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In memory of Mutula, Senior Counsel and politician

By - | May 7th 2013

By Willy Mutunga

I first met Mutula Kilonzo in July 1973 when I enrolled to read for my Master of Laws degree in the Faculty of Law, University of Dar es Salaam.

Mutula was in his third and final year of study for his Bachelor of Laws degree. I quickly found out he was one of the outstanding students in his class.

Dar was a place for hard work, but this did not stop us, the Kenyan students in Dar, from posing for pretty photographs that were carried in the print media in one of the many media pieces on Mutula.

We also welcomed him back in Dar es Salaam after his marriage in December 1973. We were overjoyed and Mutula wore the coat of his wedding suit for the occasion!

Mutula wrote his exams in March 1974 and before leaving for Kenya, he gave me a telephone number of his relative with a request that I relay his examination results as soon as they were out. 

I was proud as a Kenyan to communicate his record-breaking academic feat when Mutula became the first East African to obtain a first-class degree in law in the history of the Faculty of Law, University of East Africa, Dar es Salaam.

Mutula co-authored a brilliant dissertation with George Masese, his classmate and now a practising Advocate in Kisii as third year student.

They wrote on peasants and the co-operative movement in Kenya using a Marxist-Leninist methodology. I have always believed that at Dar, Mutula came to understand how the capitalist system works.

He used his brilliant faculties to prove that Marx and Lenin were right in how that system worked! And how that system, if well understood, could enrich lawyers, too!

I saw a lot of Mutula while he was at the Kenya School of Law, but saw more of him when employed by the firm of Kakuli & Mati Advocates. I had worked for this firm before I went for further studies in Dar es Salaam. He worked very hard and soon set up his firm.

Mutula was always focused and worked hard to achieve his goals. I had occasion to do some briefs for Mutula when I was not teaching law at the Faculty of Law at the University of Nairobi.

There were many closures of the university in those days.

Mutula was kind enough to loan me Sh10,000 to help me buy a sports Mazda car, which I paid back by undertaking legal briefs for him.

At some point, we thought we could be legal partners, but I chose the path of the academy and activism. Although our political paths were distinctly different, we remained friends and deeply respected each other’s political positions. There is one act of humanity Mutula carried out which I will never forget.

Upon my release from detention on October 20, 1983, he sought me out, gave me some money and quickly facilitated the renewal of my practising certificate as an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya.

He was then the President of the Law Society of Kenya. I got my certificate and in January 1984, I was a sub-tenant of one of my close friends and former student, Joe Nzioka. I had a means of livelihood, thanks to these two friends.

As a freed detainee, I was shunned by many, but Mutula did what a friend should always do, help friends in need. I am sure there were possible political consequences for his action, but that did not deter him at all.

Nine days later

Mutula will also be remembered for his focused stewardship as Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya in 2010.

He stood out as a brilliant interpreter of the Constitution and courageously guided its implementation through his legal advice. He worked tirelessly on drafting the various statutes that were the core to the implementation of the new Constitution.

Mutula gave me tremendous support when I assumed the Office of the Chief Justice. He supported the Judiciary in its assertion of independence.

He attended the launch of the Judiciary Transformation Framework and supported its implementation.

Mutula never missed any of our functions at the Judiciary, that in itself signaling a lot of political goodwill from the Ministry of Justice.

He played a pivotal role in setting up the National Council for the Administration of Justice, the assembly line for the justice sector in Kenya.

Both of us were clear that when it comes to national matters, there was the need for robust independence of institutions but a constructive inter-dependence between them to achieve goals in the national interest.

Mutula was honest and outspoken on issues of justice and law. I admired his courage, which gave all of us in the Judiciary extra energy to carry out our transformation.

Mutula is one of the pioneers of the African Bar in Kenya, whose brilliance, professionalism and practice will remain a beacon to aspiring lawyers.

I saw a lot of Mutula during the presidential petition. He was one of the lawyers in the Cord team.

One of the observers in that petition was his classmate in Dar es Salaam, the Chief Justice of Tanzania, His Lordship Mohammed Chande Othman. Their reunion was a great occasion.

I also saw him at the funeral of Mrs Ruth Waki on April 18, 2013 when, in his usual candor, he criticised the Supreme Court. His death nine days later was a great shock to me.

I send my heartfelt and sincere condolences to his family, the people of Makueni who elected him to the Senate, his many friends in Kenya and abroad. May the Almighty Allah rest his soul in eternal peace. 

-Dr Mutunga is Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya.

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