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.
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.