Mediation and arbitration should be the first options for those in conflict and lawyers must encourage their clients to go this route and not litigate, says Musima who is head of the legal department at Mazars in the Kenyan capital.
“The litigation environment in Kenya, in fact across Africa, means it can take years for a judgment and this can mean huge financial losses for those involved. Yet, so often a problem can be resolved quickly and far less expensively through alternative dispute resolution.”
Musima, who has been with Mazars for almost eight years, says an issue that goes the litigation route in Kenya can take up to five years or more to wrap up. However, with mediation – or maybe arbitration, that same issue will be concluded in a shorter period of time.
When she drafts contracts, be it for international investors working with a local partner or individuals setting up a new business, she includes a clause on dispute resolution, stipulating that any serious bumping of heads must go to arbitration or mediation first with court only a last resort.
“These mechanisms for dispute resolution, sitting at a round table to talk, are becoming more and more attractive especially when you look at the whole process of going to court which is so cumbersome.”
For Musima, the “round table approach” is something she has adopted in her professional space too.
“The issues we deal with are legally sensitive and very often complicated and I have found that brain-storming with colleagues always gives one a fresh perspective.”
Outside the work-place, Musima says one of the biggest challenges for lawyers working in Kenya is corruption which seems now to be pervasive in society.
“This is especially a problem where litigation is involved. If you want something to move along, you may have to pay a bribe. I know it is a problem beyond Kenya and it really is something that all African countries need to deal with head on.”
She chose law as a career, surprisingly, by watching criminal law shows on TV as a young child. “I liked the fact that in those shows even rich people were arrested and went to jail,” she laughs. She developed her interest in law at Chania Girls High School in Thika Municipality (42kms north-east of Nairobi) where she joined the law club. “Part of the club was dramatizing various scenarios.”
The person who has most inspired her is the late Kenyan political activist and environmentalist, Professor Wangari Maathai.
“She never deviated from her beliefs and had an ability to almost see into the future in terms of the environment and human rights. Because of her, I have a deep appreciation for the environment and the importance of protecting it. Wangari showed us how our environment is our everyday life and if we don’t take care of it there will be nothing left.”
To relax Musima loves walking in Karura Forest, the urban green-belt that Wangari and others fought so hard to protect from politicians and developers.
“It is fenced now and a wonderful space for people to use but we cannot ever take it for granted,” she says.
Her philosophy is always to have a purpose and, even when challenges feel insurmountable, to always emerge victorious.
“It’s not a simple life in Kenya but Wangari taught me it is the little things that matter and to never ever give up.”
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