PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
First Woman Judge (Tanzania)
By Maame Efua Addadzi-Koom
Eusebia Nicholas Munuo (née Minde) is a Tanzanian lawyer and a retired Justice of Appeal. Born on 1 September 1946 to Mwalimu Benedict Mirai Minde and Monica Francis Chuwa, Eusebia is the second born in a family of eleven children. Her father, Mwalimu Benedict Mirai Minde, was a teacher (Mwalimu translates to teacher) and her mother was a housewife and farmer.
Eusebia’s resilience to rise above the difficulties and complexities of life can be traced to her birthplace - the slopes of the Kilimanjaro Mountain at 19,336 feet (5,895 meters). Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the second highest in the world after Mount Everest in the Himalayas. Eusebia’s parents grew up in the culture typical of mountain dwellers which is hard work from childhood to old age. Eusebia understood that people who lived in difficult mountainous terrain naturally had to adapt to hard conditions and pass on the legacy of hard work and determination to their heirs.
Eusebia Munuo grew up in Njari Village in Uru North, some 15km from Moshi Municipality where she attended Uru Mission Primary School from kindergarten to class one to class four from 1952 to 1956. On completing elementary primary school, she was selected to join class five in Kibosho Girls’ Middle School about 40 km from Njari village. The Middle School was a boarding school for girls from different catholic elementary schools in Kilimanjaro, Arusha and Tanga Regions. She pursued her Middle School education from 1957 to 1960 without difficulty and was selected to go to a Catholic Girls’ Secondary School, Marian College, now Kirakala Girls High School in Morogoro at the foot of the Uluguru Mountains from 1961 to 1964. Marian College was a territorial girls’ boarding school drawing students from catholic middle schools across Tanzania.
On completing form four she joined Tabora Girls’ High School where she had her form five and sixth form education from 1965 to 1966. She focused on studying diligently to gain entry in the University of East Africa to study law. By then there were three University Colleges in East Africa namely Makerere in Kampala, Uganda, Nairobi College in Kenya and Dar es Salaam University in Tanzania. The three colleges constituted the University of East Africa which was dissolved when the old East Africa Community was dismantled in the mid-seventies. National universities were created in the respective East African countries as we see them today. Eusebia had the opportunity to study law at the University of East Africa at Dar es Salaam from July 1967 to March 1970 and obtained a Bachelor of Laws Degree (LL.B.).
In those years, when a person gets selected to study law or any other discipline in a university as Eusebia did, it was considered a rare privilege and vote of confidence by your nation that you have the potential not only to study but participate in the development of your country after completing your studies. Being a direct entrant from high school and determined to learn, Eusebia did not expect any favors from anyone. She took her studies seriously and did not see any challenges for women law students because the law professors at the university were of the right caliber and of good academic quality. Abuse of authority for sexual exploitation commonly known as sextortion and other forms of corruption which occasionally threaten women students were unheard of in those days because the majority of citizens were God-fearing and patriotic, leaving no chance for corrupt perpetrators to join university teaching teams.
Eusebia developed interest in law when she was in form four. She liked reading books of different professions and somehow got attracted to law. From middle school to high school she held the role of the Secretary initially and subsequently Chairperson of the Debating Club conducting school and inter school debates and at times taking the position of the main speaker of either side. She was familiar with debate contests and her side usually emerged successful. Therefore, she imagined she would preside over cases competently without fear or favor. She chose law because she believed she could use law as a tool to administer justice and resolve disputes impartially. Although she did not know any lawyer at the time, she imagined law would be an interesting career and fortunately it turned out to be so.
On 1 July 1970, Eusebia became the first woman resident magistrate in Tanzania. Until then the bench was all men. There were also no women court assessors because there was a provision in the old Criminal Procedure Code disqualifying women from being court assessors (jury). The provision was subsequently repealed by Parliament. Eusebia had no difficulty working with her male colleagues because in her law school class of ninety students there were only two women. Being the only woman on the bench initially was no big deal. She only saw her inclusion on the bench as the beginning for women’s inclusion.
She encountered no peculiar challenges for women judicial officers in the Judiciary of Tanzania during her 18-year long career of magistracy rising from her first position as a Resident Magistrate Grade III in 1970 to Senior Resident Magistrate in1982 to Principal Resident Magistrate with extended jurisdiction to hear High Court cases from 1984 to April 1987 when she was appointed a Judge of the High Court. Eusebia had no doubt that more female lawyers would continue to be recruited as judicial officers with the passage of time. As of 2019, the number of women in the Primary, District and Court of Resident Magistrate in terms of gender is about 40%. About 30% of the judges in the High Court are women. About 20% of the Justices of Appeal are women.
In August 2002, Eusebia chalked another first. She was appointed the first Lady Justice in the Court of Appeal of Tanzania which is currently the highest court of the land. She was sworn in as the Deputy Chief Justice in 2010. She served in the Court of Appeal from 2002 until she retired ten years later on 1 September 2012. Throughout her judicial career, Eusebia performed several leadership and professional roles. From 1972 to 1975 she doubled as an assistant lecturer at the Institute of Development Mzumbe (IDM) on secondment by the judiciary to train Primary and District Magistrates.
During her time as a Senior Resident Magistrate, she was in charge of the Arusha region from 1982 to 1987. From 1984 to April 1987 she was the Chairperson of the Regional Housing Tribunal determining landlord/tenant disputes with the aid of assessors. She was also the Chairperson of the Regional Local Government Elections Committee responsible for conducting local government elections. She served as a part-time commissioner on the Law Reform Commission of Tanzania from 1984 to 1990. While she was in the High Court, Eusebia was the judge in charge of the Moshi High Court Zone from July 1997 until she joined the Court of Appeal in August 2002.
She was the chairperson of the Judges Ethics committee from 2007 to May 2012 and the National Parole Board from May 2013 to May 2016. She was also a founding member of the Judges and Magistrates Association of Tanzania (JMAT) and the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA). She served as a board member, Vice President, President-elect and President of the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) between 2006 and 2014 She founded and chaired the Tanzania Women Judges Association (TAWJA) from 2000 to 2010. She was a non-practicing member of the Tanganyika Law Society from March 1978 to December 2012. In January 2013, she became a practicing member of the society till date.
Eusebia has a number of awards to her name including the order of the United Republic of Second Class Medal in December 2012, the 2nd annual award of Determined Women in Law in 2012, Tanzania Women Lawyers Association Compassionate Humanitarian, Philosopher and Human Rights Award in 2013, the Women of Achievement Public Sector Award in 2016 and improving access to justice award, Punjab Judicial Academy, Lahore Pakistan in 2017. She also has a number of publications on child law, women rights, human rights, succession, environmental law, judicial ethics, women property rights and sextortion.
As one who joined the judiciary at a young age of 23, Eusebia advises young women wishing to embark on a legal /judicial career that the sky is the limit. Their determination and dedication to legal studies will open opportunities for women in the judiciary, in academia, attorneys for law enforcement agencies, advocates in law firms, corporate lawyers, and as legal staff or paralegals. She believes that the doors are wide open for women lawyers and jurists in all jurisdictions founded on the rule of law, democracy, justice, peace and security.
Judicial work requires personal and professional integrity, knowledge of the law, skill to apply the same, adherence to judicial code of conduct and ethics and more importantly honesty and total commitment to hard work. The job is self-supervising. It is an ideal profession for women who aspire to be judges. Eusebia Nicholas Munuo is a pioneer Tanzania woman in law who has paved the way for many generations to come after her.
Author interviews and electronic communication with Justice Eusebia Munuo, March-April 2019.
Curriculum vitae of Eusebia Nichlas Munuo. On file with author.