Life is unpredictable and often inexplicable. We think we can control it, use it and misuse it…we take it for granted.
We steal, cheat and even kill in search of a “better life”… We would even die to live happily.
It is a huge contradiction, and only when someone close to us loses this precious and mysterious gift do we start asking ourselves, “What’s life?”
I had already written a piece on the woes alternative dispute resolution is facing in our country, but something brusque happened, and my thoughts were left wondering.
Cindy Yvette Wakio was a brilliant 22-year-old “almost” lawyer. She had finished her fourth-year exams a month ago, and did the last corrections to her dissertation just two weeks ago. She was set to graduate on June 29.
She had already received four job offers, two from international courts, two from big law firms in Kenya and one from the Law School. Her life seemed to have been sorted.
NOT A TRADITIONAL MOOTER
Cindy was the eldest of three children and perhaps the closest one to her mother, a nurse at Kenyatta National Hospital. Cindy was humble, straightforward and did not want to be the centre of attention despite her beauty. She was no ordinary student. She described herself as “a young lady with an ambition to leave a trail”.
After obtaining an A in her KCSE at Precious Blood – Riruta, she won a scholarship to do law at Strathmore. She always claimed she did not want to do law initially; she was shy and her speech was slow. But once she started and got the hang of it she loved it.
Cindy was shy and her words came out slowly, as if each word had been carefully measured and calculated; it looked like her brain could go much faster than her mouth. She was accurate and exact in her pronouncements; no word was laid to waste.
Mooting is quite popular and prestigious among law students. It is like being in the rugby team of a boys’ school.
Mooters are cool people. They get a real feel of fear, of litigation, courtroom environment, counter-arguments and judges.
Cindy’s character and demeanour did not fit the traditional mooter. Yet, she trained and forced herself to like it. She won her first international moot in 2014, a few months after starting law.
Cindy’s skills became better and she started training her classmates, sometimes older than her. In her almost four years at Strathmore Law School, she won the All Africa IHL Moot Court (2014), the All Kenyan Moot Court Competition (2015), the SIASIC ICL Moot (2016) and the International Nuremberg Moot Court (2017).
She was also the Best Female Oralist at the All Kenyan Moot Court Competition (2015), the Best Prosecution Counsel Award at the SIASIC Moot Court (2016), the Best Oralist at Nuremberg Moot Court 2017, the Best Oralist at the ICRC National Moot Court (2014), and the Best Oralist at the 9th Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition.
She won an internship at Kaplan & Stratton Advocates and a three-month attachment at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, in The Hague.
Mooting competitions were not her only strength. She liked sports and music, and played the guitar quite well. She was famous in her church choir.
While at Law School, she also co-authored and published a law book. It was a Commentary on the Principle of Non-Refoulment in Refugee Law: Challenges and Opportunities, published by Lambert Academic Publishing in 2015.
GONE AHEAD OF US
I will always remember the day I asked her, after a Public International Law class, “Cindy, you know all the answers to the questions I am asking in class, why do you keep quiet?” She said slowly, “I don’t want people to think I know it all; it is also good for my friends to have a go.”
On Thursday, May 31, I received a telephone call just before 7pm. “We are at Kenyatta Hospital… Cindy has just died.” Alex said.
My phone kept ringing. Humphrey, Allan, Roy, Melissa and Sandra had also reached. Classmates and friends rapidly flocked into Kenyatta. Cindy’s body lay there, immobile, lifeless. Nobody could explain what nobody understood. Everybody asked what nobody knew.
Cindy had felt unusually weak on Thursday morning, and her mother took her to hospital. Her pulse slowly stopped. The doctors do not know yet what could have happened.
Cindy had just gone ahead. From her little window in heaven she now reminds us that life on earth is just the prologue to a greater book.
Cindy’s life has shaken our consciences. Her death is a call to self-examination. Natasha, one of her colleagues, called me from New York, where she got a three-month internship at the World Youth Alliance. She could not believe it.
Natasha was born in Rwanda, and she is also an amazing poet and spoken-word artist. I asked her to write something quick for Cindy’s mother.
After a few minutes, she sent me a simple and beautiful poem that I would like to share with the readers, in honour of a great soul, Cindy, whose short life will remain as one of the most beautiful chapters in the memory of her teachers and friends:
Faster than we can heal
Left to climb out of pain, so deep
To find words piled in heaps
At the bottom of these lungs...
Before we can say how we feel
About how beautifully one life
Can paint the rest of ours
With colours impossible to erase
You were a rainbow
You were many stars in one
Thank you for brightening our sky
May you take your heavenly place,
Eternally, in peace.
We'll always miss you
Rest In Peace... Cindy
Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected]; Twitter: @lgfranceschi