PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
First Woman President of the Law Society (Zambia)
By Tabeth Masengu, Ph.D.
If you ask politically aware Zambians who Advocate Linda Kasonde is, they will probably tell you that she was "that woman Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) President who stood up to the ruling party at a time when many people didn't". You will probably hear that she was the first woman LAZ President, she was not afraid of anybody, and they will never forget her. How could they? Kasonde broke new ground by ascending to the top of LAZ as a woman. Still, she was also a woman who was not afraid to state when the government went beyond Constitutional remits or when she felt that the LAZ had to make legal pronouncements on critical national matters. Her two-year term as the helm of LAZ brought an assertive and refreshing legal perspective that some felt had been lacking from LAZ in previous years.
Kasonde's journey to becoming the head of Zambia's professional legal body started in Lusaka, Zambia where she grew up. Her interest in activism was sparked by attending Waterford Kamhlaba, a school in Eswatini that promoted multi-racialism in response to apartheid in neighboring South Africa. She recalls that she enjoyed studying English and History but was not sure what career to pursue. Her mother, a medical doctor, had always told her two daughters that as women it was essential to have a profession because "whatever happens to you, you will always have that thing to fall back on".
Thus perhaps subconsciously influenced by her mother's advice, Kasonde chose to pursue a law degree at Leicester University in England. After that, she was admitted to the Zambian Bar in 2001. After being admitted to the Zambian Bar, Kasonde preceded to work as an advocate at the National Legal Aid Clinic for Women until 2004, when she was subsequently hired by Mulenga Mundashi & Company, where she served as an Associate until 2007. She later obtained her Masters in Commercial Law (LLM) in 2007 from the University of Cape Town in South Africa. She returned to the law firm in 2009 when Mulenga Mundashi & Company, added Kasonde to its name. This made her the first woman in Zambia to be promoted to named partner in an established and internationally recognized Zambian law firm.
In the seven years preceding her remarkable rise to President of LAZ, Kasonde worked hard to acquire more training, experience, and exposure. In 2012, she completed the Lawyers Management Programme with IE law school within IE University in Spain. The following year Kasonde undertook the Harvard University Leadership in the 21st Century Executive program. The year 2014 was a busy year for Kasonde; she took part in the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellowship run by the African Leadership and the International Visitor's Leadership Programme, Women in Politics and Social Affairs run by the United States of America State Department. Kasonde also became a member Chartered Institute of Arbitrators London and Zambia Branch. Apart from all these achievements. She held the positions of Honorary Secretary of the LAZ and Vice-President and thus her election as President of the Association in 2016 was a culmination of determination, hard work, and grit.
She would need this grit when she took over the helm at LAZ because Zambia was in a period where there appeared to be a disregard for the rule of law and constitutionalism. This was heightened because the 2016 elections had been marred with controversy, allegations of vote- rigging, and questions about the judiciary's role in resolving electoral disputes. Further, as LAZ President, one of the main battles waged was fighting against a constitutional amendment that permitted a minister to remain at his job even after the dissolution of Parliament. The LAZ opposed this and demanded that being a member of Parliament was a requisite for a Minister to hold office.
In her own words "as president of the Association, I wasn't very popular with the government and was discredited by the news media. But we defended our positions, and four days before the general elections the Constitutional Court ruled in our favour". The court not only established that the ministers would have to leave their position after the dissolution of Parliament but also ordered that they return their salaries and any emoluments they had received during the period in which they had illegally occupied their position.
Kasonde has been frank about the sexism, vitriol, and patriarchal attitudes she faced while in charge. She has been open about the fact that women face more scrutiny and judgment than men do in leadership positions. Her steadfastness and commitment to see things through amidst political and personal attacks have not gone unnoticed. In 2016 she was awarded the Zambia Society for Public Administration's Justice Irene Chirwa Mambilima Distinguished Award to recognize her contribution to the advancement of public service excellence in Zambia. In 2017 she was the recipient of the IE University's Extraordinary People Inspiring the IE Community (EPIC) Award, and The Africa Report named her as one of the people to watch out for in 2017 in Southern Africa.
In 2019 Kasonde branched out and opened her own firm LCK chambers and founded Chapter One Foundation Limited, where she is currently the Executive Director. Chapter One Foundation promotes and protects human rights, human rights defenders, constitutionalism, social justice, and the rule of law in Zambia, primarily through strategic litigation, advocacy, and capacity building. To further cement her pioneer status, in April 2019, she was elected as the Vice-President for Africa for the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the first Zambian to hold that position. Kasonde is a pioneer and role model to Zambian and African women alike because of her achievements and her courage in her career. Additionally, it would seem that the lessons Kasonde learned from Daring to Fail, a book written by Billi Lim, have not only inspired her, but they have set the stage for many other young women to "dare to fail'.