Intimidation of the Judiciary must stop
Hopefully the swearing in of Chief Justice Martha Koome and Court of Appeal Judge William Ouko at State House may have de-escalated rising tensions fuelled by the President’s cabinet ministers earlier in the week. What can the Executive and Judiciary do to reboot three years of toxicity, contempt, and abuse?
Any fortune teller could have predicted the shock waves after the Tsunami judgement by High Court Judges Joel Ngugi, George Odunga, Jairus Ngaah, Chacha Mwita and Teresia Matheka on the Building Bridges Initiatives last week. Cabinet Secretary Raphael Tuju infantilised the judiciary by comparing them to his children and then reminded them they are not safe without the Executive arm of Government. His youthful and unelected counterpart Zack Kinuthia forgot his peace-building and legal background and caused nervous parliamentary laughter by bizarrely suggesting judges should be subjected to the ballot.
Politicians and pundits were quick to point out that the judges who are among 41 judges waiting to be appointed by the President should have recused themselves based on a conflict of interest. If this is a consideration worthy of our attention, perhaps Messrs Tuju and Kinuthia would have likewise refrained. Cabinet Administrative Secretaries were recently found to be unconstitutionally inappointed into office by another set of judges.
Former Building Bridges Initiative Joint Secretary Paul Mwangi fired off an unsubstantiated broadside against the Defenders Coalition and Chief Justice Emeritus Dr. Willy Mutunga on prime-time television. Citing an event organised by the Defenders Coalition, he argued that the Judiciary has been captured by civil society activists. Having attended that dinner and very familiar both with the human rights protection work of Defenders Coalition and the legacy of the former Chief Justice, I am still at a loss at what that Serena dinner two years ago had to do with the High Court Judgement last week.
The swift response by the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association called for the judgment to be respected, a cease-fire in the daily verbal attacks and safety for the five judges. Several civil society organisations also collectively called for an end to attacks on the judiciary and an end to the use of public resources on the building bridges initiative. The moment had become dark and treacherous indeed.
In this context, the cordiality of the Friday State House swearing-in ceremony can only be welcomed. Her ladyship laid out the key issues - respect for the independence and adequate financing of the judiciary, appointment of judges and the respect of court orders by the Executive – and the President’s language was warm and constructive. This exchange must now find root kwa ground.
As politicians, lawyers and pundits continue to support and challenge the May 13 High Court judgement, we must draw the line at any more threats or acts of intimidation against the Judiciary and I must add, civic organisations. Both Bench and public interest litigators must be protected from those that wield state power. Without this, there is no democracy, rule of law or a modern nation, only a country of Babel and chaos.
The family of Kenyan expatriate Malcom Bidali held in Qatar reached out after last week’s opinion. Eighteen days after he was arrested, he is still in custody, held without charge, bail or a lawyer. The Government and public must increase their demand for Bidali, a citizen from Vihiga, to be released.
This opinion was also published in the Sunday Standard 23 May 2021