The Jurist Who Defends the Rule of Law in Zambia

Valeria Saccone

“Being a relatively young leader in a patriarchal society is a job full of challenges.” In 2016, Linda Kasonde became the first woman to preside over the Law Association of Zambia in the history of the Bar Association pre- and post- Zambia’s independence in 1964. The mandate of the Law Association of Zambia is to promote and protect the rule of law, constitutionalism, good governance and social justice, as well as to regulate the legal profession in Zambia.

The Law Association also has the thankless task of dealing with sensitive questions regarding government and the rule of law. “These are the aspects that attract the greatest public attention. It often means getting into a conflict with the government,” says this lawyer, who advanced her studies by doing executive programs at IE and at Harvard. “If, like me, you have the bad luck of holding my position during a period of national elections, you’ll have to assume some risks and be rather audacious. That requires courage, and courage is what makes the difference between achieving greatness and losing hope,” she adds.

Attaining her position, which was traditionally held by men, wasn’t easy. It meant unbreakable will and seven years of hard work, during which Kasonde was previously the Vice-president and the Honorary Secretary of the Association. Since reaching the top of the Law Association of Zambia she’s had to fight several battles. One of the biggest challenges that the Association has faced was disputing the Zambian Government’s position that ministers could remain in office after the dissolution of Parliament. The Law Association went to the Constitutional Court and sued every Minister and deputy Minister in their individual capacities for remaining in office after the dissolution of Parliament.

“As President of the Association, I wasn’t very popular with the government, and was discredited by the news media. But we defended our positions, and four days before the general elections the Constitutional Court ruled in our favour. It not only established that the ministers would have to leave their position after the dissolution of Parliament, but also ordered that they return their salaries and any emoluments they had received during the period in which they had illegally occupied their position. It was an historic decision. What I’m trying to say is that leadership brings with it many challenges. Doing the right thing and doing it well isn’t for the weak”, says Kasonde, who mentions that her period at IE helped her perfect the skills for managing a crisis.

Kasonde says that during her road toward the presidency of the Association she was accused of being overly ambitious. “We live in a world where false modesty is praised and genuine self-confidence is denigrated, where being ordinary is seen as a virtue, and being ambitious –even for unselfish reasons– is considered a vice. In other words, if you want to be popular, don’t be a leader,” she adds.

In spite of the difficulties involved in being the first president of a conservative association, she says the result has been positive. “When women see other women in influential positions, they realize that they can also do it,” she says. Kasonde says that life has taught her to believe in yourself, to be willing to learn and to teach, not to place limits on oneself, and to never to give up on your dreams and aspirations.

“All this is important for any woman who aspires to leadership in any part of the world, not just Zambia. They have always told us what we can do and can’t do. This explains why there are so few women leaders in the world. Many women feel they are not good enough or that it’s too difficult. Having confidence in yourself is the key, because when you try to do something new there are often people who will tell you that you can’t. On many occasions you will be the only person who believes in you,” she says.

For her, being a woman with influence is always harder. “You just have to look at the presidential election in the United States or the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. Women are more susceptible to these kinds of attacks,” she points out. Global data is revealing: only 23.3% of the deputies all over the world are women, and according to the magazine Forbes, of the leadership positions in business, only 24% are occupied by women.

Kasonde emphasizes that a woman who chooses to be a leader can’t be afraid of failure. She also stresses the importance of colleagues in reaching her goals. “I don’t think we include men enough. Without getting them involved, we can’t win this battle.” In her opinion, the key for women who want to make a difference is in being resilient and having a clear will to lead.

Kasonde says it is gratifying to have been nominated for the EPIC Alumni Awards. “It’s encouraging to be recognized for the work you do, and if I should win I want to be able to inspire other women to achieve their full potential. It’s been a hard road and it’s good to know that there are people who appreciate my work,” she says.