#FRONTROW: Stop judging people without the facts; it can ruin their lives

Wednesday February 17 2016

Former Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza speaks out on what led to her resignation, during an interview on February 6, 2016 at Serena Hotel. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By LARRY MADOWO
More by this Author

Nancy Baraza was still asleep at her sister’s house in Karen on Friday, October 19, 2012, when she received a call just after 6am. “Ha, so now what will happen to you that you don’t have the big job and the big cars?” the relative on the line wanted to know.

“Congratulations!” She had resigned only the previous day as the country’s deputy chief justice and withdrawn her appeal challenging a tribunal decision that found her unfit to hold office.

“I couldn’t sleep in my house alone, I was devastated,” she remembers. It was startlingly cruel to hear someone gloating to her face just hours after she walked away from the prize of her life’s work.

She kept away from the public eye for more than three years after that, using the time to complete her PhD, teach jurisprudence at the University of Nairobi’s law school and took up large-scale commercial farming.

She returned to public scrutiny two Saturdays ago when she sat down with me for a lengthy tell-all interview. As soon as we announced the sit-down, the schadenfreude kicked in.

“Baraza speaks three years after she was fired for threatening a guard with a gun and later tried to bribe her is now playing victim,” tweeted activist Boniface Mwangi. That statement is problematic in multiple ways, without even considering the several

inaccuracies he is passing off as fact. She was not fired, she resigned and she denied ever threatening Rebeccah Kerubo with a gun, or even attempting to bribe her.

The background to her downfall was well covered, of course. She was accused of pinching the Village Market mall guard Kerubo’s nose and declaring: “You should know people!” While Kerubo gave countless interviews after  the case went public, Baraza

never once spoke to a journalist.

MEDIA 'SANITISING WRONGDOERS'?

Yet, when I finally sat down with her, the common accusation of the Kenyan media “sanitising wrongdoers” came up again and again. In the court of public opinion, she had been tried and found guilty without even being heard. Ironically, that was her

impression of the tribunal that heard her case. She calls the verdict “extremely harsh” and deadpans that they found her “almost unfit to breathe God’s oxygen.”

“Very arrogant woman, glad she was terminated,” wrote Davis Mate on YouTube. “Tribunal found her wanting and guilty. She wants to sanctify herself. I find her reasoning very weak, flimsy as well as wanting - more given disturbing as legal counsel.”

Even after she apologised about how she had handled the Kerubo situation and admitted she wouldn’t act the same way if she got a do-over, the hate didn’t stop.

“Baraza got power drunk, threatened a hapless guard doing her job then attempted to bribe her.” tweeted Sura Mbaya. “She would be in jail elsewhere.”

It was fascinating to watch the reaction to her speaking out because it followed the same pattern as that of former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru’s. Granted, I wrote on this very same page that she would have saved herself a lot of the grief

had she  stepped aside when the corruption allegations first surfaced. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t deserve a fair hearing, or the right to tell her side of the story.

With hindsight, both Baraza and Waiguru faced an onslaught from the media, a trial by soundbite that few would survive. Never let facts get in the way of a good story appears to be the guiding principle. I am not acquitting them of the accusations against

them or pronouncing them guilty; it is not my place to do either. I am only saying that we should learn to suspend judgment and presume everyone to be innocent until proven otherwise.

“Let’s not be that judgmental. We ruin people. Sometimes for no good reason at all,” Dr Baraza said, addressing Kenyans. “Some of them you don’t even know and you just ruin them.”

A few days later, the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission cleared Waiguru of any wrongdoing at her old ministry. The righteously indignant wouldn’t have any of that – she had to be guilty or nothing at all. “But EACC cleansing you is more or less like

getting baptized by [controversial pastor Victor] Kanyari and walking away with the belief that you’re clean,” one commentator said.

Why are we so eager to believe that someone is automatically complicit just because an accusation has been made against them? The judgmental public would rather buy into a conspiracy theory than entertain the thought that maybe someone is innocent.

Admittedly, strange things happen in Kenya and they have helped  erode our trust in institutions. But condemning people without a fair hearing goes against the principles of justice. Perceptions are powerful but they shouldn’t define our reality. Don’t be so

judgmental!

***

KANYE WEST NEEDS HELP, BUT IT’S CERTAINLY NOT CASH

Kanye West wants Mark Zuckerberg to invest $1 billion in his (West) ideas. The Facebook founder and billionaire must put his money into West because West is “the greatest living artiste and greatest artiste of all time” according to himself.

You see, Kanye West is $53 million into debt, yet he is “the Jordan and Steph Curry of music, meaning I’m the best of 2 generations.” You see, he is different because “All y’all so worried about being likable but only a few are concerned about being great!!!”

Let’s not forget that he is this generation’s Disney and can make the world a better place, for after all, “I have done the impossible…I retook the throne of rap…I beat the fashion game…” Also, Africa is a country, according to Kanye West. “You’d rather

open up one school in Africa like you really helped the country.”

But if Zuckerberg won’t help his favourite artiste, West will accept help from Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page. They must because he is going to win 100 Grammys before he dies. All those rants were classic Kanye West, except they were

tweeted out in the space of 24 hours. He says he needs help, but I don’t think it is money he needs.

***

WILL MUSEVENI RETAIN POWER YET AGAIN?

Ugandans vote tomorrow whether to give President Yoweri Museveni another five-year term or, according to most analysts, finally give Kizza Besigye the throne. Both M7’s ruling party and Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change are optimistic of a win, as

are the six other candidates. So serious is the race that President Museveni agreed to participate in the second presidential debate even after he dismissed the first one as childish and didn’t show up. Luckily for him, he did more than just show up.

He brought a candid clarity of thought and confidence that made his opponents look like greenhorns. He is still popular in the region but Ugandans will have to decide whether they like the man with the hat or it is time for change.

The spin from his team to justify his 30-year-rule has been spectacular. In the meantime, Besigye has to survive another day and hope there won’t be teargas or another trip to the police station.