President Uhuru Kenyatta Tuesday purged the State’s top legal team following the resignation of Attorney-General Githu Muigai and the re-deployments of two other top advisors, surrounding himself with a clique of hardliners and loyal friends.
In place of Prof Muigai will be Justice Paul Kihara Kariuki, the tall, bespectacled, soft-spoken President of the Court of Appeal.
He will need to be approved by Parliament for the position.
This appointment, alongside that of the President’s long time-friend Ken Ogeto — proposed as the new Solicitor-General to replace Njee Muturi, now named deputy chief of staff — shows that Mr Kenyatta has left nothing to chance on the men he wants to surround himself with in his legacy-driven second term.
Justice Kariuki, Mr Ogeto, and Mr Muturi will join no-nonsense Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, the conservative State House comptroller Kinuthia Mbugua, and Mr Nzioka Waita, the Chief of Staff and Head of the President’s Delivery Unit, bringing to fore President Kenyatta’s intentions of a ruthless delivery run by a circle of friends he trusts.
“With this re-organisation, President Kenyatta wanted to start on a clean slate on the people around him, and especially his advisers,” a State House insider told the Nation.
Justice Kariuki had been touted as a front-runner in the jostling for the post of Chief Justice in 2016 and was seen as a safe pair of hands for an administration that had had run-ins with the Judiciary under the activist-turned-Chief Justice Willy Mutunga.
The appointment of Mr Ogeto — a close friend of Mr Kenyatta who represented him at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and in various other cases in the country — to deputise Justice Kariuki at Sheria House also shows the kind of legal advice the President is seeking to get.
In the changes made Tuesday, Mr Abdikadir Mohamed, the President’s adviser on constitutional affairs, has been named ambassador to South Korea.
The new men at State House join a growing circle that also includes Dr Fred Matiang’i, who has in recent weeks run Harambee House with a particular sense of ruthlessness.
The other is Mr Waita, who was head-hunted from Safaricom and was recently promoted to chief of staff and head of the president’s delivery unit.
Mr Waita has been at the heart of President Kenyatta’s project-driven legacy and won respect for his quiet effectiveness.
Mr Muturi, on the other hand, is a personal friend of the President and has served him from the time the Mr Kenyatta joined elective politics in 2002. His father, Muturi wa Njee, served Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in the same capacity.
The place of Mr Muturi at the heart of President Kenyatta, and by extension his administration, manifested in late 2014 when the government proposed a controversial security Bill that was seen by many as draconian and anti-media freedom.
When the Bill was passed during a chaotic session in the House, Mr Muturi was conspicuously present in the Speaker’s gallery and watched quietly as the drama among MPs unfolded.
The exit of Prof Muigai, a carry-over from President Mwai Kibaki’s administration, had been long coming.
In fact, most of President Kenyatta’s handlers did not believe that he would survive past 2016 at Sheria House.
They accused him of giving “bad advice”.
But what, really, was wrong with Prof Muigai’s advice? He did not pick our calls yesterday to answer that question, but had in an earlier interview with The EastAfrican defended his advice, going short of saying he was being ignored.
“It is not possible for the Attorney-General to provide legal advice unless it has been formally and specifically sought,” he said. “But even where advice has been given, it is up to each of the government institutions to use it in the manner they deem fit.
“I look at the law and send a legal opinion, and even if it is not what the President wants, I have given it.”
Prof Muigai’s honeymoon and career at the helm of the top legal office was interrupted in 2014 when lawyers and legal experts pointed a major flaw.
President Kenyatta, after receiving 25 names of persons to be appointed as judges, had on June 28, 2014 appointed only 14 of them, to the chagrin of the Law Society of Kenya, which protested the move in court.
“The President’s role in the appointment of judges is ceremonial and he cannot purport to approve or disapprove names of those recommended for appointment by the Judicial Service Commission,” then LSK chairman Eric Mutua said in a statement, protesting what was seen as a big flaw in President Kenyatta’s legal advice.
Aged 58, Prof Muigai spent his time in courts, first at the Supreme Court in 2013 and in 2017 as amicus curiae in election petitions facing President Kenyatta, then at the ICC, where he made a case for the government to the aid of the cases facing the Head of State and his deputy William Ruto, and as a legal prefect, correcting the opposition when need be.
Most recently, he described as “high treason” a plan by Opposition leader Raila Odinga, his neighbour in Karen, to be sworn in as the “people’s president”.
“What is the punishment for high treason?” he asked. “It is death.”
But when Mr Odinga took the “oath”, Prof Muigai disappeared from the media, only to reappear yesterday besides the President as Mr Kenyatta announced how he received his resignation “with regret.”
Additional reporting by Wanjohi Githae