Hot Docs Review: African Moot [Shameela Seedat, 2022]


“May it please the Court, I beg Your Excellencies’ indulgence to expound on the meaning of a MOOT as opposed to that in the vernacular?”
“Senior council, it is a mock trial. This particular one on the human rights of refugees.”

Let’s just wind back. This is a documentary about a student debate team competition, with none of the typical lack of gravitas. Slyly against interlaced shots of the servers and the humdrum of the city, polished, well-manner students with sartorial class argue in shiny conference facilities. The implicit conflict between the intellectual wealth of the African (future) elite and the stereotypical, Western view of the state of African lives is plain to see. The equivalence with any institutional elite, be it Asian, European, or any other social order, is also clear. This is of course further contrasted by a celebration of intellectual achievement and the visceral weight of the matter at hand.

However, unlike their counterparts elsewhere, these students have a keen awareness that their own worlds can also fall apart with short notice. It’s never far removed from their mind. So, this is very different from a Scripps National Spelling Bee or an Intel Science and Engineering Fair. Besides coaching from their own debate mentors, as preparations, students visit practicing refugee lawyers and interview refugees in clinics. They are given a fictional but clearly relevant case, where they must argue both sides of the situation and often against their personal beliefs. It exposes those who do not examine the situation fairly and comprehensively. It also exposes the students to clear disparities between African states, from which perspective a pan-African union seems just as unreachable in the present as the pan-European notion did.

Normally, I find debates pointless. Stimulating thoughts simply for the sake of contest is merely intellectually amusing. But this was a case of forcing steam through fissures in both law and morals, and upon fictional structures. Was this a simple test of knowledge of the letter of the law, or were the students used, cynically, as quality control on the existing laws and conventions? Will potential loopholes and limitations be re-examined? In that light, these exercises could be a far more healthy and impactful case-studies, when viewed against the spelling bee’s effect on Scrabble. As the outro pointed out in a less than subtle manner: the numbers of refugees and internally displaced people around the world continues to rise. We will never build walls tall enough to keep all of us out.

Posted on by Gary in Hot Docs