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Elvis Fokala

Alumni Profile: Elvis Fokala

Project Manager, Children's Rights Unit, Center for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

Elvis Fokala has a Ph.D. in Public International Law. He is specialized in Child Law and works at the Centre for Human Rights of the best faculty of Law in Africa.

I have been given the rare and cherished opportunity to combine academic work and advocacy.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you?
My name is Elvis Fokala. I am originally from Cameroon and the first in a family of 5 children. I was born and bread in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon.

I speak a couple of languages amongst which English, French and Swedish are dominant. I learnt Swedish during my time in Finland and will never forget how I felt and still feel very comfortable with the language. I give credit to my language teacher at Åbo Akademi University, Charlotta Sandberg, my colleagues and friends who became family – so many of them. I won’t name them for fear of leaving out some, who were very instrumental. These friends helped me to practice Swedish. Det är nästan 4 år sedan jag lämnade Finland, men min svenska är ganska okej.

What subjects did you study? And when?
Before I arrived in Finland, 2013, I studied Law, at the University of Buea, in Cameroon between 2001/2002 to 2005. This earned me an LL, B Hons. In 2010/2011, I studied and graduated from the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria with an LL, M in Multidisciplinary Human Rights Law.

Later in August 2011, I acquired an Advanced Diploma in International Protection of Human Rights, at the the Institute for Human Rights at Åbo Akademi. This is where and when, my love for Finland and Turku all started. Matchmakers will tell you, ‘it was love at first sight’.

While still in Finland for an extra two weeks for research after the Course, I imagined and fostered the idea of fostering my studies. This is also when I developed the embryonic concept of a Ph.D. proposal and presented it to the Director at the Institute, who later became my supervisor for my Doctorate – Prof. Elina Pirjatanniemi. This was definitely another ‘love at first sight’ collaboration and working relationship. Before, during and after my Doctorate in Public International Law, with speciality in Child Law, we were friends and now colleagues. She knows, I support Arsenal Football Club, but during our first meeting, she told me ‘You Will Never Walk Alone’ (alluding to Liverpool FC) – she kept her word, stood by me, supported me throughout my studies – Tack Min Professor.

What made you choose Finland and Åbo Akademi University, when there are so many other great countries and universities in the world?
For reasons that I have stated above – It was love at first sight. What I learnt in my decision to study in Finland and particularly at Åbo Akademi was that it is not, and it should not be, about what people say is a great institution to study at. What is a great institution to me, is an institution that makes studies enjoyable and conducive. Åbo Akademi offered me that and more and I particularly saw no reason, why I should not give it my all.

I loved studying in Finland and at Åbo Akademi. I continue to promote and recommend the University and of course, the Institute for Human Rights, to prospective students. In my opinion Åbo Akademi and the Institute is an epitome of success and of producing independent and confident researchers and thinkers. The reality is, after experiencing the weather in Finland; dark, extremely cold and bright, you are left with no other choice but to work hard to reward yourself for your struggle during your studies with results.

How do you remember your time at Åbo Akademi? Is there any special memory you would like to share with us?
So many things – I really do not have time to say everything, because I could just write a book about it. However, my friends, colleagues and the Cameroonian Committee (CAMTU) left an indelible mark in my heart.

I will never forget the friends I made and still have in Turku. They are like family to me and each of them played a great role in supporting me during my time there. Some of them stand out of course, and here I am and will always be grateful to my fredagsöl-vänner [Friday beer friends], especially; Mia, Lotta, Åsa, Johanna, Jenni, Maria, Fredrik and Becky (my sister, too) etc.

I will never forget my colleagues at the Institute for Human Rights for their irreplaceable and impeccable support – Rebecca Karlsson, Raija Hanski, Harriet Nyback-Alanen, Professor Markku Suksi, Dr. Viljam Engström, Kati Frostell, Catarina Krause, Dr. Mikaela Heikkilä, Maija Mustaniemi-Laakso, Lisa Grans and Johanna Quiroz-Schauman.

The city of Turku as a whole, is a great and beautiful city.

Where have your studies taken you? What are you working with now and how did you get there?
When I completed my Ph.D., I had the opportunity take up a postdoctoral position as a substitute University teacher. This was an experience I will never forget, because I had to teach law in Swedish to undergraduate students. I bought a law dictionary (Lagordbok). It was that serious and challenging, but I did it. This was the first place where my studies took me.

The second place was, when I was honoured by Åbo Akademi, to give a speech during the Centenary anniversary celebration of the University in 2018, in front of all the dignitaries and honorary doctorate recipients. Such events happen once in a lifetime and this was a great honour for me – still fresh from my Ph.D. graduation.

Thirdly, my Doctorate from Åbo Akademi enabled me to be admitted as a postdoctoral fellow at one of the best universities in Africa – The University of Stellenbosch, where I had the opportunity to further learn from some of the greatest African minds – Prof. Annika Rudman and Prof. Sandra Liebenberg. I spent 2 great years in Stellenbosch.

My time in Stellenbosch prepared me to join the Centre for Human Rights at the Faculty of Law of the University of Pretoria. This is such, another great honour because, over the years, this faculty of Law has been celebrated as the best faculty of Law in Africa. The prominence of the Centre for Human Rights and its contribution to African Human Rights Studies, research and advocacy cannot be over-emphasized – it is there, amongst the best in the world. At the Centre, I am the Project Manager of the Children’s Rights Unit. This position gives me the opportunity to generate, manage and direct projects related to children, a subject very close to my heart. Here, I have been given the rare and cherished opportunity to combine academic work and advocacy.

Do you have a message for today’s students?
Absolutely – Focus and complete your studies and the world is all yours. Det blir nog bra!

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