After my nearly disastrous boneheaded maneuver on Tuesday morning, I was relieved when Andrew (Technical Adviser to the Judiciary), Shawn (IJM Uganda Country Director), and I touched down at noon in Rwanda after barely making the 45-minute flight from Uganda. I had inserted this day trip into my week-long itinerary after an intriguing call I’d received from an American lawyer, telling me about a conversation she’d recently had with the Rwandan Chief Justice. The American lawyer, Emily Gould, proceeded to tell me that in conjunction with a dispute resolution training program she was planning in Rwanda, the Chief Justice indicated to her that the adoption and implementation of plea bargaining was a high priority for the judiciary. He recounted to Emily that an American professor and leaders of the Ugandan judiciary had come to Rwanda in early 2015 for a presentation about plea bargaining, and, in the wake of that meeting, the Judiciary had added this innovation to their national priority list. Her follow-up questions led to her call me to discuss Pepperdine’s work in Uganda.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the seed we had planted in the April, 2015 meeting at the Chief Justice’s office had sprouted. During my call with Emily, we agreed that we would all benefit from meeting in Rwanda to discuss further collaborations. When we arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that joining our lunch meeting would be two Rwandans I had previously spent some time with in Malibu in conjunction with their mediation training programs at Pepperdine’s top-ranked Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution.
Following this lunch, Emily, Shawn, Andrew, and I went to the Chief Justice’s office for a meeting him, the incoming Prosecutor General for Rwanda, and his predecessor, each of whom had attended the 2015 meeting about plea bargaining. We discussed the Pepperdine internship program (doubling in size in Rwanda this year) and we delved deeper into Uganda’s ongoing successful implementation of plea bargaining. Whereas I did most of the talking at the 2015 meeting, I mostly listened this time as Andrew described in detail the effort he is leading in Uganda as the Technical Adviser to the Judiciary. It pleases me to no end that the Ugandans are assuming a leadership role in the criminal justice reforms in their country. It also warms my heart to hear the Rwandans’ plans to follow in their neighbor’s footsteps. I anticipate that further collaboration will follow between Rwanda, Uganda, and Pepperdine as the implementation begins.
Rather than heading back to Kampala after my return flight from Rwanda, I stuck around at the airport to greet a friend of mine, John Richmond, who was scheduled to land about two hours after I did. John is a former IJM field office director in India who helped pioneer IJM’s anti-human trafficking initiatives. He then served as a federal prosecutor of human traffickers, before recently partnering with a colleague to found The Human Trafficking Institute – an international non-profit aimed at attacking human trafficking at its root. John’s trip to Uganda stemmed from a conversation I had late last year with Kelsey Galloway, who runs an anti-trafficking organization called Willow International that dedicates its efforts to rescuing and rehabilitating trafficking victims in Uganda. During that conversation, Kelsey and I conceived of partnering for a national conference in June about human trafficking in Uganda, and John was the first call I made. We all agreed to meet in January in Uganda to explore deeper the trafficking challenges faced in Uganda and to begin crafting the training agenda for the conference.
John’s arrival on Tuesday evening provided yet another opportunity for me to display my utter incompetence. When John told me he was arriving on Tuesday night, I leapt into “erroneous assumption mode.” I am such a regular in this mode that I have my own designated parking space. In my defense, I am an idiot, so it isn’t my fault. When I fly into Uganda, I arrive at night on the KLM flight at 10:30. When John flew into Uganda a couple years ago to join our first national plea bargaining conference, he arrived at night on the KLM flight. So . . . I assumed . . .
Yep, I was wrong. He came in on an earlier flight on Brussels air. So when he arrived, I wasn’t there to greet him. I was in the lobby restaurant . . . writing a blog post about how much of an idiot I was for nearly missing my flight that very morning. If it wasn’t so ironic, it might be sad or, perhaps, funny.
Fortunately, John is well traveled, so, after scanning all of the signs held by taxi drivers and finding none that said “Richmond,” he figured out how to get onto the internet and sent me an e-mail: “I just exited the airport. Where shall I meet you?”
Fortunately, I had my e-mail open. More fortunately, he was gracious about my incompetence and didn’t actually have to wait too long for me to extract my noggin from my caboose.
The next day was a whirlwind of meetings, starting with an early breakfast with a friend from the State Department based in Kenya who was in Kampala to assist with training police and prosecutors in personal security in the wake of the assassination of a Ugandan prosecutor about two years ago. I previously wrote about my departed friend Joan, here. John and I then met with the country’s lead prosecutor about the human trafficking problems in Uganda, and then I attended a six-hour session of the Sentencing Guidelines Committee – a project we have been assisting Uganda with for about five years. We topped off the day with a dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Kampala – Nawab. John, Kelsey, and I were joined by Pepperdine’s year-long Nootbaar Fellow, Joanna Brooks, and last year’s Nootbaar Fellow, Nicole Banister. Nicole arrived back in Uganda on Monday and will be spearheading a new joint initiative between Pepperdine, IJM, and the Judiciary as we establish the first-ever public defender office, providing timely representation to those charged with crimes. The pilot program will likely launch in March.
My final post about this trip to follow soon . . .