New York with one of the most prestigious law firms in the United States, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP. Hamza-Bassey has received numerous awards in recognition of her work, including the “Most Outstanding Nigerian Lawyer in the Diaspora” by Empowered Newswire. She was also recently named as one of the top ten Africans in New York City by Forbes Africa magazine. Hamza-Bassey is the current chair of the Nigerian Lawyers Association’s Board of Directors.
Justice Solomy Balungi Bossa, Uganda
Justice Solomy Balungi Bossa is a national of the Republic of Uganda. She was elected Judge of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in June 2014, for a term of six years. Judge Bossa is a highly accomplished Judge with over twenty-seven years of legal and judicial work experience at national, regional and international level. She has considerable exposure and experience in international judicial practice, international human rights, international humanitarian law, international criminal law and constitutional law. She has served as Judge with the High Court or Uganda for sixteen years (1997-2013). The East African Court of Justice for five years (2001-2006), United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (UNICTR) for nine and half years (2003-2013) and currently serves as Judge on the Court of Appeal/Constitutional Court for Uganda. She holds a Bachelor of Laws Degree (LL.B) Honors from Makerere University and she is a candidate for a Master of Laws Degree (LL.M) from the University of London. She has received various national, regional and inter-national awards in recognition of her distinguished services as a legal practitioner, judge and human rights activist.
Justice Bensaoula Chafika – Algeria
Hon. Lady Justice Bensaoula Chafika is a national of Algeria and was elected judge of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in January 2017 during the 28th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, for a six-year term. Dr. Bensaoula who is currently a lecturer at the National School of Magistracy in Algeria holds a Doctorate Degree in Public Law. She has held several key positions in the judiciary and administratiopn of Algeria, including Judge at the Criminal Affairs Chambers for cases involving delinquents, Judge at the Court of Appeal, Member of the Board of Directors of the Institut de Droit et Justice, Inspector of Administrative and Judicial Courts.
Justice Tujilane Rose Chizumila – Malawi
Hon. Lady Justice Tujilane Rose Chizumila is a national of Malawi and was elected Judge of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in January 2017 during the 28th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, for a six-year term. Justice Chizumila has a Masters in International Law and has held several positions in the judicial, Legal, Academic, Diplomatic, administrative, governance and corporate fields in Malawi, including Judge of the High Court of Malawi, State Advocate and Legal Aid Advocate with the Ministry of Justice, Secretary of the Law Society of Malawi, first Female Ombudsman, Malawi High Commissioner to Zimbabwe and Proprietor and Founder of Chizumila and Company.
Judge Fatoumata Dembélé Diarra, Mali
Judge Diarra received a license in human rights from the University of Dakar, holds a master in legal sciences from Bamako’s national school of administration, as well as a diploma from Paris’ national legal school. A key member of the Malian Democratic Movement, Diarra was appointed as a Judge for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2003. Previous positions include National Director of the Mali Justice Department, as well as President of the Criminal Chamber of Bamako Appeals Court. Judge Diarra has a long since been a leader in defending the rights of women and children, and she is the founder of the Pro Bono Center for women and children in Mali.
Unity Dow, Botswana
As the first female judge appointed to the High Court in Botswana, Unity Dow is hailed as a trailblazer in the Southern African country. She spent more than a decade in that position, and received international acclaim during her ruling over Bushmen and their ancestral lands – described as one of the regions longest and most expensive trials. Dow grew up in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone before moving to neighbouring Swaziland to pursue further studies, then later enrolled at Edinburgh University in Scotland. Dow was a partner at Botswana’s first all-female law firm and is currently a partner in her own law firm. She is also currently serving her second term as Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, helping to implement the new Kenyan constitution. Dow has authored a number of books, including Far and Beyon’, a novel focusing on gender equality, and Saturday is for Funerals, a book highlighting the torment of HIV/AIDS in Botswana.
Hauwa Ibrahim, Nigeria
Hauwa Ibrahim is hailed as one of the top defenders of women’s rights in Nigeria. She is most known for her pro bono work defending people condemned under Islamic Sharia laws in northern Nigeria. Ibrahim is founder and senior partner at Aries Law Firm in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. She received her Bachelor of Laws and Letters (LL.B) and a Master’s in International Law & Diplomacy from the University of Jos in Nigeria; a Bachelor of Law (BL) for legal practice from Nigeria Law School; and a Master’s of law degree in International studies at American University’s Washington College of Law. Ibrahim is also the recipient of three honorary doctorates and is currently a visiting lecturer at Harvard University.
Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Uganda
Kadaga made history as Uganda’s first women Speaker of Parliament. She was also the first female Ugandan lawyer to open chambers in Uganda in 1984. Former president of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in Uganda, Kadaga was recently elected as the Chairperson of the Common Wealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP). The daughter of a civil servant in the Ministry of Justice, Kadaga spent some time as a legal assistant before setting up Kadaga and Company Advocates. She later joined politics, taking up the position of MP.
Judge Sisi Khampepe, South Africa
Sisi Khampepe has been a Judge in South Africa’s Constitutional Court since 2009, one of only two females to have been appointed. A former member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, she started her career as a legal advisor in the late 70s. Educated at the University of Zululand and Harvard Law school, Khampepe spent a decade in private practice, specializing in labour law. She later held the position of Deputy National Director of Public Prosecution.
Thuli Madonsela, South Africa
Advocate Thuli Madonsela is currently tasked with the challenging role of South Africa’s Public Protector, having been appointed by President Jacob Zuma. The woman often referred to as a “one-woman corruption crusader” and “SA’s iron lady” grew up in Soweto and once worked as an assistant teacher at a high school, later became part of the group who helped draft South Africa’s constitution after apartheid in 1994/95. Madonsela was named “Person of the Year” by Daily Maverick in 2011, for her work in “exposing maladministration, abuse of power and improper conduct in government.”
Justice Ntyam Ondo Mengue – Cameroon
Justice Ntyam Ondo Mengue is a national of the Republic of Cameroon. She was elected Judge of the African Court for a six year term during the 27th AU Summit held in July 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda. Justice Mengue holds a Diplôme de l’Ecole Normale d’Administration et de Magistrature and a Licence en Droit Privé. At the professional level, she has worked in the judiciary of Cameroon since 1982, holding a number of key positions, such as the President of the Court of Instance of Yaoundé, Vice President of the Court of Appeal; President of the Section on Administrative Contracts of the Court of Supreme Court of Cameroon. Justice Mengue is presently the President of the Commercial Section of the Supreme Court of Cameroon.
Justice Marie Thérèse Mukamulisa – Rwanda
Justice Mukamulisa Marie Thérèse is a national of the Republic of Rwanda. She was elected Judge of African Court for a six years term during the 27th AU Summit in July 2016. She has been Judge of the Supreme Court of Rwanda since 2003. She is also member of the High Judicial Council of Rwanda since 2015, as well as member of regional and international networks of Judges such as the International Hague Network of Judges (IHNJ). Following her law degree (Civil Law) from the National University of Rwanda, she received an LLB (Common law) from the University of Moncton in New Brunswick. She holds also a Masters in Genocide Studies and Prevention from CCM-NUR.
Myma Belo Osagie, Nigeria
Dr. Myma Belo-Osagie is a University of Ghana graduate, as well as the recipient of two degrees from Harvard Law School. A specialist in Nigerian petroleum regulations and environmental law, Belo-Osagie is currently a Managing Partner at a leading Nigerian law firm located in Lagos, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie. There she heads the Telecommunications and Oil & Gas teams. Belo-Osagie played a key role in drafting the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 and is a member of the New York, Ghana and Nigeria Bars – as well as the American Bar Association.