Reforms activist beats judges in race for CJ

Friday May 13 2011

FILE | NATION Dr Willy Mutunga, the Judicial Service Commission nominee for the Chief Justice post, was arrested and imprisoned from 1982 to 1983 during his struggle for reforms.

FILE | NATION Dr Willy Mutunga, the Judicial Service Commission nominee for the Chief Justice post, was arrested and imprisoned from 1982 to 1983 during his struggle for reforms.  

By EMEKA-MAYAKA GEKARA [email protected] AND PAUL OGEMBA [email protected]

Seven months ago, Dr Willy Mutunga, wrote a piece in the Nation outlining the resume of the new Chief Justice.

He said key reform institutions must be led by new hands committed to ideas of the new Constitution and called for appointment of the next Chief Justice from outside the Judiciary.

The scholar warned against the recycling of names of the “usual suspects” for senior appointments.

On Friday, the Judicial Service Commission accepted his application for nomination as Chief Justice alongside lawyer Nancy Baraza as Deputy Chief Justice.

As early as three weeks ago, many commissioners had made a decision in support of Dr Mutunga because of his academic credentials and struggle in the reform movement as a member of the National Convention Executive Council.

The fact that he had not served in the discredited Judiciary gave him an upper hand as the new broom to clean up the institution.

Their decision was also driven to come up with a candidate who would be acceptable to both President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the international community.

Opinion was particularly against sitting judges even before the interviews began.

There was also calculated but quiet lobbying by the civil society in favour of Dr Mutunga, who together with Prof Kivutha Kibwana, are considered the “fathers of civil society.”

As a sign of endorsement by the civil society, Dr Mutunga’s application was refereed by Prof Makau Mutua, with whom he once worked at the Kenya Human Rights Commission.

In a Facebook posting celebrating the announcement, Prof Mutua said on Friday was a great day for “reform and reformers”.

“Dr Mutunga is of the first rank as a reformer, deep thinker, mentor and global citizen”, he said.

Notably, Dr Mutunga was instrumental in putting together the opposition alliance comprising President Kibaki (then of DP), and opposition figures Kijana Wamalwa and Charity Ngilu ahead of the 2002 elections.

And during the launch of a book of Mr Odinga’s father, Jaramogi Oginga last year, Dr Mutunga described himself as a “Jaramogiite.”

Dr Mutunga is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya. He studied Law at the University of Nairobi and was awarded an LLB. He has Masters degree from the University of Dar es Salaam and PhD from York University (Osgoode Hall Law School) in Toronto, Canada.

He has been a pro-democracy activist in Kenya since the 1970s, and was imprisoned in 1982-83.

Dr Mutunga was chair of the Law Society of Kenya in 1993-95. He has authored articles on the rights of detainees, the role of NGOs and civil society in democratisation, the constitutional rights of Kenya’s nomad pastoralists, and the rights of tenants.

He has worked in a number of human rights organisations; as the executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, a member the National Convention Executive Council, co-chair of the Citizens Coalition for Constitutional Change (4Cs) and a member of the Board of Directors of Rights and Democracy.

He joined the Ford Foundation in 2004 as a human rights programme officer before being appointed the executive director in 2009. He is a board member of the Human Rights Centre at the Law School of the State University of New York at Buffalo.