Pamela Towela Sambo, Ph.D.
First Woman Doctorate in Environmental Law (Zambia)
By O'brien Kaaba
Pamela Towela Sambo was born in a relatively large middle-income family in the city of Kitwe on 8th November 1974, the fourth born child to Agnes Sambo and late Bernard Sambo. She has three elder brothers, one young brother, and two younger sisters, making it a family of seven siblings. Her mother worked as a secretary while her father worked in local government finance. Sambo started her education at Hindu Hall nursery school in the town of Luanshya in 1980 before beginning grades one to six at Gandhi Primary School. She fondly remembers her teachers, who, during those formative years, were her earliest role models and inspired her to reach greater heights. In 1986, Sambo’s father was transferred from Luanshya District Council to Chingola Municipal Council and she had to start term two of grade six at Nakatindi Primary School, where she only attended class for a month before being moved to Sacred Heart Convent School where she finished grade seven.
From 1988 to 1992, Sambo attended Fatima Girls Secondary School in Ndola. In 1994 she was admitted into the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Zambia, a steppingstone towards studying law at the University of Zambia. After a year in the Humanities, she progressed into the School of Law, and graduated with her Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree in 1998, among the best graduating students. Sambo proceeded to study for the bar at the Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE) and was admitted to practice law in April 2000 alongside several current serving judges and senior legal practitioners.
Having completed her primary legal education Sambo dreamed of being a top corporate lawyer. By then, she had never heard of environmental law. Sambo worked in private practice for Ellis and Co and also Mvunga Associates between 1998 and 2002 when she left to pursue a Master's Degree (LLM) in environmental law, more by accident. She narrates her story that since 2000, she had been applying for university places and scholarships under the guidance of Dr. Leonard Kalinde, who knew that she wanted to pursue further studies in corporate law. One morning in December 2001, Dr. Kalinde called her and asked if she was interested in pursuing LLM environmental law in South Africa. She responded that she was not interested as she didn’t even know what it was all about. She eventually bought into the idea of pursuing a Master's program in environmental law and processed all the paperwork sent to her.
A few days later, she received an email that she had been selected on the program mainly because the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) sponsored LLM environmental law program had been ongoing for several years, and there had been no student from Zambia, despite numerous adverts and environmental concerns in the country at the time. In mid-January 2002, Sambo arrived at the University of KwaZulu Natal, Pietermaritzburg, to join the LLM environmental law class as the first Zambian amongst Zimbabweans, South Africans, Tanzanians, and Tswanas. All the other students had pursued environmental law in their undergraduate courses, unlike Sambo, who was new to the subject. Professor Michael Kidd, who was the course coordinator, was very instrumental in orienting Sambo to environmental matters. By the end of the six months’ course work, Sambo was able to present a research proposal which examiners deemed worthy of being advanced as doctoral studies.
After completing the LLM program, Sambo worked as Assistant Legal Counsel (Corporate Affairs) at Copperbelt Energy Corporation Plc (CEC) and later as Legal Counsel at the Local Authorities Superannuation Fund (LASF), between 2003 and 2007. In September 2007, she was awarded the Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue her doctorate in environmental law at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. She graduated in 2012 and immediately started working at the University of Zambia as a lecturer and researcher, making her the first female Zambian lawyer to earn a doctorate in environmental law.
Sambo has been instrumental in designing and teaching environmental law courses at the university. She is also the leading national legal consultant in environmental matters. At the university level, Sambo has not only contributed to the appreciation of environmental law by students (future lawyers and administrators) but has also taught a culture of hard work, meticulousness, attention to detail, and thoroughness. She has a passion for teaching and research and generously passes these skills to her students. She is demanding but patient with her students. Many of her former and current students have fond memories of her. Lukundo Kapinga, a former student and now practicing law under a premier corporate law firm describes Sambo as follows: “Dr. Sambo greatly improved our reading culture by providing us with reading materials and encouraging us to read widely. Her door was always open for consultations or for us to get further clarity when needed. Her commitment to teaching can be seen in the fact that she is always willing to go the extra mile for her students. She often scheduled additional classes for her students when she noticed that her students were lacking”. (Transcripts available on file with author).
Beatrice Chola, a recent law graduate of the University of Zambia notes: “She is one powerful lady, who knows what she wants to do with her life. She is organized and very professional. She has high standards I would want to emulate. From the way she carries herself, it is enough to see and notice that she is really hardworking and never takes no for an answer; excellence and hardworking are her personal brand”. Similarly, Emmanuel Mutale, a current law student describes Sambo with fondness: “She is very demanding yet very patient with students. She requires students to read a lot and to research. At the same time, she is very patient with those that require extra guidance and help from her. This, in my view, brings out the best in all students”. (Transcripts available on file with author).
Sambo has pioneered the teaching of environmental law at the University of Zambia. Her teaching went beyond the School of Law, where she is tenured, but also helped in the School of Education and the School of Natural Sciences. These courses commenced in 2003 and are still running. Within the School of Law at the University of Zambia, Sambo has helped develop a specialized environmental law program for postgraduate studies at the Master's level. Beyond the university frontiers, Sambo is actively involved with research and cooperation at the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (the national institution responsible for sustainable environmental management), such as drafting subsidiary legislation and conducting stakeholders’ consultative forums on different aspects of environmental law.
Sambo is also a recognized international environmental researcher and consultant. She has been involved in international research and collaboration in various aspects of environmental law, such as the possibility of drafting framework legislation for sustainable soil management in Africa, sustainable wildlife management, and timber legality in Zambia. At a professional level, Sambo is an active member of the Association for Environmental Law Lecturers in African Universities (ASSELAU), Committee of Environmental Lawyers under the IUCN, International Law Association (ILA), International Bar Association (IBA), and Law Association of Zambia (LAZ). She has offered training and mentorship in environmental law, locally and internationally, to various audiences, including policymakers, legislators, scholars, and judges.
Sambo has pioneered the teaching of environmental law at the University of Zambia, generously sharing her knowledge and skills with those who may shape the future of the country as future legal practitioners, judges, administrators, corporate lawyers, and civil servants. This was achieved while married and raising four children. This invariably means that she had to straddle the responsibilities that come with being a wife, a mother, and a legal scholar and practicing lawyer. In a country where patriarchy is conventional and women are often pushed into subordinate roles, this makes Sambo a truly remarkable pioneer who has overcome several hurdles and now stands not only as an accomplished female professional but also as a model for young female students who may face similar challenges in life. In a country where mining drives the economy (and often results in environmental problems), her environmental law skills place her at the heart of the discourse on national development and environmental sustainability.