Why Kenya needs many more, not fewer ‘mad men’ like Ahmednasir

Wednesday June 08 2011

When Kenya’s Judicial Service Commission (JSC), under the new Constitution, televised its interviews for the next Chief Justice and deputy, the country did something that only the Americans have done.

However, the JSC perhaps went a step further than the Americans in the way it tackled the candidates.

Mr Ahmednasir Abdullahi was the bad boy of the JSC: merciless, scathing, unforgiving, and withering with his tongue, and he perhaps more than any other commissioner has attracted the most criticism.

The main sin of the JSC was apparently that of “personalising the interviews” (and I guess the same will be said of the House Committee now), by asking candidates about their miserable school grades; about their divorces; whether or not they are gay, and such things.

Finally, my mind is made up on this issue. First, to the wider regional implications of how the judicial candidates have been treated.

In the moral order of most countries, usually it is the cardinals or archbishops who are thought to sit closest to God. Next, it is the Chief Justices.


So seeing a candidate for Chief Justice being dragged through the dust by an interview panel, is the equivalent of manhandling God’s Assistant.

There are far-reaching national and regional implications of what we are seeing in Kenya.

First, I think other African countries that were thinking of making the hiring of judges an open process, after seeing how this plays in Kenya, are unlikely to do so except if politics in these countries first changes through new-age revolutions.

But for Kenya, I think it was good that the process was bare-knuckled, and that candidates like the good man Willy Mutunga were asked about their love life.

Generally, I think the idea of having sacred cows or subjects that are no-go areas is anti-democratic.

If you can ask a man who is going to be Chief Justice, which is up there very close to God as we have said, uncomfortable questions, then it means the man or woman who is seeking to be a “mere” minister can be scrutinised even more mercilessly.

The only way to raise the bar that public officials must clear in public committees and parliamentary committees to get a senior job in future is to use the Chief Justice, not a junior minister, as your benchmark.

People like Mutunga were historically necessary sacrificial lambs.

Secondly, I think it is important that things like a person’s divorce and sexual orientation be considered.

A judge who has conservative views about divorce, and seriously believes that stuff about what God has put together no man should put asunder, is less likely to grant couples divorce, thus condemning people to live in unhappy marriages.

A judge who is divorced is more likely to be sympathetic to those seeking to go their separate ways than one who is not.

There are many fears that hold us prisoners, one of which is divorce. It is the brave who break out and take a chance on finding freedom and a second, third, or fourth chance at happiness. They should be admired, not vilified.

Then, if all future public interviews for top jobs in Kenya go as the ones for the judges are going, there will only be two types of people who will submit themselves for these positions.

First will be men and women of conviction and who do not have career-killing backgrounds and a hundred skeletons in their cupboards. Otherwise, Ahmednasir will have them for dessert.

The second type of candidates who will be willing to withstand this fiery interrogation are mad men and women.

I think these are the two types of people who take countries forward. People of honour and a degree of integrity bring good values and help build faith in public institutions.

The mad ones are the ones who shake trees, destroy the old order, and seek brave new worlds which everyone thinks only mad people can.

Che Guevara, for example, was a mad man. Fela Kuti and Bob Marley were totally mad musicians.

Jimi Hendrix was a mad guitarist, and Miles Davis was a crazy jazz trumpeter who often played with his back turned to adoring audiences.

These are the people who change the world.

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