Challenges of Mooting in Africa: Our Experiences from FIAE

A moot court competition is a simulated court hearing where students act as attorneys in a fictional case. Many Ethiopian law students participate in international moot court competitions such as the Willem C. Vis Moot in Austria and the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in the USA.

The FIAE (originally FIS) Moot Competition is arguably the most distinguished moot court competition in Africa, where students from various African law schools argue a hypothetical case on international humanitarian law before the proposed African Court of Justice and Human Rights. This article emphasizes the experiences and lessons learned from the team that represented AAU at the fourth FIAE IHL moot competition.

The initial stages of participating in the FIAE Moot Competition involved submitting a motivational letter to the school and attending a virtual interview. Both steps went smoothly, and we were chosen to represent AAU in the FIAE Moot Court Competition. As soon as we met our coach, we immediately began reading the moot problem and drafting the pleadings.

One of the most challenging aspects of this rapid progression was our lack of knowledge in international humanitarian law, as we didn’t take the course. Additionally, the time constraints added significant stress. However, not only our coach but also an IHL instructor from our law school guided us through the competition through weekly meetings where he tracked our progress and recommended reading materials.

Once we had a clear understanding of our arguments and the overall field of IHL, our next step was to draft the pleadings. Our team coach provided memorials from previous years in formats, while our instructor offered his own samples. A significant challenge was transitioning our writing from an academic to an advocacy style. Memorials require a different legal language and format compared to academic writing. This shift was difficult for us and was a constant source of critique from both our team coach and instructor. We addressed this problem by following our instructor’s suggestion to use the IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion) method. We discovered that the main aim of the memorials is to elaborate on each provision and how it is relevant to the facts.

We had a few weeks to prepare for the oral rounds. We conducted even more research to ensure we felt confident in our arguments during the presentation. During our practice rounds with our team coach and instructor, the most significant feedback was to improve our cadence and tone. Our instructor encouraged us to speak more passionately and assertively. We found it challenging, and we realized its importance when the oral rounds began.

The first major challenge was being in our first moot court competition; we experienced a mix of excitement and stress. However, when it was time to present, we managed to overcome our nervousness. Time management was another significant challenge. As a team, we had a total of 35 minutes to divide. Initially, we decided to share the time equally (15 minutes each) and reserve the remaining 5 minutes for rebuttal. However, we found it difficult to present all our arguments within this limited time, so we had to rearrange.

Questions from the judges made it challenging to stay within our time limits. In the first round, we were faced with more questions and weren’t able to present our entire case, which had an immense influence on our time usage. But as the rounds went on, we pre-addressed those questions in our arguments and were able to lessen the number of questions raised; hence, we were able to present our arguments within the time given. In the preliminary rounds, we competed four times, twice from the prosecution side as well as the defense side.

Our first competition was from the prosecution side and less burdensome, but the second and third rounds were both from the defense side. We were the devil’s advocates, as the case was hard to defend considering the facts. In the last round, we were able to correct our mistakes from the first round, as we knew the questions to be raised and the core issues to focus on.

The first team we competed with had great preparation as they were able to tackle questions presented by the judges well, while the second team we competed with was from Kenya and later won the overall moot competition. What we grasped from this team were their presentation skills, which were all-rounded, passionate, and overall well presented. The third team was less prepared and not able to answer questions well, to the point of ignoring questions when asked, while the last team was well versed in their argument; they were from Zambia and stood first in the preliminary rounds.

We received both positive and negative feedback from the judges. They advised us to choose our strongest arguments and emphasize those strong points rather than focusing on all issues, including those to our disadvantage. Being all-rounded and having a roadmap were also given as advice from our judges to have a well-structured argument. But they also admired our knowledge of the law, our preparation, our calm presentation, and our time usage.

After completing the preliminary rounds, we managed to score a result of 84.69 out of 100, which was second place next to the team from Zambia with a score of 84.73. We were able to participate in the in-person rounds in Nigeria with the remaining eight teams. We wrote letters and emails to the heads of our college and AAU’s financial offices for visa payment, per diem, and flight fees. Sadly, we were unsuccessful in obtaining funding.

This was very disappointing because we had invested a lot of time and hard work for months. It was especially disappointing because, after our second-place victory in the preliminary rounds, we were motivated to win the competition. However, it wasn’t all in vain; we won the title of “the best defense memorial” and gained a wealth of knowledge from this experience, both in legal matters and life lessons.

Authors: Nigus Sintayehu and Nebyat Esubalew, School of Law, Addis Ababa University (AAU)

About the Authors:

Nigus Sintayehu is a law student at Addis Ababa University (AAU) and a Fellow in Young Lawyers Initiative (YLI). Nigus is also serving as the leadership Board Member of the YLI. He excelled in the 4th FIAE IHL moot competition, ranking 2nd and earning the title of Best Defense Memorial. Despite financial constraints preventing his participation in the advanced rounds, his impressive performance showcased his legal acumen and dedication to his studies. He can be reached at:

Nebyat Esubalew is a law student at Addis Ababa University (AAU), excelled in the 4th FIAE IHL moot competition, ranking 2nd and earning the title of Best Defense Memorial. Despite financial constraints preventing her participation in the advanced rounds, her impressive performance showcased her legal acumen and dedication to her studies. She can be reached at:

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