The Politics of Kenyan Lawyers

In my freshman year at Law School, I remember hearing the phrase: ‘law is politics and politics is law’, which later made sense to me since the ruling party of the day has a hand in both the enactment and implementation of any country’s laws. It is therefore a widely accepted fact that most lawyers are drawn to politics, particularly to the floor of the elected House as members of the legislature and then the executive.

In the US, for instance, 26 out of the 44 Presidents were lawyers including the incumbent Barack Obama. Here in Kenya, our President and Prime Minister may not be lawyers but we have a Cabinet littered with legal practioners starting with the Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka. By willingly accepting the unenviable role of the President’s special envoy on the deferral of the ICC trials of the “Hague Six”, many have questioned why the V-P failed to advise the President both as a lawyer and a former Foreign Affairs Minister, on the contents of the Rome Statute.
In Kalonzo’s defence, his boss, the President has not been a shining example of good leadership either. And as far as flip-flopping and opportunism goes, who can forget when Kibaki, one of the world’s longest serving MPs, once infamously said that to try remove Kanu from power was to cut the mugumo tree with a razor – only later to leave Kanu and form DP.

But I digress.

My thesis is simple: for as long as our country will continue producing lawyers, there will no doubt be a fair number of them who cross over from the corridors of justice to the annals of political power. So allow me to briefly canvas a few of your legally-inclined politicians.

Mutula Kilonzo/ Amos Wako
If you ask me, Mutula and Wako are one in the same person.

These two distinguished lawyers have mastered the art of bending and twisting existing laws to suit the political regime of the day. Their grasp of the law and all possible contigencies is beyond question and you will often find their pin-stripe suits very close to the seat of power, playing the role of legal advisor. Mutula, for instance, used to advise retired President Moi and represented him in a wide range of legal matters before entering politics as a KANU nominated MP. Now it seems Mutula has taken up the role of de-facto Attorney-General advising President Kibaki on issues such as the recent nominations saga, the pace of constitutional implementation and the on-going ICC trials at the Hague.
Mutula’s counterpart in the Prime Minister’s corner is the outspoken lawyer and activist James Orengo, known by many as a sober-minded politician who genuinely believes in using the law to bring about transformative and positive change in society.

Martha Karua/Millie Odhiambo/Njoki Ndung’u et al.
Arguably, some of the most outstanding women politicians in the country today are also members of the Law Society of Kenya. In fact, as more and more women enter politics as nominated MPs, there seems to be a huge preference among the political parties to have women with a strong legal background as is the case for Millie Odhiambo and Njoki Ndung’u previously. I say this while my inner feminist hopes that this mere fact will not serve as a psychological barrier to women of goodwill in other professions who may be ready to serve as political leaders.

In the same breadth, although they may not be women, there are a couple of youthful male lawyers who are making a name for themselves in parliament and have already distinguished themselves as shrewd, people-centred politicians. In this regard, figures like Mohamed Abdikadir and Ababu Namwamba immediately come to mind.

Kenneth Marende
As the Speaker of the National Assembly and Head of the Legislature, Marende stands head and shoulders over the Chief Justice and both Principals as a proactive and principled public servant who has carved out the image of a leader above parochial tribal goals. Often compared to King Solomon, Marende displays unparalleled wisdom and clarity of thought in his rulings on a wide number of debates dating from the 2008 swearing-in of MPs, to the appointment of Leader of Government business and most recently the constitutional impasse surrounding Kibaki’s public nominations of CJ, AG, DPP and Controller of Budget.

Kiraitu Murungi/ Otieno Kajwang
To reiterate an observation I made in an earlier post:

“There is something inexplicably sad that happens to right-thinking members of society once they enter politics. A sort of intellectual lobotomy, if you will, whereby they cease to be the university professors, medical doctors, engineers, respected lawyers they were before. It’s almost as if politics reduces you to the lowest common denominator: primitive survival and the accumulation of power and wealth.”

No two lawyers epitomize this lobotomy more than Murungi and Kajwang’. Despite years of law school, professional practice and public service, both these men talk and think like the rural elders of their respective ethnic communities. They also share a warped sense of humor and are prone to making ill-timed and reckless public statements. Murungi who holds a graduate degree from Harvard Law School was once considered an active nationalist and champion of constitutional reform but has since become a Gema kingpin who acts in the interest of a narrower cultural constituency.
Kajwang, on the other hand, was a prominent city lawyer who was later disbarred for professional misconduct and somehow found his way into politics. The Ministry of Immigration which he now heads is performing dismally and is under a perpetual dark cloud of public dissatisfaction and allegations of corruption.

In sum, as we move from an era of imperial presidencies to an age of constitutionalism, one can only hope that all our learned friends with political aspirations will be true to the calling to serve the people of their country first while upholding and protecting the spirit and the letter of the law.

15 thoughts on “The Politics of Kenyan Lawyers

  1. This is some real sh*t!! Otieno Kajwang’ & Kiraitu Murungi’s description has made my day. “It’s almost as if politics reduces you to the lowest common denominator: primitive survival and the accumulation of power and wealth.”

  2. Lawyers are a necessary evil. Truth be told, most are scum of the earth. Murungi is even worse than Kajwang’. Kajwang has never pretended to be anything more than a court-jester to Raila…… But Murungi, he has smarts but his mental degradation is way beyond measure! What a loss for Kenya and his family!

  3. I have tried being as mild-mannered about this before… but not any more. For the readership this site attracts, a writer is expected to choose their words in the most unbiased way possible especially considering people were killed, incited by talk less blatantly one-sided than this. I have been unable to read beyond the anti-kibaki sentiments voiced herein by the brilliant writer i know you to be, maybe because i recognize the sacrifice both leaders made in sharing power to restore and keep kenya in the state of peace it is in, barely though considering external interests spurring in-fighting. When we are talking hits in the thousands, your opinion doesn’t matter, only your social responsibilities. Good evening.

    • Pyro, I have nothing against Kibaki. He has not done anything to me or to my family so all I’m doing is voicing popular criticism of the man. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that you are privy to alot of confidential and/or explosive information about Kibaki and the PEV period. Whatever it is, it has clearly made you see the President in a different light.

      • A writer knows that ‘popular’ is relative and thus writes objectively, not picking sides regardless of what their personal stance is, for the greater good.

      • @infinitepro
        I thought the entire point of a blog and opinion journalism as a whole is to give (and substantiate) your opinion? The more contentious the issue, the more important that your opinion, if it is valid, or atleast rationally explained, is stated?
        In this particular article (The Kanu part) what Kibaki did and said by ANY standard is high hypocrisy. The idea, that because opinion is divided writers should express none and hide theirs no matter how substantiated is absurd.
        And besides, suggesting that stating exactly what Kibaki said and did is “one sided” is equally absurd

  4. Sadly, anyone in Kenya can enter politics and win a parliamentary seat these days. But I appreciate that lawyers have certain unique inclinations to politics.

    But come 2012, if you’re a lawyer and you want my vote, the only question that I’ll be asking myself is: “If I was facing deathrow charges, would I want you representing me?”

  5. @gachagua I’m not pro-Kibaki nor am I pro-Raila. I’m passionate about the peace in Kenya. There is a reason neither Kibaki nor Raila were subpoenad by the ICC, to keep the peace.
    Reflect for a second the ugliness of 2007/2008 and then ask yourself whether you’d rather have that type of in-fighting for the sake of transparency about the machinations of the PEV, taking note that expatriates were shipping out of Kenya as early as August, OR stay a tolerant peaceful and ignorant lot, pertaining that time.

  6. @infinitepyro
    The 2007/2008 infighting is an incident no Kenyan would want to live through again.
    That said, it doesn’t mean not speaking against our leaders (i use that term loosely as most are yet to exhibit traits of any form of leadership). That is not, as you suggested earlier “socially responsible,” its not even advisable. I highly doubt that speaking the truth or voicing an opinion in a reasonable, non threatening, fact based….heck even intuitive matter, in a time of relative peace absent of last elections potent tensions will send people to the streets in violent protest. Besides, im yet to see the bias you’re talking about, especially in this article that has apparently stirred you out of your “mild manner”
    (as a note, i realize a lot of tone and inflection is lost in writing, so to give it context i’ll add im not being confrontational, i just think you’re being a tad melodramatic and pushing a philosophy i think is counterproductive)

  7. @Gachagua, i’m of the opinion leaders should be criticised constructively…except the top two for the time being and if you think i’m being melodramatic, well that’s your entitled opinion as well. I commented to bring attention to misterNV that a pattern in his posts is evident, that’s all.

    • That there is my problem. The top two shouldn’t be criticized regardless of what they do? Why? reducing accountability of the two most powerful people in the country doesn’t seem like an advisable strategy

    • Pyro, you and I have not always seen eye to eye on a number of issues, so once more we will just have to agree to disagree. As we speak, Kenya is the laughing stock of the international community. A country with two governments working at cross-purposes, airing their dirty laundry for the world to see and bickering in public. For this and other reasons, my friend, both principals must be criticised in the strongest possible terms.
      I did not spare Raila when he went off to put out fires in Cote d’Ivoire leaving his country to deal with its many internal woes. I did not spare Raila either when he publicly declared his support for Charity Ngilu who is still under investigation for gross mismanagement and embezzlement allegations in the Ministry of Water. I will not spare Raila or Kalonzo or any other so called “leader” if they betray the public trust or act in any way that brings shame or disrepute to the people that put them in power, the people of Kenya. I didnt spare KenyaFeb28 either for showing a lack of leadership and vision in their one-day initiative.
      I must admit I write with alot of passion and conviction on issues that may not necessarily be as black and white as I make them seem. But if you go through my posts, I try as much as possible to confine myself to matters that are already in the public domain and I only share my opinion on issues that are within my personal knowledge.

  8. Misternv..Love the post, brilliant, and you dont pull punches… I dont get why pyro wants us to be quiet about what is so obvious… the time to be quiet and keep our sentiments passed with the end of the Nyayo era… Our country is in a mess, but it is in a mess we can openly discuss… i love the way politics is shaping out to be as the dogs of war( ruto, uhuru) fight to get the seat, they dont realise what a cheap seat the presidency has become, he is no longer BABA, but a public figure open to being lampooned by any aspiring comedian/child/writer for any utterance or public misstep….

  9. For the most part lawyers make great politicians and contribute considerably to politics. However, certain aspects of the legal profession appear to be at odds with the essence of political engagement. For instance, judicial aspects of the legal profession require significant objectivity while participation in politics is synonymous with partiality. Is it possible for a partisan member of parliament to be objective as a member of a judicial panel? Is it a widely accepted practice for members of parliament to be eligible for judicial positions, like appears to be the case in Kenya?

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