Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Center for Human Rights and its collegiate home, the College of Law, recently hosted the first in-person foreign delegation to visit the University of Iowa since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From September 25 to October 10, eleven members and staff from Kenya’s Judicial Service Commission spent time on campus and around the state. The commission – whose mandate includes the selection of judges, accountability and transparency, and judicial administration – participated in capacity building training led by Iowa Law faculty members, met judicial counterparts in Iowa, and enjoyed numerous cultural events.

The high-ranking delegation included Commission Chair, Professor Olive Mugenda and Commissioner Philomena Mwilu, Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Kenya.

Justice David Majanja from the Kenya Judicial gives a lecture at Iowa Law
Commissioner David Majanja, judge of the Kenyan High Court gives a presentation at Iowa Law.

Following a welcome dinner, the first week of the visit consisted of trainings by UI faculty in the Boyd Law Building. One commission member noted: “It was great to learn about the differences in structure, procedures, and players,” adding that “some lessons [could] be adopted to the Kenyan system.”  Other highlights that week included a formal welcome by UI President Barb Wilson, a reception hosted by UI International Programs, and a public presentation on judicial performance management by Commissioner David Majanja, judge of the Kenyan High Court.

The second week included site visits to several courthouses and opportunities to meet with bar leaders and state, federal, and tribal court personnel.

Reflecting on her experience, Anjie A. Shutts, president of The Iowa State Bar Association shared, “It struck me while talking with the Kenyan Judicial Service Commission that while we may live a half of a world away, we have more in common, than we have differences. They, like the state of Iowa, struggle with rural access to justice, affordability of legal services and training young attorneys.” 

The commission delegation visited the Iowa Judicial Branch Building, the Iowa State Capitol, the Iowa State Bar Association’s headquarters, the United States Courthouse for the Northern District of Iowa, the Johnson County Courthouse, and the Linn County Juvenile Justice Center. It also met via Zoom with court staff from the Meskwaki Tribal Court and visited with Iowa Supreme Court justices during Iowa Law’s annual Supreme Court Day.

Kenyan Delegation visits Iowa Courts 2021
The Kenyan Delegation visits courts across Iowa.

District Court Judge Kevin McKeever talked about how much the opportunity to be in the meeting meant to him, stating, “I cannot say enough about how valuable it was to me both personally and professionally to be able to participate in this meeting with the delegation from Kenya. I was honored to speak with such an impressive group of legal professionals, and I was touched greatly by their ceremonial presentation of a traditional Masai blanket. I learned a great deal from them, and I will remember the experience for the rest of my life.“

The visit also provided valuable experiences for Iowa Law students who had the opportunity to meet and work with Kenyan visitors during their visit. A number of law research assistants helped orient and guide the delegation. Third-year student Gada Al Herz commented, “I am honored to have had the privilege of spending time with the Kenyan delegation. As a student strongly interested in international and comparative law, the opportunity to speak with and learn from them was priceless.  More than anything, I am grateful for the relationships I developed with members of the delegation.” 

Efe Ayanruoh, another third-year student also indicated the importance of the experience, saying “It was a unique experience connecting with the Kenyan delegation that provided a tangible global perspective. In an increasingly global society, being exposed to other systems of practice creates a more informed and empathetic global citizen. I look forward to opportunities in the future for Iowa delegates and possibly Iowa law students to reciprocate the visit.”

Future plans may include additional exchanges, including another visit by a Kenyan delegation to Iowa or one for Iowa students, professors, and judges to Kenya.