Decoding the secrets of their success
The mediator: Joan Nairuba 26, a member of the Rotaract Club of Kololo, Uganda, and a lawyer specializing in mediation.
I work at a commercial law firm, but I do more mediation than litigation. My law firm advocates for the use of alternative dispute resolution, and in Uganda, it’s also a requirement by law that parties undergo mediation. There are many cases where there’s lots of screaming. Part of the job is that you have to let both parties make some noise at first.
Then you begin to use the tools of mediation. The first thing you must do is explain to both parties that they have to meet each other halfway. They have to understand, from the start, that both sides will have to lose something to get somewhere.
The next thing you have to do is explain what happens if the mediation doesn’t work. We have a huge backlog of legal cases in Uganda, anywhere from five to 10 years, so if people can’t work together, they are going to have to wait a long time and pay a lot of money to their lawyers and to the court.
Then you ask each side to come up with a representative. This is very important because when it’s a big group of people on each side, nobody wants to back down. It’s a lot easier to deal with individuals than with a group.
This is what I had to do with my most difficult case. It was a dispute about a local marketplace. A group of investors wanted to build a structure to house the market, and the local residents didn’t want it.
It was a tough case because it was a land issue, and land is sacred in Uganda. It’s something people kill for. So the only way to resolve this was to get two individuals who were committed to the process. You have to be patient, especially when the parties get impatient.
For me, there’s an extra challenge. I’m a young woman, and I may walk into a room where it’s all older men. So how do you get past that? The way you do it is you make clear that you understand the facts of the case and the legal issues, perhaps better than they do. You say, “I may look young, but I have the experience.”
There’s also a lot of suspicion based on tribal affiliation, so we have to reassure the parties right at the beginning that we are getting nothing from this process – no land, no money. We just want to help them come to a solution.
I’m in my second year of practice, so I have my whole career before me. I’m interested in working in the energy sector someday. But I know I’ll always be working in mediation because people will never stop getting into disputes. This is just how life is, in Uganda and everywhere else.
At the time of this article, Ms. Nairuba Joan is serving as the Membership Director of Kololo and President Elect 2018-19.