News / Africa

    'Barefoot' Lawyers Teach Ugandans Their Rights

    Gerald Abila, founder of Barefoot Law, answers Ugandans’ legal questions by SMS, Facebook, Twitter and Skype, May 27, 2014. (H. Heuler/VOA News)
    Gerald Abila, founder of Barefoot Law, answers Ugandans’ legal questions by SMS, Facebook, Twitter and Skype, May 27, 2014. (H. Heuler/VOA News)
    Uganda has made headlines recently for controversial new legislation, but most Ugandans have little understanding of the laws and no access to legal counsel.

    To solve this problem, a Ugandan lawyer founded an organization called Barefoot Law that uses social media and other technology to help people cut through the haze of misinformation surrounding the laws that govern them.

    Before he began law school, Gerald Abila said he had never actually seen a copy of his country’s constitution. He knew he was not alone.

    “I travel a lot, and a lot of people in areas I travel to were like me before I started studying the law... the level of legal ignorance. And access to legal services is too low,” he said.

    While ignorance of the law is no defense, Abila said given the level of legal access in Uganda, though, it’s no wonder people know so little about it.

    “Ninety-seven percent of lawyers in Uganda are within the capital," he said. "So 97 percent of lawyers serve a population of 2 million people, and the remaining three percent is left to serve a population of around 36 million. So how do you overcome such challenges using technology?”

    Abila’s decided Barefoot Law, which he founded two years ago, would be the answer.

    Barefoot’s team of volunteer lawyers uses Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Skype calls and a 24-hour call-in service to answer any legal questions Ugandans have, and also to guide them through their cases. Everything they offer is free.

    This service has become especially pressing lately as Uganda has passed a raft of controversial legislation, including a harsh new anti-homosexuality law, an anti-pornography law and a bill criminalizing the intentional transmission of HIV.

    All that most people know of these laws is what they hear on the radio, said Abila, and the journalists often get it wrong.

    When the anti-pornography bill was signed, he said, most media reported that miniskirts were banned, and people started taking the law into their own hands.

    “There were instances of stripping women, and the women were fearing to then go and report to the police because they thought it was an offense to wear a miniskirt.  So we wrote a post, and we advised the ladies if you can identify anyone that has done that to you, then they could be charged with indecent assault and a number of offenses,” said Abila.

    He said the post was viewed 18,000 times by the end of the day.

    One Barefoot client, Latim Fassie, had spent all his money fighting for workers’ compensation after a motorbike accident left him hospitalized for months. He said lawyers at Barefoot Law were the only ones who would tell him his rights and explain to him how to proceed when he couldn't find proper representation.

    In Uganda, he said it's a rare thing, indeed, to get this kind of help at no charge.

    “They are lawyers that even will call you at their own cost, give you technical advice, call you to their offices, share with you, even share with you breakfast on the table while you discuss papers,” said Fassie.

    The gratitude they they are shown for their work is genuine, according to Abila. After helping two young people who had been kicked off their mother’s land, Abila said the Barefoot office received an unexpected gift.

    “The issue was resolved, and the gentleman sent us shoes, some local shoes, and told us, ‘I hope you guys can now start wearing shoes and don’t be barefoot anymore’,” noted Abila.

    Those shoes, made of truck tires and string, are still hanging on the wall above his desk, a reminder of how far they still have to go.

    You May Like

    Video How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves in Landmark Discovery

    Researchers likened discovery to difference between looking at piece of music on paper and then hearing it in real life

    Prince Ali: FIFA Politics Affected International Fixtures

    Some countries faced unfavorable treatment for not toeing political line inside soccer world body, Jordanian candidate to head FIFA says

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    NATO to Target Migrant Smugglersi
    X
    Jeff Custer
    February 11, 2016 4:35 PM
    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.