Willy Mutunga through the eyes of his children
They are half siblings Shamilla’ ‘no middle name’ Mutunga and Wallimohammed ‘‘Al-Amin’ Mutunga. Shamilla is Willy Mutunga’s second child, from his first marriage to Rukia. Al-Amin is his third born, who he had with a lady he was in a relationship with in the 90s. Shamilla’s eldest brother is a businessman in Kitui, and their youngest brother, Liam, currently lives with his mother in Canada, as he completes his studies. The two have this easy carefree manner about them, and they rib each other just as typical siblings would. Growing up with their earring-wearing controversial father was nothing if not interesting. We are at the poolside of Shamilla’s house where she lives with her mother and five year-old-daughter, Tazim, who they fondly refer to as “Tai”.
Shamilla: We called him Willy, and mum was simply Rukia. It wasn’t until we went to Kitui, our upcountry home when we heard other kids referring to their parents as simply mum and dad that we realised that those were options too. Now we simply call him ‘Ba’.”
Al-amin: Dad would actually prefer to just be referred to as “Willy.” Names were as fluid as could be in the house. Shamilla has no middle name and I was named after his best friend Professor Al-Amin Mazrui. The guy who wrote the book, Kilio Cha Haki.
Did you ever ask him about the little earring he wears?
Al-Amin: I asked him about it and he just asked me jokingly If I wanted one like that. We cracked up about it and that was it.
Shamilla: What an outrage that caused. It wasn’t a big deal to us. Infact I thought it was pretty cool. He was always in suits and his earing. People said all sorts of crazy things about it, like that he was gay. That was a load of rubbish.
What is he like off work?
Al-Amin: He was very lighthearted. And loves Mr. Bean. He laughs his heart out when he is watching the show. And he loves Indian music and Bollywood movies. He buys DVDs of them and he can lend them to you but you have to return them. If you do not, he will call you to remind you.
What is one weird thing about your father?
Al-Amin: He is a football fanatic, but apparently does not watch it the way other people do. I am an Arsenal fan and I used to think he supports Manchester, but he says he does not watch teams. He watches certain players. Like if Messi is playing, he will watch the match to watch Messi playing. But I think he only says that so that I don’t call him to tell him whenever his team loses.
Are you Muslims or Christians?
Shamilla: Dad changed his religion to Muslim in order to marry my mother. They separated later on, but the entire family is still Muslim to date, and I think he is the strictest Muslim in the family.
You are born of different mothers. How is your relationship?
Al-Amin: We are actually one big happy family, all in good terms with each other. We are always looking for opportunities to get together. The whole family comes to my mother’s house for Idd celebrations. Like in this picture (Showing me a picture of the family with a happy little girl at the centre of it), everyone showed up for Tai’s first birthday.
Shamilla: When we were younger, dad and I would show up during lunch hours to visit Al-Amin in school.
Al -Amin: The only one we are not in contact with is dad’s second ex-wife, American professor Beverle Michele Lax. They married in 2000 and divorced in 2010 and had no children.
Did any of the kids follow dad into the corridors of justice?
Shamilla: No. And he is perfectly fine with that.There was never any pressure to take after our parents or get into any particular career. I used to be interested in the arts and wanted to be an actress. He supported everything I came up with and he used to tell me even if I wanted to be an actor in Vitimbi or Vioja Mahakamani it was OK. I ended up studying Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management in the UK, but my passion for children led me to being a teacher. I home school children between 18 months and 6 years in the Waldorf curriculum.
Al-Amin: I studied Business and Information Technology in JKUAT, but I work as a photographer at Pawa 254.
Did he ever take you to work?
Al-Amin: Well, I didn’t get to spend as much time with him growing up as Shamilla did, but he would visit me in school whenever he could. It meant a lot to me. My classmates did not understand why my dad used to come to school during lunch hours, but I was always so happy to see him.
Shamilla: As a youngchild, in the 80s, dad would take me everywhere but to his place of work. Sometimes he would find death threat notes on his car. But it wasn’t until he was detained for his activism that I got a clue on what it was that he did.
Al-Amin: The first time I understood what he does I was in Form 4 and he was shortlisted to be the CJ. I googled it and called my brother up for some clarity and he told me that it was really a big deal.
What do you remember about your dad’s eight-month detention in 1982?
Shamilla: My most poignant memory was when he came out of detention. He drove to Kitui to pick us from our grandmother’s home on the same day and brought us back to Nairobi.
Was he a strict dad?
Shamilla: He gave me a lot of freedom as a teenager, and expected me to be responsible with it when I went out. He really hated lies, even the smallest one. He has a way of knowing when you lie. You can’t lie to him.
Al-Amin: He will know that you are lying in seconds. He hated it when we spent money badly and even when you asked for some, you had to explain very clearly what you needed it for.
Do you know who his personal heroes are?
Al-Amin: Some of the people he speaks well of are Mahatma Ghandi, Malcom X, Mohammed Ali, Buddha, Che Guevara, the Dalai Lama and especially Mwalimu Nyerere. He has these small statues of some of them on a certain chair at home. One time some ladies were doing a film about him at the house and they lost a T-shirt of Che Guevara. He was so angry, he lost it. I think he went crazy. He still gets angry when he recalls the incident.
Did life at home change when he became a CJ?
Al Amin: Nothing changed. He had been Ford Foundation Representative for Eastern Africa before then and I actually preferred it then because we got to travel more.
Shamilla: People would want to come over and say hallo whenever we were out in public with him. Once, we caused a stir at Blankets and Wine when he took me to see American musician Aloe Blacc, who was his friend. It was a special treat for my birthday. Even now, sometimes when I call someone over to fix something in the house and they realise I am related to him, they want to hike the prices.
What do you admire most about your father?
Shamilla: His humility, how humane he is, the way he reasons, the way he does things, how passionate he is about issues and about the country. He has had a huge impact in every place he has worked.
Al-Amin: I don’t have what he has. Sometimes I tell him I am giving up on being an advocate for social change, which is what I do as a photographer, but he will tell me they were fighting for a new constitution since the days he was in university and we only got it in 2010. So he will say giving up is not a solution. He believes in consistency and patience. If two people in a room of 200 believe in something, those two can work on changing the minds of the other 198. He takes time to listen and says what he feels. It will be the truth, take it or leave it.
Do you raise eyebrows at some of the decisions he makes?
Shamilla: I hardly pay attention to politics, and when we meet, we rarely discuss his work.
Al-Amin: People think that it was him who gave Uhuru the presidency, yet it is a process where all the other judges voted. But people who understand the law know this.
Willy MutungaShamillaWallimohammed ‘‘Al-Amin’ Mutunga