Kenyan law students fly country’s flag high in Albania

Raphael Gitau poses with his teammates Gladys Ann Nyangweso and Jackline Birir during the 36th Jean Pictet Competition in Duress, Albania. 

Photo credit: Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Raphael says the organisers were surprised to see the Kenyan team there.
  • Unbeknown to the team, the Albanian government had imposed a travel ban on some African countries due to the increasing cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, and they had just gotten there in time.
  • He also notes the first days were difficult for them, as even though they faced no racism, they stuck out in a city with very few foreigners of colour and being the only African team to have qualified.

West of Albania’s capital Tirana, lies a port city called Durres. It is not a place many Kenyans are familiar with, but it is where Kenya’s flag flew high. This was through the proud doings of Raphael Gitau Njoroge, 21, a fourth-year student at Kenyatta University School of Law, together with his colleagues Gladys Ann Nyangweso and Jackline Birir. 

The Jean Pictet competition (JPC) has been in existence since 1989 and is named after the Swiss Jurist, Jean Pictet, known for his contributions to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It brings together university law students from different destinations where they compete on issues relating to International Humanitarian Law.

The 36th competition took place between December 5 to December 11, and for Raphael, the journey leading to their victory, which was announced on December 10 has been nothing short of a miracle. 

“We made our application for the competition a year ago on November 8, 2020. The application was in the form of various essays, but that was just the easy part. The application fee at Sh 150,000 was our first challenge. We wrote to so many institutions looking for funding to no success. Eventually, we wrote to the Universality Fund who sponsors teams competing for Jean Pictet, and fortunately, they covered half of our application fee,” Raphael notes.

However, Raphael notes that even after the application, it became very unlikely for him and his team to participate in the competition due to the challenges they faced. The event initially supposed to be in March was postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions. One of his colleagues, Jackline, graduated.

Challenge of funding 

“I tried speaking to a lot of my colleagues, but they were reluctant to join me. The biggest question was the issue of funding, and having no clear sources and channels for that, most of them thought my idea and dream was hopeless. I would have given up as well were it not for my lecturer, Ms Nelly, who was a significant source of support throughout the competition and motivation from our dean Dr Faith Kabata.

“Finally, I was able to find a new teammate, and it is at this point that Gladys Ann and I teamed up. While still following up on the Jean Pictet, we decided to take part in other competitions to help prepare us as well as build our confidence.”

Raphael and Gladys took part in the National Intervarsity Moot Court Competition which was held by the ICRC’s regional office in Nairobi, and they emerged as the winners. They then proceeded to take part in the All African Human Rights Moot Court Competition, where they went up against teams from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

Dealt blow

“The JPC which had been rescheduled for September was postponed again to December. We had also had little time to prepare for it, but we realised all the studies and research we had conducted in preparation for the JPC came in handy. We managed to win the competition, and I even managed to scoop the award for best speaker.”

After this, things started panning out, however. The Kenyatta University administration approved funding for Sh200,000 of the Sh450,000, which they needed. Raphael notes that this was an unexpected miracle for him, as the school was going through some financial constraints, including some frozen accounts and limited resources. The organisers also offered to pay for one air ticket, which reduced the cost to Sh120,000, which they raised with the help of parents and friends.

“The JPC was a three-person team event, so we reunited with Jackline, currently in the Kenya School of Law. Finally, all the perseverance was paying off, but we were not finished yet. We were tired, however, due to the long process of preparation, but we could not give up, and we had pressure from our predecessors.

“There had been three other teams from our school who had all taken part in the JPC before and they had all gotten to the semi-finals. We knew that was the bare minimum for us as well.”

Raphael says the organisers were surprised to see the Kenyan team there. Unbeknown to the team, the Albanian government had imposed a travel ban on some African countries due to the increasing cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, and they had just gotten there in time. He also notes the first days were difficult for them, as even though they faced no racism, they stuck out in a city with very few foreigners of colour and being the only African team to have qualified.

“The whole experience was amazing, however. We had prepared well for it but our competitors were equally as good. We were in the finals with students from the University of Philippines, and what set us apart was a random off the calf question, which we managed to tackle better than them, leading to our eventual declaration as the winners.”

Memorable victory

In its over thirty years of existence, Raphael’s was the first African team to have won the JPC, which made the victory even more memorable. They had honoured themselves, their institution, and their regular competitors in the country from Strathmore University, University of Nairobi, and even the occasional participants from Kenya School of Law.

“The value of winning the JPC cannot be quantified in terms of monetary gains. I actually believe learning competitions should not have monetary gains as this actually makes competitors appreciate their work instead and value it. The work is a reward in itself and the experience. However, scholarships and educational grants are welcome, as they give one an opportunity to further their knowledge.”

Dr Faith Kabata, the dean of Kenyatta University School of Law says moot competitions and other learning activities outside the classroom are important, as students get to take the lead in the learning process and are actively engaged, as opposed to lectures where they just sit and listen.

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