By Dickson Jere’s compilations
“My trodden path” is a fast-paced read which chronicles the illustrious life of Her Lady Justice Lombe Chibesakunda. I was able to read it within few hours. In many instances, the Lady Justice is the woman of “firsts” in terms of breaking records.
“I was the first female (trained) lawyer in Zambia,” she writes on page 42 of her recently released eight chapters book.
Justice Chibesakunda is a graduate of the prestigious Grays Inn Chambers in the UK where she was trained and mentored by great legal luminaries such as Lord Dennings and Justice Megarry.
At age 29, she had already made history – became the first female Solicitor General of Zambia and Minster of State – appointed by President Kenneth Kaunda shortly after she was elected Member of Parliament for Matero constituency.
However, her stay was short-lived as two years later she was appointed Zambia’s first Ambassador to Japan at the age of 31 years.
The 154 page autobiography begins with the foreword written by former Chief Justice Mathews Ngulube who knew her from the time they studied law together at Grays Inn.
“Her story should inspire especially the young lady, if not all young people hailing from humble beginnings,” Ngulube wrote, as he referred to the village upbringing of Justice Chibesakunda.
Daughter of Chief Chibesakunda, the lady Justice was schooled at Chipempi Girls Secondary School before she ventured into law.
“I was a cultured girl, just like many other girl children in the village,” she writes while reminiscing her childhood in Northern Province where she was brought up as Bisa girl.
Achievements and failure to get rid of the Wiga and Gowns
Justice Chibesakunda narrates on how her first appearance in Court as a young lawyer in Zambia before Chief Justice Brian Doyle who was very tough and firm with young advocates.
“Before going to Court, I drank some sherry to gather courage to face him,” she disclosed.
After her brief stint at the Ministry of Justice, she quit and joined the private practice at the firm – Jacques and Partners.
The illustrious career of Justice Chibesakunda is admirable. From the village girl to international legal expert and now Judge President of the COMESA Court of Justice.
“I can safely say I have served my country and the world community diligently,” she writes in the Epilogue of the book.
Nevertheless, she detailed a number of achievements as acting Chief Justice. However, she says she failed to change the regalia of lawyers and judges (Wigs and Gowns) as both the Bar and Bench opposed.
Justice Chibesakunda was also first female Zambia’s High Commissioner to the UK and later Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Zambia. The book is worth the read and I recommend it to young people especially those from humble backgrounds. Justice Chibesakunda story is that of resilience and a good example to young girls – it is possible to achieve your dreams.
Chief Justice Mumba Malila, SC, summed it up aptly when he stated thus: “That Madam Justice Chibesakunda is probably the first female legal practitioner the country has ever produced is not mere hyperbole. It is true, undeniably true. This book, which immortalizes Madam Chibesakunda’s life and legacy, is a must read.”
I agree with Dr Malila even though I think she should have given us a detailed account beyond the 154-pages which includes pictures. Kudos to her for having penned this book – rare phenomenon in Zambia.
Diplomatic Service Politics
Upon her appointment as Zambia’s High Commissioner to London, Lady Justice Lombe Chibesakunda reveals startling details in her recently released book – “My Trodden Path”.
She writes: “I was not welcomed by those officers who had directly come from Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Lusaka. There was a lot of back-stabbing and applying of the cockroach sort of syndrome of pulling each other down. I was recalled to Zambia in 1981 when unknown person had reported that I had sold a number of vehicles, which I had never done and was proven innocent..”
She was later posted to Zambia Embassy in Brussels, which proved to be even worse! She narrates; “It was bad for me. This is where I saw immaturity as a nation; Zambians stabbing each other in the back just to grab a post. I came back to Zambia with a sore heart….”
Her case was worsened because she was a lawyer who was appointed from outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so the career diplomats made her life difficult.
Her Removal and LAck of Support from PF and LAZ
It appears Justice Lombe Chibesakunda was not happy with her removal from the bench as acting Chief Justice. She writes: “When he passed (President Michael Sata), there was sadly no hope for me from there, and no support from comrades he left behind. I shared a few words with President Lungu, and I was the first person to be removed under his administration, causing me to withdraw from public life entirely. The Patriotic Front, as it stands in this current moment, remains far from the mark of the original strong ideologies and passion for revolution on behalf of societies most vulnerable.”
Justice Chibesakunda narrates how she was appointed Chief Justice in 2011 by President Michael Sata but the dark forces ganged up against her and blocked her ratification. No one defended her including those in the ruling Patriotic Front.
The Lady Justice expressed shock that the PF did not defend her even though she was appointed by President Sata.
“The pain of feeling alone at this time made it more of a strong challenge, as the Patriotic Front, the party which had nominated my position, refused to defend or speak on my behalf in Parliament or outside. They were mute by the visitation of God or whatever reason.”
“It hurt me deeply to be questioned every day, with no open support from any side,” she bemoaned the treatment she received after her appointment.
“Another group that waged war against my appointment was in Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) itself,” she writes, without making reference to the Court case which LAZ took out to block her appointment.
Reserved Admiration of President Hichilema Hichilema
Justice Lombe Chibesakunda has extolled President Hakainde Hichilema’s political journey saying she greatly admires him and hopes he will deliver on his promises. She said President Hakainde faced a similar experience to her when he entered politics but survived and recorded the “greatest election victory” since 1991 and the celebrations that followed could be likened to 1964 Independence Day.
“I watched the man grow, lose, and be locked consistently for every failure. The doubts the public threw toward him and the lies that were hurled were used as ammunition, as he now stands as President, with one of the greatest support Zambian people have ever offered.
“I look upon this young man with reserved admiration, and hope he achieves what has been promised,” she added.
“I remember as President Hichilema first entered the political arena, and the many questions he faced (similar to my own experience) on the validity of a businessman running for President at such a supposedly young age.”
She was saddened, she writes, that some UPND members had opposed her appointment as Chief Justice on a non-legal issue even though she qualified for the job.
“Within the UPND, my respect for many of the members of the party remains, in spite of the hurt of seeing young men and women I had watched grow old fight against my appointment over a non-legal issue,” she writes on page 114 of the 154 paged autobiography.
She insists she was qualified to be the Chief Justice despite her age and allegations that she was the relative of President Michael Sata who had appointed her to the position.
“There was no provision in the Zambian Constitution that forbade a Judge to continue serving after celebrating the 65th birthday. No one came to my defence, which could have been as simple as stating that the average retirement age of a sitting Judge is 80 in the US,” she argues.