Lessons from Governor Kawira ouster bid and Senate's stature

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza seated next to lawyer Elias Mutuma during the day of her Impeachment hearing at the Senate, Parliament buildings, Nairobi on November 7, 2023. [ Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The removal of an elected official by way of impeachment is a serious affair. Intended to be the ultimate avenue for ensuring accountability in governance systems that elect Chief Executives, this vicious weapon is rarely utilised in many democracies.

Even when it is employed, it is reserved for the most severe of offences. This explains the wording of the impeachment clauses for both the President and for Governors in our Constitution and the County Government Act.

As was so eloquently put forward by the Governor’s Counsel Dr Elisha On’goya, the words used in the Constitution to describe the grounds upon which a Governor can be impeached are “gross misconduct” and “serious offences” which have since been expounded by our Supreme Court to mean the most revolting, despicable, or obnoxious of actions.

This framing of the grounds of impeachment arises from the appreciation that a removal of an elected official by the legislature is an affront to the democratic franchise. The persons subjected to an impeachment process sit in their offices by virtue of an election by citizens exercising their democratic rights. Impeachment permits a handful of legislative officials, to remove the person elected by citizens.

Although these officers are the voter’s representatives, there is no way of determining that they are carrying out this act for the benefit of the voters, and are not actuated by collateral objectives.

Because this process undercuts the rights of these voters, the law seeks to ensure this option is only exercised where it is obvious that the official in question had acted so blatantly against the public interest. It cannot be that they simply erred. Or that they disagreed or fell out with their political colleagues. Or were involved in misconduct of a minor nature. The acts complained of must be detestable and abominable on their face.

I had occasion to peruse the articles of impeachment approved by the County Assembly of Meru in their petition against Governor Kawira Mwangaza. I must say they were a travesty. They comprised allegations of persons said to be girlfriends of governor’s staff being identified as recipients of money through IFMIS, without any attempt, beyond conjecture, to link the money to the governor. Other allegations related to naming of some road. Another to travel by alleged relatives to some foreign country. Yet another related to exchanges in public rallies. There was even one about songs sung by the governor’s husband.

If Governor Kawira had been removed from office on these grounds, it would not only have made a mockery of the impeachment process, but it would have made the Senate a laughing stock, the butt of cruel jokes, which is the what the Meru County Assembly has become.

 I am unable to understand the cause of the vitriol this assembly and its shadowy patrons have for the governor. Local politics cannot surely be so noxious to drive this charade. I am not sure that even misogyny has the capacity to kill all reason and send a whole coterie of elected leaders on such “hot air” chases. But there we are.

What it has proved, by the diversity of the voting patterns for each impeachment article, is that our Senate is slowly coming of age and can be persuaded by the facts and the law. One hopes that the days of block voting are behind us and that whoever desires to impeach a public official will do their homework on the substance of the grounds they seek to bring before the Honourable House.  As for Governor Kawira, the House and indeed the country has spoken. You have been vindicated. I pray that you will be the “big woman” and call the teams in Meru for a “reason together’ retreat.

I believe that Meru has nonpartisan and respectable elders that can get the parties “behind the tent” so they can agree on the mechanics of working together. It is not just possible but mandatory.

A county with toxic divisions between the governor and the assembly is doomed, even if impeachments are off the table. And the persons to pay the price are the great people of Meru for whom a significant part of the last two years are lost. Meru deserves better.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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