Teaching is his passion – meet Thoko Kaime

The Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies provides an interdisciplinary research setting, where doctoral students from all around the world can gain and further their knowledge in African Studies as a broad field of research. More than 80 students from 26 countries are currently pursuing their doctoral studies in various scientific fields, such as arts, political science, linguistics, geography or legal studies. With Thoko Kaime, new chair holder of the African Legal Studies Chair at the University of Bayreuth, students pursuing their interest in law can attend classes concerning the African continent. 

Thoko Kaime is a Malawian lawyer by training, who specializes primarily on public international law. His research interest concerns international environmental law and international human rights, with a focus on sustainability and governance as well as on children’s rights. His current projects are highly relevant both politically and socially. Thoko Kaime is not only a passionate lawyer, but also a dedicated teacher. Although he has worked in a consulting firm in London in the past, he found his passion in teaching. His passion motivated him to join academia, ultimately leading him to the University of Bayreuth. 

“The first duty of a professor is to teach” – Thoko Kaime

Studying law does not only mean to read a lot of books or run across the hallway of a law firm for 80 hours a week – let’s put aside the clichés – law permeates all spheres of our lives and can be linked with a multitude of perspectives in an interdisciplinary way. The interdisciplinary character of legal studies is one of the reasons Kaime came to Bayreuth. The Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence enables him to participate in interdisciplinary discussions as well as to use multiple methodologies. Approaching legal studies from a multidisciplinary point of view is a privilege Kaime is enjoying – “I am humbled to be in a space like that, where African scholars and Africanists can connect and work together”.

His chair is a platform which allows him to reach out to those who have little knowledge of African legal systems, but are pursuing a degree in legal studies. He wants to highlight the relation of both, focusing on issues such as human rights, sustainability and governance. By implementing an English Legal Curriculum students get the chance to participate in classes that deal with “domestic jurisdictions as well as examine international legal order” (from the ELC Website). Furthermore, a series on Human Rights took place in the last weeks (read more here), with a lot of different topics such as social (in-)justices or human dignity. The resonance is great. Many students, but also colleagues in and outside of Bayreuth, appreciate the work of the Chair of African Legal Studies. 

Besides his teaching activity, Thoko Kaime deals with many other pressing issues. Especially elements of energy justice and the access to it is an important matter which he pays attention to. Why is it so important? Many children don’t receive adequate education, because they don’t have access to energy and consequently also not to health services: “health workers can’t provide their service, because there is no electricity”. 

“Energy access is a human rights issue and energy justice is a key part of that”

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic many human rights are threatened. Working with Martin Schmidt-Kessel on contracts and Covid-19 on the one side, the access to energy is also an area where national African governments need to take responsibility. Let’s take one example: students who are forced to study from home, because their learning institutions shut down, need access to electricity in order to follow their studies. However, mobile data for example is quite expensive in many states. Kaime suggests that a regulatory framework must be put in place, to access the teaching material for free or a very low cost. This issue interferes with contracts that one country makes with (foreign) investors and institutions. However, the government needs to regulate their relations and manage licences. 

“We are living in quite exceptional times and there is need for some drastic measures, and those drastic measures do guarantee the continuing enjoyment of certain rights and governments should do that. Choices made by African states in relation to investment should be determined by the priorities by those African countries”.

Have African countries trusted international players long enough? Are foreign companies really supporting African economies or only their own interest?

Kaime identifies the problem in the capitalist system, where everything is based on competition. Placing trust in foreign companies often misses the point. The only development that can be observed at this point is the economic upswing of the investors themselves, but less so of the projects or governments on-site. Kaime argues that the government itself must be held accountable and presents the example of regional integration. Why, for example, does the European Union enjoy better trading terms with South Africa than Zambia or Malawi? 

With a view to regional integration, Kaime again takes up the example of energy supply. Since 1992 there has been an energy shortage in Southern Africa, although the Democratic Republic of Congo (and its Grand Inga Dam) has the possibility to produce enough energy with hydropower to cover 120% of the energy needs in Southern Africa. So why don’t the states join as one region? For the lawyer and professor, the answer lies in the competition between the countries and the investment in projects that are supposed to remain independent. The Southern African Development Community offers an institutional framework but is currently unable to establish a sustainable connection to the region. A connection can only be initiated with a civil society which shakes up the elites of each state. For Thoko Kaime, the University of Bayreuth is the perfect place to uncover and question connections, links and intersections, and to engage in further thinking with colleagues. 

The Chair of African Legal Studies is thus a place of critical thinking, where many students enjoy an education, which leads them to be ambitious thinkers themselves. 


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