How tough is it to become a lawyer in East Africa?

Dar es Salaam. Being an advocate in the East African bloc is not a tea party, according to law school exam results.

In recent years, three East African countries, namely Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, have reported massive failures in exams that would allow students to become advocates.

In the just released results of the bar exam for the 2021 academic year in Tanzania, only 4.1 percent passed the exam and are now awaiting swearing-in before the Chief Justice. The percentage represents 26 out of 633 students who sat the exam.

For its part, Uganda reports show that only 9.8 percent of students aspiring to become lawyers passed the exams for the 2019-2020 academic year, leading to calls for the law school to be abolished.

The percentage suggests that only 145 out of 1,474 students who took the exam were given the green light to continue practicing law.

According to the reports from Kenya, only 18.4 percent of the students who passed the bar exam in 2018 passed.

According to this, only 290 of 1,572 students who started the exam passed the exam, which caused concern in the National Council and in legal practice and necessitated urgent restructuring measures.

While advocacy groups blame the universities for producing bad students, others have pointed the finger at the incompetence of the Law School of Tanzania (LST) faculty and the short duration of the course.

“In short, universities bring us immature students and make them (students) unable to cope with what they need to sail through,” said LST deputy director Zakayo Lukumay.

He said some students who receive them are not proficient in the English language.

“With LST exams, in some cases, a single question can cover the entire page. If the question is not understood due to language barriers, this can result in the question not being answered correctly,” explained Prof Lukumay.

During a Twitter space chat organized by Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL), Fulgence Massawe, a lawyer, said the difficulties in passing the bar exam were due to the high status the career holds.

“Given the respect the career has earned, those who currently practice it feel few deserve to practice the law,” argued Mr Massawe. This mentality, he said, makes students afraid to go to law school because they fear they won’t make it.

This in turn affects the legal profession.

However, Mr Massawe said given that lawyers dealt with people’s lives, they could have smart brains.

“So the bar isn’t a simple test that you can just sit and pass. You have to actually read it and understand it,” he explained.

Lawyer Jebra Kambole said the main cause of the massive failure, particularly in Tanzania, was a short time to run the course.

It takes one year to complete the course; six months for attending the course and the other six for field work.

The vice chancellor of Saint Augustine University of Tanzania (Saut), Prof. Costa Mahalu, blamed the faculty for the failure of the law school.

He challenged LST instructors to think about whether they are doing their jobs perfectly.

“If you have 633 students, only 26, which is 4.1 percent, are successful. It’s a shame for the teachers because one of the main qualities of a teacher is to make their students successful with skills and knowledge in their fields,” he notes.

In 2019, a study found that nearly 80 percent of students taking their bar exams in Kenya each year failed, raising concerns among stakeholders and necessitating urgent restructuring measures.

As in Tanzania and Uganda, law school graduates in Kenya are required to attend the School of Law to complete their bar education program in order to sit their bar exams.

Those who pass the exams are later sworn in as barristers before the High Court of Kenya.