‘One-on-one’: Malawi’s first trained Sharia lawyer Sherif Kaunde

*Mangochi District in the Southern Malawi, the hub of the Yao belt is often synonymous with fish mongers overpopulation, high illiteracy levels, small-scale business ventures, early marriages and of late selling of (human) blood. A quick mention that ‘one’ come from Mangochi, triggers immediate stereotypes that he (or she) is not ‘highly educated’, but as Nyasa Times  Senior Journalist and Columnist Peter Makossah, referred to herein as (PM) talks to UK based Immigration Advisor, Sheriff Kaunde (SK) first-ever Malawian trained Shari’a Lawyer, who is also Founder and Managing Partner of Liberty Immigration Services UK Limited, and founding Chairperson of Muslim Association of Malawi UK, who believes that  education must be taken seriously among young Malawians.

Here is an inspirational story of an ordinary but highly ambitious young man from Mangochi who’s rising above the tides of misconception and making it extraordinarily big on the world stage…

Excerpts

PM: “Who is Sheriff Kaunde?”

SK: “Briefly, Sheriff Kaunde is a Yao from Chomba village, T/A Mponda in Mangochi District. I did my primary school at Mangochi Muslim Seminary and Secondary school at Blantyre Islamic Mission. After attaining the Malawi School’s Certificate of Education in 1994, I won the King Faisal’s scholarship by the Saudi Government to go and study at the Islamic University in the Holy city of Madina. I attained my first degree in Islamic (shari’a) Law in 1999 before migrating to the United Kingdom to pursue an LLB (Hons) and a Master of Law (LLM) at Leicester Demontfort University. I also hold a post graduate diploma of Legal Practice Course (LPC) from the Leicester Institute of Legal Practice. I’m married with two children.”

Sharif Kaunde

PM: “How did you get the King Faisal scholarship?”

SK: “In the past, every year in the past, a delegation from Saudi Arabia used to come to Malawi to award outstanding students at Blantyre Islamic Mission and I was interviewed and excelled and outshone the rest of my mates and thus I was awarded a scholarship to study anything and I’d set my ambitions in becoming a lawyer….”

PM: “Are you a first Malawian ‘Shari’a lawyer’?”

SK: Yes, I am. And I hope that in future there will be many.”

PM: “Ever worked as an attorney in Malawi?”

SK: “Yes. I worked for Sacranie, Gow and Company for a number of months before returning back to the United Kingdom where I joined North West Leicestershire District Council and worked as an advisor in 2007.”

PM: “Is that all?”

SK: “No! While in Malawi, I served as a board member for the Malawi Posts Corporation by the Malawi Government from 2005 to 2006. This is one of my most exciting experiences in my life’s journey.

PM: “And what are you doing at the moment?”

“Currently, I am a founding Partner and Principal legal advisor of Liberty Immigration UK Services Ltd. A Malawian owned legal firm in the UK… ”

PM: “Interesting…!”

SK: “I founded Liberty Immigration services Ltd in July 2011 in Leicester, United Kingdom with my partners. Initially, we started trading as Liberty Legal Services and the idea was to offer at least more than one area of law such as matrimonial, commercial and immigration law…”

PM: “And you have changed in the way you operate?”

SK: Yes we have. Today, we are known as Liberty Immigration Services Ltd, a name that reflect and echo our work and expertise in the field of Immigration and asylum law.

PM: “So you don’t operate in other areas of law?”

SK: “No, we don’t. We only specialise in immigration and asylum laws.”

PM: “Why?”

SK: “The idea was to help and bring about Malawi’s own legal services for all Malawians in the UK and diaspora. I felt that Malawi was lagging behind and there was a huge gap in the legal market that needed to be filled. Malawians in the UK are part of the large migrant society; thus they also need to have their own immigration experts to guide them through the system.”

PM: “What is your goal?”

SK: “We aim to provide knowledgeable and objective advice on all aspects of UK Asylum, Immigration and Nationality Law. We strive to achieve the highest possible standards in service delivery by offering the best quality of work. Our intent is to establish a relationship of trust and respect through effective communication, confidentiality and honesty…”

PM: “What makes your legal firm stand out?”

SK: “Firstly, as a Malawian firm we’ve Malawians at heart first. Financial gain is not our main motivation, rather, our goal is to focus on the problem at hand realising that a client’s problem is more important than the money paid to us. There has to be a happy ending all the time and at Liberty Immigration Services everybody wins. With expertise in Shari’a law I’ve an added advantage. We’ve many clients from the Middle East. Having lived in Saudi Arabia I made so many friends there, who are now able to channel legal work to me. We also do a chunk of work on business immigration that sometimes involves working as intermediary for our clients abroad.”

PM: “How important is your Firm to Malawi?”

SK: “Our firm benefit Malawi as a country circuitously. Our fees are reasonable to Malawians as charge them at a reduced 10%. We believe that migration helps in the development of the country, So Malawi obviously also benefits from its citizens presently living and working in the United Kingdom, hence the more people we help the more the motherland benefits. We’ve so far helped many Malawians acquire work and residence permits in the United Kingdom. Subsequently, I hope that these people will contribute to our country’s development positively through financial remittances.

PM: “How else?

SK: “We’ve embarked on an experience scheme especially for Malawian boys and girls willing to pursue Law as a career here in UK and back home. Our plan is to have as many legally trained boys and girls as possible.

PM: “Apart from being a solicitor is there more that you do?”

 

SK: “I am also a founding Chairperson of the Malawi Muslim Community in the UK (MAMCO-UK), a charity organisation that seeks to bring together Muslims of Malawian origin living in the UK.

PM: “Why did you form this grouping?”

SK: “I formed this organisation to enhance and augment unity and togetherness among Malawian Muslims in the UK and their brethren back home.”

PM: “How does this group benefit its members and Malawians at large?”

SK: “The group provides to the members a sense of belonging. It is a forum where we share our common interests. If someone is in trouble we come together and help one another. We are a big Malawian family.  Since 2008 we’ve been assisting students and needy Malawians not only Muslims, both in Malawi and the UK. We also fundraise funds for charities in Malawi…”

PM: “Mangochi where you come from is one of Malawi’s overpopulated districts and has the highest illiteracy levels, what motivated you to step up on education?

PM: “It was my late father who’d the vision to send me and my siblings to school. He was a learned Sheikh (in the Islamic sense) and was well exposed. He’d travelled as far as Tanzania and Zimbabwe so he had wanted his children to be educated thus he sent all of us to an Islamic madrassah.  My father taught at a madrassah and his philosophy was always hinged on people acquiring knowledge as ordained by Islam.

PM: “There’s a general misconception about the Yaos not taking education seriously. Is this true?

SK: “Indeed there is great misconception in Malawi about Yaos not taking education seriously. However, this is a fallacy and myth which overtime has been proved to be untrue. Yaos, just as any other tribe in Malawi, strive to acquire quality education. In fact, unadulterated history teaches us that it’s Yao Chiefs in Malawi like Mponda, Makanjira and Katuli who were the first to have scribes who could document their chieftaincy affairs. Yao Chiefs were the first to have proper records of their governance in Malawi, though they were using Arabic Alphabets to do so. Today, there are many qualified Yaos in all disciplines. The myth that we’re not serious about education is a ploy by those who want to keep the Yaos away from the national economic cake…”

PM:  As Shari’a lawyer, how does that make you different from other lawyers?

SK: “Not much of a difference, in principle, but it makes me a global lawyer.  There’s a huge demand of Islamic law lawyers in the UK and clients are now looking for services such as Shari’ah-compliant wills, property purchases, re-mortgages and financing. Knowledge of Arabic language is key in the life of a shari’a lawyer and I fluently speak Arabic.

PM: “How does Shari’a law fit into ‘other facets of life other than the Muslim world where it is practiced?”

SK: “Islam is a relatively new feature in the English landscape, empathizing with Muslim clients may seem a challenge to those who know little about Islam. If you’re in a position to understand your Muslim clients as regards the Shari’a as well as English law, you can help them better…”

PM: “Why do Muslims prefer Shari’a law to the conformist edicts?”

SK “(Muslims) believe that the Shari’a is not in any need of alteration or reformation, because they believe that God got it right first time. Differences of opinion only arise, as with all laws, when it comes to human interpretation. Manmade law is sometimes in harmony with the Shari’a and sometimes at variance with it.

PM: “Who else is in your firm?”

SK: “I’ve a management team that comprises of Suraiya Ziaullah LLB (Hons) and Nicholas Boachie LLB (Hons) Apart from myself as a founding partner…”

Kaunde in his office

How can people find you?

SK: “We’re situated in Leicester City Centre (on 9 Upper King Street) and we take instructions over the phone and directly or by email or in person. Our 24-hour hotline is             0044 7842 484370       and our email is [email protected]

PM: “You last word?”

SK: “Anybody can achieve anything in life regardless of circumstances as long as he or she is focused and determined to live the dream. Don’t just dream, wake-up and chase it to live it…

PM: “Thank you for your time!”

 

*Do you have or know anybody who has what it takes to be featured on Nyasa Times’s ONE-On-ONE Exclusive Interview? Then contact the host, Peter Makossah at [email protected] or the editor at  editor.n[email protected]

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