PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Monica Kalyegira Mugenyi
First woman Principal Judge of the First Instance Division, East African Court of Justice (EACJ)
By Michele Lynda Mugenyi
Justice Monica Kalyegira Mugenyi is a Ugandan lawyer and judge of the Ugandan Court of Appeal also known as the Constitutional Court. She was born on August 27, 1969, to Dr. Amos and Margaret Kalyegira. Her father was a Senior Civil Servant and veterinarian, and her mother was a primary teacher who ventured into early childhood learning and became a kindergarten headmistress. Mugenyi received her primary education from Lake Victoria Primary School before attending Gayaza High School from 1983 to 1988. She is a mother of four and is married to Hamu Mugenyi, a Ugandan lawyer and Board Chairman of the Uganda Development Corporation (UDC).
Mugenyi received her Bachelor of Laws from Makerere University, Uganda in 1992 before receiving a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the Law Development Centre in Uganda a year later. She also obtained a Master of Laws degree in International Trade Law from the University of Essex in 2002.
Prior to her work on the bench, Mugenyi engaged in development work at the non-government organization Action for Development, where she worked as an Assistant Legal Officer in 1992. From 1993 to 1999, she was a State Attorney in the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General’s Chambers. She was then promoted to Senior State Attorney before becoming Legal Officer of the Privatisation & Utility Sector Reform Project from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA).
Mugenyi has served as a Private Legal Consultant and was working as Manager of Corporate Services for the Uganda Road Fund when she was appointed to the High Court of Uganda in 2010. She was elected to the Land and Criminal Division of the High Court and served as the youngest judge on the bench. Mugenyi was then appointed a judge of the First Instance Division of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) during the East African Community Heads of State Summit in December 2013. In July 2015, she made history when she began serving as the ‘Principal Judge’ of the Court and Administrative Head of the First Instance Division, making her the first woman to take on the role. Mugenyi currently serves as a Judge of the Court of Appeal in Uganda, after having served in the EACJ for seven years. She was sworn into the Court of Appeal by President Yoweri K. Museveni on December 10, 2019, and finished her term with the EACJ a year later.
Mugenyi has made decisions on several high-profile and significant cases. These include the case of Uganda v. Lydia Draru Alias Atim (2011), in which Lydia Draru was accused of murdering a Ugandan Army General. Draru pleaded not guilty for murder but guilty for manslaughter, as the crime committed was not intentional. Despite the prosecution being “unwilling to amend its indictment to reflect the lesser offense” of manslaughter, Draru was sentenced to 14 years in prison for manslaughter and the case was never appealed, much to a multitude of people’s chagrin. Mugenyi also led the bench in the case of the Hon. Margaret Zziwa v. The Secretary General of the East African Community (2017). In this case, the first female Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly successfully challenged her impeachment in court, on the premise that the procedure adopted to remove her from Office “flouted provisions of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community...as well as rules of natural justice”. In the case of Male H. Mabirizi K. Kiwanuka v. The Attorney General of the Republic of Uganda (2020), Mabirizi lodged a complaint to contest the legality of the actions and procedures taken to enact Uganda’s Constitutional Amendment Act of 2018. This act legalized changing the age limit for Presidents of Uganda, allowing current President Museveni to run for his sixth term. The court ruled that the age limit bill was constitutionally passed and followed all parliamentary procedures. Taking up this case was significant because it sparked a conversation around the importance of judicial ethics in the adjudication of disputes. Finally, Mugenyi led the bench in the case of Martha Wangari Karua v. The Attorney General of the Republic of Kenya (2020), in which Karua stood for elective office, lost, and decided to appeal. She was faced with the technicality that all appeals should be disposed of in six months, which was taken by the complainant as a violation of her right to access justice. This stance was held due to the negligence of evidence that she had submitted in time to make the case’s time limits, as well as the High Court of Kenya’s decision to dismiss her election petition without investigating the issue. The EACJ decided in favor of the complainant, arguing that the Respondent State had in fact “violated its commitments to the fundamental and operational principles of the EAC.”
Mugenyi is a member of the Gayaza Old Girls Association and serves as the Chairperson of the East African Development Bank (EADB) Staff Appeals Tribunal. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb), UK, and has previously served as a Legal Secretary to the Uganda Road Fund Board, a Non-Executive Director at PRIDE Microfinance Ltd, and a Non-Executive Director at Uganda Seeds Ltd.
Mugenyi has never tried to depict her experience as a young female judge as easy. She has spoken
about the mixed reactions a woman’s appointment to higher office may elicit, from celebration to
cynicism, salutation to opposition, from both men and women. She has also spoken about the
mixed feelings people had about her appointment to the Ugandan High Court, and how she was
perceived as a “disaster waiting to happen,” on more than one occasion. However, Mugenyi’s
story is a story of perseverance and determination to get the job done. While she has had to face
opposition from men and women who did not see her as deserving of her promotions, she has
gone out of her way to support and uplift current and future female leaders through her presence
at numerous conferences and webinars on women leaders in law. By sharing her own
experiences and advice, Mugenyi regularly provides female leaders with the tools needed to
succeed. Her advice to women in legal leadership is to develop a healthy work ethic and to create
a positive personal brand— you must be known for having integrity and producing results. To
succeed, Justice Mugenyi urges women leaders to show up, be present, and be visible.