Tinenenji Banda, LL.M. ’07, grew up in Lusaka, the capital city of the African nation of Zambia, where she graduated from the International School of Lusaka. “Interacting with people from sixty countries was my point of entry into an international outlook,” she explains. “I always knew I would travel beyond my borders.” Her international interests have informed her choices of what—and where—to study.
Ms. Banda’s father, an accountant, encouraged her to learn. “Every night I would write the news of my day,” she says. “I developed a love of reading and analysis. If it weren’t for my dad, I wouldn’t be here at Cornell. He wanted me to make a global debut.”
Education in Zambia is not well funded, so Ms. Banda decided to attend the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “I chose South Africa because its educational and university systems are very good,” she says. “The University of Cape Town is one of the best in Africa.” At Cape Town, Ms. Banda studied law. (As with most universities outside the United States, law is an undergraduate curriculum.) “I wanted to do something that I would excel at,” she explains. “I enjoy analysis, finding out why things happen the way they do. The interdisciplinary thread is very important to me: law interacts with philosophy, history, economics, even theology.”
Studying law changed Ms. Banda’s ideas about the profession. “At first, you think of the law as a fountain of wisdom, but it’s really just a tool in your hands,” she recalls. “I was in love with the idea of being a lawyer in the abstract. Not until you study law will you know what it’s about. There has been a complete metamorphosis since I began law school.”
At Cape Town, she participated in the Human Rights Moot Court. Her team came in second in a competition with sixty-six schools from the whole African continent. “We missed first place by that much!” Ms. Banda exclaims, showing a tiny space between her thumb and forefinger. She also worked in the legal aid clinic, and participated in a school-edited journal run by several universities, winning the Spoor and Fisher Prize for Legal Writing. After graduation, Ms. Banda served as a researcher with the British Council, coauthoring a background paper for the Inter-Regional Conference on Justice Systems and Human Rights that was held in Brazil in September 2006.
Before the conference took place, however, Ms. Banda had become a legal intern at the International Bar Association in London. “They are the global voice of the legal profession,” she explains. “I was fascinated by the work they do—it ranges from human rights to international commercial arbitration.” At the International Bar Association, Ms. Banda worked on the outreach activities of the International Criminal Court. As the court has adjudicated in places like the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, it has learned of the need for engaging the community in its work. “Without outreach, the lawyers can’t do their work.”At first, Ms. Banda explains, all outreach was done by activists. Lawyers do it better, however, because they
understand how the court works and can engage community lawyers and legal systems. “Outreach is about access,” she says. “The court thought law was self-explanatory, but the local people are very important. Now I have an obsession with outreach.”
Ms. Banda came to Cornell after considering practicing law in South Africa. “I loved being there,” she says. “Their constitution is one of the most progressive, and a lot of laws are being rewritten. A country in transition has major implications for the law.” However, she decided to get her LL.M. degree first. With an undergraduate law degree, the LL.M. is like a master’s program. “If academia and further study interests you, you get an LL.M.,” she explains.
Cornell’s international focus attracted her, as well as the opportunity to design her own program. “I love this community,” she adds. “Everybody is so intellectually curious. I spend hours talking about politics with the people in my LL.M. class.” She served as research assistant to Cornell law professor Muna B. Ndulo, a fellow Zambian, investigating something called unconstitutional changes of government. When asked what that is, Ms. Banda laughs. “That means a military coup,” she admits.
Ms. Banda particularly enjoyed the class on corruption control taught by adjunct professor Ronald Goldstock. “He’s an amazing teacher,” she says. “He met and exceeded my expectations. I love American legal education. Where I come from, the professor has all the right answers.” Professor Goldstock, however, asked the class to work with him to define corruption. “You leave the class with more questions,” Ms. Banda says.
To answer some of these many questions, Ms. Banda is considering a Ph.D., perhaps researching how legal bodies in Africa might use the International Criminal Court outreach program. “I’m taking the Cornell Graduate Colloquium, where you learn to construct and pursue a scholarly agenda,” she notes. “I’m working on a research proposal.” She would like to do her Ph.D. in the United Kingdom, where the law doctorate is more structured.
“There is so much review throughout that I’ll come out with something publishable,” she explains. “And I’ll be learning law in yet another jurisdiction.”
When not studying or researching law, Ms. Banda says, she likes to meet with friends. “I love talking about issues, debating, verbal sparring,” she says. “And I like to walk around campus and think.” Also, she admits, she likes photography, “even though I’m completely amateur. I was fascinated when they took my picture for this article!”
Ms. Banda’s post-graduation plans include taking the New York State bar exam. Then she will continue to travel beyond her borders and develop a career in international law.