Catching Up on Kenyan Politics–Three Related Big Developments on Reform

The past three months or so have been especially busy for me and I have to apologize for having to let go of my past practice of at least noting most of the major headlines in Kenyan politics on a current basis.  Likewise, what I have posted has been more heavily weighted toward quotes and citations to other sources and less original.

First, the big issue that I have largely taken a pass on has been the nomination and appointment of the new Supreme Court, especially the Chief Justice.  I will say that the new Chief Justice Willy Mutunga got off to a good start yesterday, in my book, by forsaking the traditional robe and wig for his swearing in.  My more egalitarian American sensitivities have always been turned off by the white wigs–we rebelled against the British and got rid of all that a long time ago.  I can appreciate decorum and a sense of dignity for the court, but I’m not sure that the white wig is even really dignified as opposed to just silly.  And in a country with as much of a problem with dramatic inequality both economically and in the legal and judicial system, it seems to me that a bit of humility is a positive thing.

More importantly it is encouraging to see the hope engendered by Mutunga’s appointment.  Mutunga has a combination of serious bona fides as a reformer through leadership in the “Second Liberation” and serious legal credentials.  Here is a column from retired Presbyterian minister Dr. Timothy Njoya that I found to be particularly persuasive in this regard.  He is obviously qualified in training and intellect, but was also seems chosen by the Judicial Service Commission in substantial part to be a leader of reforming the judiciary through his position as Chief Justice.  My interest is the process, and I don’t think it is my place as an American to have a strong opinion about who should or shouldn’t be appointed to a judicial position in Kenya, but it is gratifying to see Kenyan civil society leaders and others whom I like and admire for their courage in the context of the late Kenyan election crisis feel that Mutunga’s appointment is a step toward reform and the rule of law.

In considering the process, I will way that the JSC was a bit harsh on some applicants and I hope that in the future this will be improved on.  Here is a column in the Star saluting one of the applicants whom I had the opportunity to meet socially and found to be a very considerate person who ended up being charactured a bit in the media as a result of her interview.  A woman who has served long on the Kenyan High Court without hint of scandal deserves respect as a pioneer and the JSC certainly could have chosen reasonably to go in the direction of seeking someone with experience on the bench.

On the other hand, the appointment of the Director of Public Prosecution is quite a different matter.  Keriako Tobiko was nominated and approved in spite of very serious and specific allegations of corruption.  It is very hard to understand why this appointment makes any sense unless it is intended to protect key people from public prosecution–I wish this was a far fetched notion.  In fact, the situation seems blatant enough to almost make one wonder whether there was an “understanding”–a reformist chief justice for an insider as prosecutor to make sure that the weight of the law does not fall on the current powers that be?

A third big event that I have not discussed is the effort by the U.K. to gain extradition of Chrysanthus Okemo and Samuel Gicheru for prosecution for prosecution in Jersey.  Okemo, a member of parliament and former finance minister, and Gichuru, a former managing director of Kenya’s power supply monopoly the Kenya Power & Lighting Co. Ltd., are wanted in Jersey on corruption charges.  The allegations are that Gicheru took bribes from KPLC contractors and laundered the money to accounts in Jersey.  Payments are also alleged to have gone to Okemo as Finance Minister and as well when he was Energy Minister.

Frankly the British just have not had the best history on fighting graft involving the developing world and this initiative seems to me to be a breakthrough, consistent with the spirit of the new U.K. anti-bribery act.   I firmly believe that the ability of the “well connected” to stash ill gotten gains abroad with impunity has been a key factor in keeping most Kenyans economically marginalized and keeping the Government of Kenyan underperforming.  If the U.K is successful in this prosecution it could be a turning point toward a better pattern of development in Kenya in which the benefits of economic growth reach more citizens.

Ironically, however, Director of Public Prosecutions Tobiko is in a key role in evaluating the extradition request:

The government has ordered the formation of a high-level panel to consider a request for the extradition of former power utility boss Samuel Gichuru and Nambale MP Chris Okemo over fraud charges.

Attorney-General Amos Wako said he had received a full extradition request comprising 13 bundles of supporting documentation from Jersey Island.

As a result, Mr Wako said, he had instructed the chief public prosecutor to constitute the panel.

“Due to the complexity, magnitude and voluminous nature of the request, I have directed the chief public prosecutor, Mr Keriako Tobiko, to immediately constitute a high level team to study and analyse the supporting documentation and deal with the matter soonest,” Mr Wako said in a statement.

Sources said Mr Tobiko had constituted the team.

“Panel to decide fate of Okemo, Gicheru”, Daily Nation, 10 June 2011.