In this series, we interview Nicholas Kihangire, a final year LL.M. student from Uganda, East Africa. He is currently researching and writing his thesis on “The conflict between the governing law of the arbitration agreement/contract and the law of the arbitral seat”and also finds time to intern with YangTze Law (YTL), the first and only exclusively Chinese-owned UK law firm with offices in Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
1. Who is Nicholas Kihangire? Why did you choose to study law? Why did you choose to study it at STL?
I am a 30-year-old Ugandan licensed lawyer, husband to Jemimah Owomugasho, who is currently a Masters Programme Student at Peking University PHBS Business School, and a father to a one Kyle Ahangire Mugambe.
Before coming to China, I worked as a Legal Associate with Uganda’s biggest Law Firm Kampala Associated Advocates (DENTONS Uganda). I also worked as a Junior Lecturer at Uganda Christian University where I assisted in teaching Company law and Criminal law.
I got to know about STL through Professor Elaine Campbell who was the Director of Graduate and International Programs at the time. She was very instrumental during the entire application process.
My decision to join STL was informed primarily by three factors. First, China has become Africa’s largest trading partner since 2009. With the Belt and Road Initiative, China has become an indispensable economic partner. As a practising lawyer, and due to the tremendous increase of Chinese Foreign Direct investment in Uganda, I have had the opportunity to represent some of the biggest Chinese State-Owned Enterprises currently operating in Uganda. It became increasingly clear that a lawyer with a thorough understanding of both cultures stands to offer better legal services. STL offered me the platform from which I could achieve this understanding.
Secondly, Peking University is a top ranking University with a fantastic reputation. The uniqueness of STL’s LL.M. program distinguishes it from other Universities. It offers a variety of classes and one is at liberty to select the classes that fit their career aspirations.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, my wife and I were very lucky to get joint admission and scholarships from the Chinese Scholarship Council, STL and PHBS. This meant that I could study with her in the same university without separation anxiety. This still feels like a dream. Not many couples are that lucky.
2. What were your first days at Shenzhen and STL like? Did you experience some culture shock?
I arrived in the summer and the weather was very hot and humid. For the first time in my life, I struggled to sleep under the air conditioning. In Uganda, people do not sleep with air conditioning on. It is not necessary because temperatures at night range from 18 to 24 degrees. This was a rough start but I got used to it with time. I found people extremely nice and friendly. I had a wonderful student buddy, Celia. She did everything humanly possible to ensure I am comfortable. My biggest cultural shock perhaps could be the fact that people here, with the exception of couples, are generally less handsy in their greetings. Where I am from, we greet in many ways: handshakes, hugs, fist bumps, a pat on the back, and sometimes a kiss on the cheek. On several occasions, I would bump into a Chinese friend and would not know what to do.
3. STL’s programme has been described as unique and innovative, and while it is challenging, students are bound to find it rewarding. Do you share these assessments? And if so, did you have any favourite courses? Were your course preferences, if any, informed by your liking of the teaching style of particular professors?
Oh Yes, I do. STL’s programme is very unique and innovative. All the courses I took were equally challenging and enriching. My favourite courses can be divided into two categories, theoretical and practical. For the theoretical classes, International Commercial Arbitration by Professor Won Kidane and Treaty Arbitration by Professor Mark Feldman were my favourites. I was blown away by the depth of knowledge exhibited by these Professors. For the practical classes, Cross-Cultural Negotiations by Professor Ray Campbell and International Business Negotiations by Professor Jay Gary Finkelstein exceeded my expectations. We often conducted simulations and sometimes real negotiations with students from other Universities. These classes enhanced my negotiation abilities.
4. Currently, apart from your thesis work, you are interning at YTL, the first and only exclusively Chinese-owned UK law firm with offices in Shenzhen and Hong Kong offering legal services to Chinese enterprises in various areas of law. In your quest for an internship, what kind of leverage, if any, do you think your study at STL gave you? As an intern at YTL, what aspects of your work do you find gratifying and what are the challenges?
At YTL, I work under the Department of African Affairs and part of my job is to provide legal services to Chinese investors entering the African markets, especially East Africa. Courses such as International Business Transactions, International Business Negotiations, International Commercial Arbitration and Treaty Arbitration have equipped me with the necessary legal ammunition to begin a career in cross-border practice. International Arbitration transcends legal jurisdictions. My legal career can progress without needing to get additional certifications for these jurisdictions. Perhaps the most important benefit of studying at STL is the platform it gives me for understanding the Chinese Culture. It is this understanding of Chinese culture that places me in a unique position to adequately advise Chinese Investors entering the African markets. Being the only Ugandan licensed Lawyer practising in China, it gives me a distinct opportunity to play an important role in the Sino-African relations by building a cultural bridge between Chinese investors and African companies. The major challenge is still the language. Whereas I am actively taking classes, my Chinese language proficiency is still at HSK Level 2. Learning a new language takes a while so I have to continuously make effort to learn and improve.
5. You have been invited to attend and speak at the Legal Risk Prevention Training for Trade and Investment along "Belt & Road" Countries and Exchange Meeting Between International Business Communities this summer. Can you explain how you think the "Belt & Road" Initiative will shape the relationship between China and Africa? How do international legal talents factor in this relationship?
At YTL, we practice multi-jurisdictional laws especially along the “Belt & Road” Initiative. As a result, I have been privileged to speak at various Legal Risk Prevention Forums. The Belt & Road Initiative is the biggest project of the 21st Century. In the last 3 years, China has invested about USD 170 billion in Africa. At the recently concluded Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China pledged to invest an additional USD 60 Billion in projects along the Belt and Road initiative covering human resource development, telecommunications, construction of roads, bridges and seaports. We are bound to see a steady increase in investments in Africa. Some of these projects take longer to and, in some cases, they fail due to differences in the cultural work framework. As Transnational lawyers, we are required to be culturally competent and act as a bridge between the Chinese investors and other parties along the Belt and Road. This requires us to have a thorough understanding of the variant legal frameworks, be able to approach regulatory authorities on behalf of investors, carry out comprehensive due diligence, and advise on the best mode to carry out business and dispute resolution mechanisms long before a dispute arises.
We are likely to see an increase in African exports to China. By the end of 2017, statistics by China Customs indicated that China’s imports from Africa had reached USD 75.26 Billion. With better connectivity along the Belt and Road, coupled with China’s recent pledge to open more markets to African products, there is going to be a substantial increase in imports from Africa to China.
6. What is your greatest achievement in life so far? If your twenty-year-old self were to see you now, what would he think?
I am relatively a young man, just turned 30. Besides my legal education and having an opportunity to work for the biggest law Firm in Uganda, of all the things I have done so far, finding the love of my life and being a father brings me the greatest joy. I don’t know if there is anything greater.
7. You recently became a father, how has that changed your view of life, and can we hope that one day your son will join STL’s outstanding community. We know he’ll make the grades because he is a chip off the young-old block.
Being a father takes away all the self-centeredness. You start living and working for your wife and children. It has been challenging balancing babysitting and class commitments but the joy of holding your child makes you forget about all the challenges. Seeing your baby grow day by day and learning to smile back is the purest of joys. Our son is, by and large, a Peking University child. He was born here - Building 5 is his first home. I hope 20 years from today he considers joining this wonderful institution. It would be a story written in the stars.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few people who have been extremely helpful in my time here. Professors Ray and Elaine Campbell, they have been our godparents in China and they opened their home to us. Then there is John Aycock and Zoe Dai who have always been there when needed. My wife and I deeply appreciate what they have done for us.
8. Finally, what would be your advice to the recently admitted LL.M. international students at STL? And for the students who are going to apply to STL?
STL offers many classes. As a result, there is a temptation to enroll for as many classes as possible. Although this enriches a person’s general knowledge, I think if one is to develop an expertise, they need select courses that are in sync with their career aspirations. Also, if possible, I would advist the new students to try and meet their credits requirements by the end of their first year and use the second year for finding a job.
To those applying, the future is in the East (China) not the USA or Europe and STL offers a platform to become part of the new narrative. STL is as competitive as any other top University in the world. Students here will be at the right place at the right time. I encourage them to take advantage of the many scholarship opportunities available.
1. Nicholas Kihangire是谁？你为什么选择学习法律？你为什么选择在STL学习呢？
我是一名30岁的乌干达执业律师，是Jemimah Owomugasho的丈夫，Jemimah Owomugasho现在是北京大学PHBS商学院的硕士研究生，也是Kyle Ahangire Mugambe的父亲。
哦，是的，我喜欢。STL的项目非常独特和创新。我上的所有课程都同样富有挑战性和丰富多彩。我最喜欢的课程可以分为两类，理论和实践。在理论课上，我最喜欢Won Kidane教授进行的国际商事仲裁和Mark Feldman教授进行的条约仲裁。我被这些教授所展示的渊博知识所折服。在实践课上，Ray Campbell教授的跨文化谈判和Jay Gary Finkelstein教授的国际商务谈判超出了我的预期。我们经常与其他大学的学生进行模拟，有时是真正的谈判。这些课程提高了我的谈判能力。
如果我没有提到一些人，他们在我在这里的时间里帮了我很大的忙，那我就是失职了。Ray教授和Elaine Campbell教授，他们是我们在中国的教母，他们向我们开放了他们的家。还有John Aycock和 Zoe Dai，他们总是在需要的时候出现。我和妻子非常感激他们为我们所做的一切。