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Echoes of reggae as Rastafarian advocate admitted to the Bar

Sunday July 05 2020
mathenge

Mathenge Mukundi when he was admitted to the Bar on Friday, becoming the first advocate of the Rastafarian faith. PHOTO | COURTESY

By NYAMBEGA GISESA

When Buju Banton sang the lyrics, “only Rasta can liberate the people,” in his popular 1997 song Hills and Valleys, he did not have in mind the kind of liberation that the Rastafarian community could have years later upon their admission of one of their own to the Bar.

On Friday, Mathenge Mukundi, donning a blue turban set history when he walked to the Supreme Court building where he was admitted to the Bar becoming Kenya’s first advocate of the Rastafarian faith.

“As a diehard human rights and fundamental freedoms enthusiast, I will work towards fighting for the rights of minorities and marginalised groups,” he told the Nation Saturday.

Mr Mukundi did his KCSE in 2012 at Othaya Boys High School before joining Kenyatta University for a law degree.

“According to our policy to give opportunities to diverse members of the society, Mr Mathenge Mukundi, a practicing Rastafarian, did pupillage with us last year and was admitted to the Bar as an advocate yesterday. Congratulations to him,” Kenya's National Council for Law Reporting tweeted.

Mr Mukundi was admitted alongside 197 new advocates who included Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed.

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Although CS Mohamed was gazetted in 2013 after finalising her studies at the Kenya School of Law, she was yet to sign the Roll of Advocates, a requirement before one is officially allowed to become one.

Mr Mukundi’s admission to the Bar is historic as most countries including neighbour Uganda do not allow Rastafarians to become advocates.

But liberalism in the conservative law practise is not just growing in Kenya but also other countries. Newly appointed Malawi Attorney-General Chikosa Silungwe was trending on the social media not because of his vast law experience but rather his dreadlocked hair style.

Locally, lawyer Bob Mkhangi also spots deadlocks.

Since independence, Rastafarians have been fighting for their rights.

Rastafari is an Africa-centred religion, which can be traced to Jamaica in the 1930s after Haile Selassie I (1892-1975) — referred to as the king of kings, lord of lords, the conquering lion of the tribe of Judah — was coronated as King of Ethiopia.

Many of their teachings are also developed from the ideas of Jamaican activist Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

But it is only until last year when the courts ruled that Rastafarianism is a religion just like any other and they should be treated as the rest.

Justice Chacha Mwita made the judgement in a case in which a minor was chased away from school in January 2019 for having dreadlocks.

The judge based his ruling on Article 30 (1) of the constitution which states that every person has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.

Rastafarians follow biblical teachings found in various books, including Numbers 6: 1-6 and Leviticus 21: 5 – 6, which among others prohibit eating certain foods and cutting of the hair, as a sign of their dedication to God’s teachings.

Consequently, they keep their hair as a manifestation of their faith.

Rastafarians say that they keep “rastas” and not “dreadlocks” arguing that rastas is a sign of faith as opposed to “dreadlocks” which is one’s choice or style.

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