The Dean visited Nairobi in May 2014 to participate in the third annual African Law School Deans’ Forum, convened by the International Association of Law Schools. He chaired a panel discussion at the Forum on relations between the judiciary and law schools, gave a recruitment talk to students, and delivered a keynote lecture on ‘Change in the Common Law’ at Strathmore University Law School’s Annual Law Conference.
It was an extraordinary experience to take part in two days of discussions among more than twenty law school deans from universities all over the continent, from Gondar in Ethiopia to Cape Town in South Africa. African law schools deal with the same issues we deal with in Oxford: how to recruit good students regardless of their resources, how to recruit and to retain good legal scholars, and how to find the resources to get the scholars and the students into the same room. They deal with these challenges in dramatically different circumstances from ours, circumstances which also vary dramatically from one country to another in Africa. Some of them are coping with fractured legal systems, with deficient basic infrastructure, with civil unrest. Many of their colleagues need to work in legal practice in order to be able to teach in the universities. Their students have had to show ability and diligence as ours do, but many have had to add an extra dimension of sheer grit to attain a university education.
Even though there are deep differences among the nine countries represented, the discussions at the Forum showed that the deans of African law schools do not just think of themselves as Kenyan or Ugandan or Nigerian. They have a fellow feeling, as part of Africa and its future. And they see their great opportunities, their daunting difficulties, and their wealth of teachers and students as aspects of an African heritage and future that they have in common.
One highlight of my visit was spending an hour in a car in Nairobi traffic with the Dean of Law at the University of Zimbabwe, Emmanuel Magade, learning about ways in which law teaching can survive and thrive in his country. Some of his students and others across the continent will come to Oxford, and I hope that in the future we can improve our recruitment, and find ways to help with funding for an Oxford education and be part of the development of legal studies in Africa.