Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANTABA | Isaac Kimaze Semakadde was in April named the most outstanding public interest litigation lawyer in Uganda by the Uganda Law Society.
He describes public interest litigation as a special practice where an advocate sacrifices time, talent, resources, and energy that they could have rented out for hire for commercial purposes to societal transformation and the propagation of values.
On several occasions, he has defended individuals in cases that are deemed morally unacceptable in society.
He represented controversial feminist academic Stella Nyanzi who was charged with “cyber harassment” and “offensive communication” after she took on President Yoweri Museveni and his wife in a Facebook post.
“It’s politically and socially risky but it’s what interests me as a societal obligation,” he says.
He revels in David-Goliath public interest litigation situations where he defends people whose views are considered unacceptable to those in power or the majority.
“Such moments are essential for legal practice because the client’s situation is desperate and only a lawyer can turn it round,” he says.
The values he pursues include democracy, human rights, rule of law, fairness, justice, progress, justice, equality, unity, and freedom.
His name is synonymous with the fight for the realisation of a free press in Uganda. He re-affirmed this on May 3, when Uganda joined the rest of the world to mark the 25th celebration of World Press Freedom day under the global theme ‘keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law’.
He says he feels a duty to express sympathy for media players whose right to free press is continuously violated. But it is sometimes frustrating.
“I am disturbed by the constant threats to media independence from the state and non-state actors including the private sector and the inadequate response to threats by traditional media workers and their sympathisers,” he said.
Semakadde describes himself as “an anti-clockwise thinker” who just can’t obey standing orders. He likes to question society.
Semakadde is gifted with a very bright mind which saw him emerge best candidate in Masaka district in the 1996 Primary Leaving Exams although he came from a lowly school; Bright Grammar Primary School. He says the school gave him a strong foundation for humanities by exposing him to extensive off the curriculum reading and exposure.
His mentor and primary school headmaster was interviewed about his future and appeared to predict it.
“In his view,” Semakadde recalls, “I would either be a lawyer or journalist and I guess he was right.”
His PLE performance won him a bursary from Masaka Municipal Council to study at St Mary’s College Kisubi (SMACK).
At SMACK which has a strong tradition of sciences, Semakadde performed well in sciences, but his inquisitive and anti-clockwise thinking persisted. He questioned culture and traditions.
At SMACK, Semakadde was again among the top 10 students which earned him government sponsorship to study Bachelor of Laws at Makerere University in Kampala. He was voted President of Makerere University Law Society in second year.
He says professors Joe Oloka-Onyango and Sylvia Tamale, both committed public interest attorneys, were very instrumental in shaping his world views and post university experience. Semakadde came out top of the graduating class of 2008. He took on mentorship in the Supreme Court of Uganda and worked for almost a year at Bowmans A F Mpanga of prominent lawyer and Buganda Kingdom Attorney General, David Mpanga.
He currently works at Legal Brains Trust, a project that he and colleagues founded while still students at Law Development Centre.
“I felt that it provided a meaningful alternative for practicing law,” he says, “I had to interact with the law more deeply to participate in social empowerment.”