By Ahmad Muto
Human rights lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde who identifies as a ‘rebel lawyer’ given the cases he handles sparked a conversation on social media for bending one of the unwritten rules of the noble profession by spotting dreads while speaking to the media on Friday, September, 03, 2021. He has among others been the lawyer of ‘social rebel’ activist Stella Nyanzi whom he successfully represented.
The kind of reaction it attracted forced him quip that he wonders what will happen if he added tint. “Kati bwenatekamu katinti?”
While some argued that it is a great decision to break the unwritten rule and embrace himself, others stated that something is totally off with his new look that is not befitting of a lawyer with his kind of resume.
In some WhatsApp group, folks concluded that it is just a matter of time before he is suspended from the bar.
Mid last year, Kenyan lawyer, Mathenge Mukundi, a rastafarian with the signature turban covering his long dreads made history after he was admitted to the bar, becoming Kenya’s first rastafarian advocate.
In the case of Uganda, Simon Peter Kinobe, a lawyer, teacher and former president of the Uganda Law Society (ULS) at the time argued having long hair/dreads is unprofessional. He noted that it is professional decorum that has made the public assume every smart man and woman seen on television is a lawyer because they look well groomed.
“You know we have a professional set of decorum we follow. Part of it is justifiable because the legal profession is a noble profession. Or we think it is a noble profession. You are learned; give advice to people from all walks of life. Basically, the custodian of the law. So, you have to look a certain way,” he explained. However, he conceded that with a lot of liberalism coming, questions are being asked why people should wear white gowns when they are greying already? Let them just go and argue a case without the need to wear a gown or a wig. “The status quo is being challenged and for a country that espouses democracy and freedom of expression, why should I be forced to cut off my hair because of a profession? I have a right to enjoy my profession without being hampered by the legalities or perceptions of the profession,” he argued.
Communications strategist, and pioneer (former) spokesperson of the Judiciary Solomon Muyita said in 2020 that one will have to dress and look befitting to practice law here in Uganda. He noted that not many people will feel comfortable around a heavily bearded man with dreads.
On social media, folks argued:
@MadibaJr24: “You keeping it real to yourself not being held hostage by the profession. That is the new empowerment.”
@Watsonila: “Shyaa. Kyoka Ugandans. Atti suspended.”
@katnoa85: “In the changing world… we consider abilities, not appearance.”
@fifi_Naava: “Cheers to being real and living in your authentic self! Something so many cannot do.”
Ssemakadde is the founding director of Legal Brains Trust and has represented trade unions, embattled politicians and activists.