Catching up with the Gambian moot team

Earlier this year, a group of law students from northwest Africa had the rare opportunity to participate in an international moot.

Five students from the University of The Gambia Faculty of Law travelled to Washington, D.C., in March to compete in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition.

And they have their moot coach Heather Keachie, a graduate of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and a visiting lecturer at the University of The Gambia, to thank. She was able to raise enough money to send the entire team.

Since some of the students had never even been outside The Gambia before, Keachie says it was an eye-opening experience for them. “The reason why I’ve put so much time and effort into this is to give these students an opportunity that I took for granted or that many people take for granted — and that’s just the ability to see other parts of the world,” she told Canadian Lawyer 4Students in February.

“For the students who’d never been outside of The Gambia, this was the trip of a lifetime,” she says. “[E]verything from elevators, to hot water, to highway overpasses was new.”

The team travelled all over Washington, visiting the White House, Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court of the United States, the Washington Monument, the National Cathedral, the war memorials, the National Museum of Natural History, shopping malls, and movie theatres.

“The sushi, however, was not a big hit,” says Keachie.

Not only did the students experience a new culture and meet other law students, but they were also given the best new team award at the moot.

Keachie says the students were devastated when they didn’t advance to the final round. They had won two of four preliminary rounds, but it wasn’t enough to qualify for the final.

“What I hadn’t fully realized were the expectations they were facing back home,” she says. “Awards and accolades are extremely important in Gambian culture, and their friends and families had told the team to come back with the trophy.”

As a result, the students felt intense pressure as representatives of one of Africa’s smallest and poorest countries, so when they won the award for best new team, “there were smiles of joy and tears of relief on their faces,” says Keachie.

The students are now in their final year of the LLB program at the University of The Gambia and Keachie says they are all interested in continuing their education after graduating.

Since returning home from the competition, they have been busy honing their legal skills.

This past summer, Sukai Bangura worked with lawyers to help set up in-house counsel for a small Gambian company, where she gained practical experience and made lots of business contacts. After graduation, Bangura plans to enrol in an LLM program in international corporate governance and finance.

Bubacarr Drammeh spent most of the summer in Dakar, Senegal to help his mother run her small market shop. He’s currently taking an online law course with The Florida State University, however the Internet in The Gambia is very slow, which presents a bit of a challenge. He also has his sights set on an LLM.

Patrick Gomez researched current human rights issues over the summer and wrote an article on human rights violations in armed conflict. He’s hoping to continue his studies internationally in international law.

Banjugu Nyangado completed an internship at The Gambia’s Ministry of Justice as a law clerk for the director of public prosecutions. He is also taking an online course with The Florida State University on international human rights law. He wants to stay and work in The Gambia to help improve the conditions there. Nyangado had planned to do a summer program in Germany on international law, but he wasn’t able to go due to delays in getting a visa.

Ya Amie Touray spent three weeks in the United States completing a corporate law program at the Widener University School of Law this summer. She is considering an LLM in international law, possibly with a focus on international criminal law, and then returning to The Gambia to pass the bar.

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