“The role of an activist lawyer is to provide a check to corporate power and ensure that human rights, environmental rights, wildlife, etc are preserved and protected through litigation, advocacy, or research,”- Lenin Tinashe Chisaira
Richelle Mead while understanding that there are little gems all around us that can hold glimmers of inspiration, must have been directly referring to our Millennial feature, Lenin Tinashe Chisaira, an activist, socialist, writer, and environmental lawyer based in Harare, Zimbabwe as the gem. He is the Founder and Director of Advocates4Earth, a non-profit, public interest environmental law, climate, and wildlife justice organisation based in Harare, Zimbabwe but focusing on Global South.
He studied at the University of Zimbabwe where he was Vice President of the Students Union. He has worked for the Zimbabwe Labour Centre, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association and the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development. He also founded the Progressive Centre for Human Rights and Economic Justice in Zimbabwe (ProJusticeZim) and the opinion website AfricaFightNow.org. He likes researching economic justice, environmental justice, human rights and leftist democracy. He is currently working – in addition to research, opinions and academic papers- on his first novel.
His work consists of public interest litigation, and global advocacy at global UN Climate and Wildlife Conferences. He has also contributed to some legal textbooks and academic journals on climate change and wildlife law and policy. He is the author of Fighting Still: Perspectives on Economic, Social and Political Independence in Zimbabwe, and Responsible Investment in the Natural Resources Sector: An analytical profile of the Mining Industry in Zimbabwe. He is also a recipient of the Top 100 Young African Conservation Leaders.
1. What makes legal practice exciting for Lenin?
For Lenin, legal practice is diverse and touches on the lives of many people and communities. As the public interest environmental lawyer that he is, he feels he is part of a movement to safeguard the future of our planet, our species, our future generations, and our nations. He is the Founder and Director of Advocates4Earth, a non-profit, public interest environmental law, climate, and wildlife justice organisation based in Zimbabwe but focusing on Global South issues.
He especially likes using the law to challenge corporates and public bodies that are neglecting their duties of environmental and human rights protection. He has led his team in challenging big corporates such as the Zimbabwe Phosphate Industries Limited which was endangering a Ramsar Convention wetland in Harare. His team has also conducted public interest litigation concerning the wildlife trade.
Public interest environmental legal work also entails lots of networking and travelling, for instance, He has attended the UN Climate Change Conferences, Cop24 and CoP25 in Poland and Spain respectively as well as the UN Wildlife Conference (CITES CoP18) in Geneva, Switzerland in 2019.
2. What is his philosophy of impacting the nation through the practice of the law?
He subscribes to the Critical and Eco-Socialist legal theories when it comes to approaches to law practice. He feels that legal rules and statutes should not be taken in isolation from broader societal relations. He understands that societal relations ranging from the exploitative relations between humans and natural resources, relations between business owners and employees, or between powerful people and institutions with ordinary people.
“The role of an activist lawyer is to provide a check to corporate power and ensure that human rights, environmental rights, wildlife, etc are preserved and protected through litigation, advocacy, or research,” Lenin notes.
3. What is the next big thing Lenin is working on?
Recently he was listed as one of the Top 100 Young African Conservation Leaders as well as one of the global Bertha Justice Fellows 2020-21. Going forward, he hopes to increase value as an environmentalist and a lawyer.
He is working on two exciting projects that amplify his work as an activist public interest environmental lawyer. One of these relates to the building of a social network to connect activists, sustainability, and justice issues. The network is called: “Liberated.Zone”. It is envisaged that this network will also enable people to sign up and share alerts on environmental and human rights damage, view and access legal statutes as well as draft legal documents online.
The second big thing he is working on is a global online marketplace that links suppliers and buyers of sustainable goods and services. This will be available on PlanetFriendly.Shop
4. What does Lenin consider the millennials’ greatest strength?
“Our greatest strength as millennials is that we are one of the most innovative generations.” Lenin quips.
He understands that millennials have seen several disruptions emanating from the generation. In Africa, he believes millennials need to be at the forefront of reforming legal systems to make sure that it leads to a fairer and more equal, more just, more sustainable, and more solidarity-oriented society. The way law has been practised for a long time has been too elitist and too expensive for ordinary people, Lenin notes. Hence, he believes millennials should be working on enabling easier access to laws worldwide. This is one of the goals he has as part of the “Liberated.Zone” Project.
5. Who, in the profession does he look up to, and what is he currently reading?
He reads lots of stuff. At the moment he is reading chapter contributions on a book he was part of, titled Human Rights and the Environment under African Union Law published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2020. He contributed a chapter on “Human Rights and Energy in a Neoliberal Southern Africa.”
In terms of role models within the profession, he has no single person in particular but he admires all public interest lawyers, working according to their morals and philosophies and making the world a better place regardless of financial reward.