Tag Archives | rwanda

Five Reasons to Visit Uganda

Yesterday, I was a guest on a radio program talking about our recent juvenile justice work in Africa.  One of the initial questions was about the “perils” of visiting Africa: Is it safe?  Is it a major endeavor?

Life on the outskirts of Gulu

I think most people want to visit Africa at some point in their lives–if not for some humanitarian purpose, then at least to go on safari or see the mountain gorillas.  Africa is indeed an amazing and diverse continent that is not to be missed.  Uganda, in particular, is a great country—I just made my fifth trip this.  If you’re considering a visit to Africa (or you’ve never desired to visit Africa, but might unexpectedly find yourself there one day), it’s a good place to start any journey.  As a matter of fact, Lonely Planet ranked Uganda the #1 travel destination for 2012Rwanda is also at the top of my list–and I recommend seeing both countries on the same trip.  With Rwanda fast-paced development, it’s surpassed some of the “rustic charms” you might expect from Africa.  Kigali feels like a European city–an example of the direction much of Africa is heading.

Here are five good reasons to visit Uganda:

  1. It’s Relatively Safe and Stable – Uganda is relatively.  In the 6 years that I’ve been sending large groups to Uganda, the only incident we had was a stolen laptop once.  I suspect we would be hard pressed to have the same results in Europe.  It’s also relatively stable.  I say relatively because there is the occasional protest—we watch things carefully, but no political situation has yet stopped us from going.  But, if you look around Uganda, it looks like a safehaven.  Congo: basketcase.  Sudan: Basketcase.  Burundi: basketcase.  Kenya: Mixed—as I left Uganda they had terrorism warnings.  The only neighboring country with stability is Rwanda—a personal favorite to visit.
  2. Safaris – Kenya and Tanzania typically get highest marks for safaris in the region.  While I haven’t had the chance to go on safari in either country, the gave drives in Uganda have not left me disappointed.  When I bring groups, we always make the 5 hour drive north to Murchison Falls National Park.  Entering Murchison is like driving into Jurassic Park on red dirt roads through a dense forest.  You finally arrive at the Nile where you have to take a ferry to the delta where the animals make their home.  No trip to Murchison is complete without a boat ride up the Nile to the base of the falls.  If you’ve ever been on Disney’s Jungle Cruise ride, you will feel like what you’re experiencing isn’t real, but some Imagineer’s version of Africa.  I recommend staying at Paraa Lodge—everything you would except from a game lodge.  Then, early in the morning, you rise to go on a game drive.  Elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, and even—this year I finally saw them—lions.  The only missing animal in Africa’s big 5 is the rhino—they no longer live in the wild in Uganda, but there is a rhino farm if time permits.
  3. Diverse Cultures – Uganda has diversity.  We learned from our work with kids that there are dozens of actively spoken languages and dozens of self-identifying people groups.  Northern Uganda is not like Kampala, and it’s definitely not like Karamoja.  Those who live in the south sometimes can’t understand a word spoken by those from the north—they could easily be different countries!  With so much in such a small country, it makes for an interesting visit that will keep you on your toes.
  4. Adventure – Uganda has a growing adventures tourism industry, with a lot of room for more.  My favorite thing to do in Uganda is go whitewater rafting on the Nile River—some of the world’s best Class 5 rapids.  In addition to rafting, there are the game drives, bungee jumping for those comfortable with local safety inspections, visiting waterfalls, climbing mountains, and, of course, simple travel throughout the country is an adventure in itself.  I would bet that the adventure travel industry sector in Uganda is only getting started.
  5. There’s Even More to Do – Despite visiting five times now, I’ve always got more to do.  I want to climb Mount Elgon and the Rwenzori Mountains.  They are fairly serious climbs—no day trip from Kampala.  I learned of some islands in Lake Victoria that I would like to visit one day.  I’ve never been to Queen Elizabeth Park for a safari and I still want to visit Karamoja.  I guess I need to go back–several more times.

As Pepperdine Law professor Carol Chase remarked mid-way through our recent trip, “I would have never thought about bringing my family on a vacation Africa, but now I wonder why not.”  Try it for yourself–you might be surprised.

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My Five Favorite Photos of the Year

2011 was a fun year for photography.  Between new camera equipment and trips to Thailand, Uganda, Rwanda, Peru, and Tahiti, there was plentiful ground for photos.

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Today, I looked back through my archive of the year to revisit what I had taken.  I wanted to select what I felt were my five most iconic of the year.  It was much harder than I expected–the first three were the only completely obvious choices to me.

Continue Reading →

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Five Reasons Why You Should Visit Rwanda

Last week, we hosted a delegation from the Ministry of Justice in Rwanda at Pepperdine.  It was a wonderful week with a wonderful group of people.  It reminded me how much I love the and why.  In light of that trip, I wanted to give you my FIVE reasons why I love Rwanda and why it should be the next country on your list to visit.

The Essence of Rwanda

1. There’s magic in the air.  Rwanda just has a magical aura to it that you need to experience.  It’s the “land of a thousand hills” and it lives up to its name–with mountains beyond mountains.  And, through the mountains floats Rwanda’s famed mist.  The country has a special spirit to it.  I feel at ease in Rwanda–it’s clean, safe, and friendly. Continue Reading →

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Ken Starr on the Global Justice Leadership Series [VIDEO]

In the third episode the Global Justice Leadership Series, I interview former Solicitor General, Federal Judge, and Pepperdine Law dean, Kenneth W. Starr.  Judge Starr is currently the president of Baylor University.

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During his tenure as dean, Judge Starr and I shared experiences traveling through Uganda and Rwanda.  In this interview, we talk about the rule of law, the importance of transparency–including Judge Starr’s recent New York Times op-ed article about opening up the U.S. Supreme Court to cameras–and Baylor.

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What is Global Justice?

As many may know, I direct the Global Justice Program at Pepperdine University School of Law.  I often get asked what we do, so I wanted to take time to answer “What is global justice?”

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What is Justice?

As a lawyer, I love the word “justice”–it’s what we’re supposed to be about.  But justice is much bigger than law or lawyers, and sometimes both get in the way.

Justice is concerned with fairness and restoration.  Justice is restoring the world or a situation to how it ought to be.  Justice is the pursuit of making things whole.

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Hanging Out with Rwanda’s Minister of Justice

Yesterday afternoon I picked up Tharcisse Karugarama, Rwanda’s Minister of Justice, from the airport in Los Angeles.  One of the great things about my job is that I get to build friendships with interesting people.  On my last visit to Rwanda, I was waiting with “Minister Karugarama” for a meeting with President Kagame when the Minister stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Why do you still call me ‘Minister’?  Call me Tharcisse.”  The downside to this informality is that you forget who you’re picking up — the Minister of Justice of an entire nation.  It’s like picking up Attorney General Eric Holder.

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For the untrained eye, this photo is from Rwanda, not Malibu.

I’ve driven some interesting people in the last few years.  Chief Justice Odoki comes to mind immediately–the Chief Justice of Uganda and third most important person in the country.  I imagine it’s more strange for them.  They are used to being picked up in official cars with security and police escorts.  Then I pull in my pickup truck and throw their luggage in the back. Continue Reading →

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Arriving in Uganda with Sirens Blaring

Stepping off the plane in Entebbe, Dr. Tippens and I crossed the tarmac and into the immigration building.  As we entered, two airport staff members greeted us with our names on a sign.  We were ushered the opposition direction of the arrivals, up a staircase, and into a VIP arrival lounge where members of the Ugandan Judiciary.  We waited there on large couches while airport staff obtained our visas and retrieved our luggage.  This must be how diplomats and rock stars travel!  Apparently there’s a whole world that I didn’t know existed.

We exited the airport into a private van.  The drive from Entebbe to Kampala is always long – about an hour and bogged down in heavy traffic.  Then a police car pulled in front of us with lights flashing and we were off.  Two men in suits sat with Dr. Tippens and me in the van.  I asked their names and job.  “We are police.  We are here for your security.”  We even had bodyguards!! 

We blasted along the Entebbe to Kampala road with lights flashing and sirens blazing.  The usual heavy traffic all pulled to the side to allow us to pass.  We made it downtown Kampala in record time!  Our friends here know how to take care of us and made a good first impression on Provost Tippens. 

I wanted to wrap up a few additional highlights from Uganda:

We had dinner with the Pepperdine students from the schools of Public Policy students, Education and Psychology, and Matt Mullarkey, a recent law grad who obtain a great position with Rwanda’s Ministry of Justice after his summer there.  It was great to learn about their work and the scope of Pepperdine’s presence in Rwanda.  Later in the week, we had dinner with two law students—Peter Depew and Taylor Friedlander—who just arrived for their summer with the Supreme Court. 

On Thursday night, Dr. Tippens and I had dinner with Rwanda’s Deputy Chief Justice, Sam Rugege.  Justice Rugege has hosted two of our students each summer for the past two years as interns analyzing international comparative law.  Rwanda is in the midst of heavy legal reform to modernize law that, in some cases, have been in places since the time of Belgian rule.  Justice Rugege is one of my favorite people in Rwanda and he and his wife kindly hosted us for the evening. 

Finally, we met with Ambassador Stuart Symington at the U.S. Embassy.  I met Ambassador Symington on a visit to Rwanda two years ago and was extremely impressed by him.  With Dr. Tippens visit, I thought this was a good opportunity to discuss what a more permanent Pepperdine presence in Rwanda might look like.  We might expand our internship offerings.  Personally, I’d like to see much intra-school collaboration among Pepperdine’s programs.  We might offer more Pepperdine courses that visit Rwanda, possibly focusing on reconciliation.  Finally, with Pepperdine’s campuses in Europe, South America, and Asia, one might notice that Africa is conspicuously missing from the list.  Should Pepperdine be in Africa and, if so, is Rwanda a country to consider?  The Ambassador was very enthusiastic about Pepperdine and anything we might do in Rwanda.  Our hope is that he might visit Pepperdine this fall to continue these discussions and share more of his perspective as he has worked in Africa for many years.

Overall, there are many possibilities and much to discuss.  We will continue to process and see where it leads us.  Most often, the next steps happen upon return home after a great dose of reflection.

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Close Encounters of the Gorilla Kind

Standing the thick jungle on the slopes of one of Rwanda’s volcanoes, the grasses ten feet to our right started to rustle.  I strained to see through the dense brush when, suddenly, a giant arm exploded through the thicket and cleared away the brush between us.  Standing before us was a giant Silverback gorilla.

Let me back up a moment to explain how we got here…

Today is Saturday, so Dr. Tippens and I decided to participate in one of Rwanda best known assets—world famous mountain gorillas that have become an icon for Africa.  Rwanda offers a very limited number of gorilla trekking excursions.  There are eight gorilla families in Rwanda and they only allow eight tourists to spend a maximum of one hour with them per day.  You have to get a permit months out and so I did.

The Provost and I departed our hotel at 4:30 a.m. for the two-hour drive to Volcanoes National Park.  The drive was a bit crazy as barreled through dense fog on windy mountain roads.  Even at 4:30 a.m., the roads were lined with people walking places; carrying things.

At the park, we received a briefing from the park staff, then drove more than 30 minutes further into rural Rwanda.  This is a place where we must still be somewhat of an anomaly, as kids lined the roads to wave at us as we passed in our truck.

Once we parked, we hiked uphill for an hour through terraced fields and pastures.  This was a land of subsistence farming, but so pastoral that one consider whether the people here would be willing to trade places. 

After an hour, we reached the stone gate around the official national park.  We climbed the gate and entered the jungle.  The forest was thick and exactly what you hoped for in an African jungle.  Our guide and trackers were using machetes to blaze the trail through the brush.  A team of trackers ran ahead of us to spot the gorillas and radio to our guide where to go. 

After 30 minutes in the jungle, we came down a narrow trail, which brings me to the start of this story where the gorilla appeared from within the brush.

No, the gorilla did not attack us or even threaten us.  Actually, I’m not sure it notice, or cared, that we were there.  It just went about its business putting down as much bamboo as possible.  We continued down the path to see the rest of this gorilla family.  We found a number of young gorillas playfully eating away.  And we found a smaller family unit of mother, baby, and large silverback father.  We stood six feet away from them for an hour, just watching.  They never once seemed to care or seemed bothered by our presence.  I wondered if they were real or animatronic.

To be in such close proximity to large wildlife is a breathtaking experience.  The zoo and its cement walls will never be the same.  (Photos to come as soon as I can get to a place with consistent Internet.)

A woman named Dian Fossey helped put this place on the map for her work in gorilla conservation (watch the movie "Gorillas in the Mist" about her life).  Unfortunately, poachers are preying on the only 750 mountain gorillas left.  They kill the gorillas for jewelry or medicines, and steal the babies for private zoos.  Rwanda, however, is doing what it can to preserve these gorillas.  Part of the cost of our permit goes to providing security for the gorillas all day.  Rwanda has become such a safety zone that gorillas are migrating into Rwanda from other countries in the region. 

If you get the chance to visit Rwanda, don’t miss some quality time with a gorilla family.

We've had many more productive meetings over the last few days to further Pepperdine's work in Rwanda.  I hope to write my wrap-up report tomorrow.

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Where the Streets Have No Name

Yesterday morning, I went running on the streets of Kigali.  As I ran along one of the main thoroughfares, I couldn't help but think about the horrific acts that took place on those streets in 1994.  Countless, lives were taken where I was now running.  I wondered who they were, what they were named, and what led their killers to justify the madness. 

Then, today, I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial—a powerful museum, archive, and reminder of the appalling genocide that pitted neighbor against neighbor.  This, however, was not my first time to the memorial.  On my previous, I walked through the memorial practically alone.  I recall being impressed by the message and facility.

Today’s visit was different.  We were visiting during the 100 Days of Mourning, where Rwanda remembers those lost during the days the genocide took place.  The memorial was crowed with students in uniform—prsumably high school students—beginning to enter the exhibit.

As Dr. Tippens and I began the walking audio tour, shrieks and wails started rising up from within the memorial.  As we walked the grounds, the Rwandan students lay in the grass, sobbing and screaming.  As more poured out of the memorial, staff ran to retrieve foam mattresses upon which many kids collapsed. 

The power of the memorial was amplified by the outpour of emotion.  I’ve visited many memorials, including concentration camps in Germany.  Yet, none made me feel sick or brought me close to tears.  Through moving, these memorials seemed at a distance, as if they happened in some detached past.  Then, today, as I walked along the mass graves and into the flower gardens, I passed a young Rwandan woman walking the other direction.  Only inches away from her, I saw her face as she broke down and collapsed in the grass.  A companion tried to comfort her and place her on a mattress as she wailed the kind of wailing that could only be made by someone who suffered a deep, traumatic wound. 

I could barely stand now myself and I found a nearby bench where I sat down to fight off tears.  The screams and cries of dozens of young Rwandans resounded through the memorial.  This was not history.  This was real.  This was still alive.

Dr. Tippens put it best when he told me that he came to memorial as a tourist, but discovered it to be no tourist stop.  Rather, we entered a place of mourning.

In the garden holding the mass grave of over ¼ million people, the memorial started a “wall of names” with the intent of recognizing all of those who lost lives in the genocide.  Yet, the list is small.  Most of the victims are unidentified and, in many cases, identification may be impossible.  It brought me back to the day before as I ran the streets where the killings took place.  One might never know what happened on what now seem like such peaceful boulevards.  It’s as if the streets have no name.  Yet, Rwanda’s story is not history and even though who remain nameless are still embodied in the pain of this young nation.  I shall never forget the anguish I witnessed today.

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Meeting with the President

This afternoon, a black Mercedes Benz SUV pulled up in front of our hotel.  Our status seemed to increase when the hotel staff learned that the Rwandan President’s Office had arrived for us.

Two years ago, we planned a trip to Rwanda, which included a meeting with President Kagame.  Upon arrival, we learned that he had been taken out of the country on important state business.  On my next trip, one year ago, his staff gave me an audience with him and I extended invitation for him to visit Pepperdine.  He agreed, but over the past year, we have not been able to come to a date.  When Dr. Tippens trip to Rwanda, I was able to obtain another audience with His Excellency and we set out to renew the invitation.

Like the last two trip, we didn’t know if or when we might have a meeting.  The President’s schedule can change by the hour and more important business can often arise.  The arrival of the black Mercedes indicated that we might be fortunate this time.

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We arrived at the President’s office and went through security.  We eventually met President Kagame in one of his meeting rooms (not the meeting room where we last met though).  I shared some updates with him since our last meeting and Dr. Tippens gave additional details about the university and how Pepperdine could be helpful in Rwanda.  The President was pleased and recommended that the visit to Pepperdine be prioritize.  The difficult, of course, is finding the time on his busy calendar.  Any trip to the U.S. is quickly cannibalized by many demands for his time.

Early this morning, prior to the meeting with President Kagame, Dr. Tippens and I met with one of my favorite people in Rwanda, Tharcisse Karugarama, the Minister of Justice.  Tharcisse has hosted many Pepperdine students and is our main liaison with the country of Rwanda.  We discussed strategy and thought through a potential pre-president visit by Tharcisse and the members of Rwanda’s Justice Sector.  We are hoping to have a delegation in the fall.

Stay tuned for much more to come as these important visits develop in the coming months!

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