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Chief Justice Irene Chirwa Mambilima: A Legacy of Justice and Service

By J. Jarpa Dawuni, Ph.D.

 

"Chief Justice Irene Chirwa Mambilima, we thank you for your service, your tireless efforts for justice, equity, and women’s rights. Your legacy will forever be remembered. Rest in the peaceful embrace of your maker." J. Jarpa Dawuni


The first whatsapp message came at 1:4pm US/ET. In utter disbelief, I quickly called my friend in Zambia who had just sent me the message. I asked her if it was true (and hoping she would say it was not true), but she confirmed it. Soon after, the messages started coming from all over. I began to cry. I called Judge Ann Claire Williams (retired Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh District) to inform her, and she confirmed she had not heard the news.


Justice Irene Chirwa Mambilima was the first judge interviewed by Judge Ann Claire Williams for the African Women in Law Legacy Project. We were still in discussions to re-record her interview because the first recording had technical issues which gave us a poor video quality. Chief Justice Mambilima was so kind and generous with her time, and she agreed that she would make the time for us to record it again. Alas, that time will never happen.


Chief Justice Mambilima was a pioneer woman in many ways. As the first woman Chief Justice of Zambia, her journey to the top judicial position had been marked with many other successful stories as captured in her pioneer women in law profile. The first of five children, she grew up from humble beginnings, and witnessing the injustice around her spurred her on t