Judge, United Nations Dispute Tribunal (retired)

Memooda Ebrahim-Carstens

I come from a background not dissimilar to many African women, growing up in an African village with no running water or electricity; of parents who believed in discipline, education, integrity and personal achievement through hard work no matter how poor your circumstances. Most importantly, of parents who believed in the education of the girl child when traditional thinking dictated the opposite. I was born and bred in Botswana, formerly Bechuanaland, one of three British Protectorates, of Asian parentage. I have never been to India and have always considered myself an African. They say African women always face double jeopardy, being female and of colour. I have in my lifetime many a time faced quadruple jeopardy – being female, from Africa, and of Asian and Moslem descent. It is thanks to the vision of my family, the multi-cultural democracy of the Republic of Botswana, the political will and support of my country and the African States, that I progressed to becoming an international judge, hopefully as an inspiration, and as an agent of change to others.

I am a firm believer of the empowerment that flows from our history, particularly through the African culture of oral history, which we have a duty to reduce to writing and digital data, lest it be forever lost to our younger generation and to us. Besides, there are invaluable lessons to be learnt on how to overcome the challenges and adversities we face, from our history. I think we need to remember that not only are our challenges and destinies shaped by history, societal custom and tradition, and customary laws, but that our respective systems were shaped largely by the colonial legal dispensations we inherited. I was recently asked why I chose law as a subject and ultimately the forum within which I work. I responded that I see law as an instrument of change. As judges we are in a unique position to effect change through creativity and activism at the judicial level.

We need to collaborate regionally on law reforms, on appropriate institutions for access to justice, and its enforcement. We need to be courageous and fearless agents of change. But mostly we need to lead by example as African leaders, no matter what our profession. We all must lead, whether as diplomats, politicians, lawyers, and judges; but most of all as mentors and role models for our young persons. I am not a biological mother but in my lifetime, I have been mother to many. More than ever, a child needs many mothers these days. In all this I am constantly reminded of a very important saying from the Setswana language “ Motho ke motho ka batho”. Literally translated it “means a person is a person through others.” This idiom is so true to my life, I am here because of others, because of my family, my people, my country, my African continent. I am here because of Umoja, Botho or Ubuntu. No doubt we all have similar expressions - that behind every child is a village, a community. I remain committed to help guide the next generation of women leaders across Africa and the world at large.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram

Institute for African Women in Law (c) All rights reserved.