Louis Gitinywa is Senior partner at Kigali Attorneys Chamber, Rwanda and joined LAP in May 2021.
How significant is social justice in your career?
“From 2011 to 2016 I worked as a public prosecutor at Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Authority, and I had a growing sense that the rule of law is somehow twisted because of powerful interests, especially unfortunately for many African countries. We have laws, conventions, international treaties… but they’re not respected and implemented for the citizen. It’s for the state to abide by the law. The law should be an agent of change. It should protect everyone no matter your position or status.”
How can lawyers be a force for good?
“Lawyers can do two things: educate our communities about their rights and the law – and use strategic litigation on behalf of citizens….The only way we can make the law be a driving force for development and social justice is to give people access to justice, through pro bono work and community education – and explain how the law is conducted, and how it can bring meaningful positive change.”
Have you always felt part of a socially-minded legal community?
“That’s a tricky question. Most of my colleagues are more focused on making money from their practice – which is legitimate. What made me link with LAP is not just that they have this social aspect of changing the lives of people, but also my personal background.
“I grew up in a modest family – my parents were refugees in Congo; they left Rwanda because of social instability – so I always think being a lawyer is not necessarily about driving an expensive car or wearing a very nice suit. Lawyers should be an equaliser; always being on the side of the poor not the powerful.
“My mother, especially, was a source of inspiration; she was resilient and she reminded us to use your education to make an impact in your community. She was an educated lady but she never used it to show up other people; she helped people by writing letters, filling in forms for people for state procedures. We don’t all have the same opportunities in life and some of us who’ve been fortunate enough to get an education should be mindful to help those who are vulnerable.”
You’re participating in LAP’s Twinning Programme – how does it use and enhance your legal skills?
“Law practice is very competitive and, as a young Rwandan lawyer, this has given me an edge. You can share knowledge, learn about legal developments and interact with different people from different social backgrounds. The programme is diverse and ambitious; I could interact with people in north America, Europe, Asia… that diversity always helps you to grow and it’s an opportunity to extend my professional network.
“When you start practising, you realise that what you’ve learnt in law school is quite different from what you’re experiencing day to day. And I want to see how we can work together on projects in Africa, for instance in Rwanda, to promote the rule of law and human rights.”
Have any recent legal developments inspired you?
“When the Supreme Court of Kenya nullified the presidential election in 2017, this struck me because it was the first time an African state, an African judiciary, nullified a presidential election. I was like: ‘Wow! Yes, we can do that.’ It gives me hope that if we work with commitment and courage we can make tremendous change and add to the welfare of our people.”