Uganda dispatch: expanding access to legal services in Uganda’s countryside – JURIST
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Uganda dispatch: expanding access to legal services in Uganda’s countryside – JURIST

Lawrence Alado is a JURIST Staff Correspondent in Uganda. This is one in a seasonal series of columns by JURIST law student staff and correspondents discussing their summer work in support of justice, human rights and the rule of law, in their own countries and around the world.

This summer, I have the humbling opportunity to do an internship in Bundibugyo District in Western Uganda. Bundibugyo is a scenic district located on the western slopes of the Rwenzori Mountain at Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s famous for its winding roads, breathtaking mountain views, and intriguing history. It’s Uganda’s biggest producer of cocoa. Bundibugyo also has a variety of tribal groups including the Bakonzo, Bamba, Batooro, and Banyankole. The town itself is just a small stretch of scattered houses packed with sellers. The majority of the population stays in the villages on the slopes of the mountain ranges and live in mud houses.

Prior to my trip to Bundibugyo, I scoured the internet for information about the place but there was barely any information about local housing, restaurants or clubs in the District. Luckily for me, I was traveling with a team of three of my classmates from the Public Interest Law Clinic at Makerere University. I knew I did not have to worry about making new friends to hang out with.

On arrival, we spent a night at the most famous guest house in the District but spent the rest of our first day looking for a house to rent. There was none. The most shocking discovery for me was that the masses in Bundibugyo devoted all their effort to growing cocoa and hardly growing any food crops. The food sold in the local market is usually brought from the neighboring districts like Kabarole and Kibaale.

Two months ago, a resident Chief Magistrate was appointed to the District, thus upgrading the Magistrate Grade 1 Court that served the entire District. The appointment means that civil cases with subject matters of up to 50 million Ugandan Shillings (approximately thirteen US Dollars) will now be heard in Bundibugyo. Additionally, most of the criminal cases save for those with death penalties will now also be handled in the District.

There are a handful of human rights and legal aid organizations working in the area, including Justice Centers Uganda, UGANET, Child Concern Initiative Organization (CCIO), and the Uganda Human Rights Commission. We are working under the Child Concern Initiative Organization (CCIO) for a period of six weeks.

In this series of articles, I will be writing about my experience in offering legal aid to the masses in Bundibugyo. My goal over the coming weeks will be to share my observations and experience as a legal intern engaged in legal aid and public interest lawyering in the Ugandan countryside.

I am driven to make a meaningful impact on the lives of individuals and communities in need of legal assistance. I hope to contribute to the pursuit of justice, fairness, and equality in the Bundibugyo District by providing accessible and affordable legal services to marginalized and underprivileged populations. Through my work both at CCIO and Justice Centers Uganda, I will assist those who lack the financial means to ensure that their rights are protected and upheld.

My expectation is to empower individuals and communities to navigate legal complexities and address their legal issues effectively. I hope to raise awareness about legal rights and educate the local community on pertinent legal matters through the legal aid workshops and outreach programs that we shall carry out throughout the District. I hope to collaborate with local organisations, government agencies and legal professionals to strengthen the legal aid infrastructure in Bunidbugyo District. My team will achieve this by building networks and partnerships to create a coordinated approach to legal aid, enhance resources, and improve access to justice for all.

Undoubtedly, we will meet immense challenges in our journey towards positive change and the construction of a more just society in Bundibugyo District, but I am confident that the experience will be one that is worthwhile.

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