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CJ ignores critics to play by the book

By Daniel Wesangula | September 24th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Chief Justice David Maraga in Nairobi on 31/8/2016. [Edward Kiplimo]

On August 31, 2016, David Maraga appeared before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to be interviewed for the position of Chief Justice.

He was dressed in a navy blue suit, a blue shirt with white stripes and a red tie, so neat that it looked like it had been subjected to an algebraic equation.

From the very beginning, he cut the image of someone who plays by the book. Someone whose life is in black and white. There seemed to be no grey areas in his colour chart.

After a duel between him and the JSC, his was among the names put forward to President Uhuru Kenyatta for a possible appointment. After a month and a half, Maraga’s appointment was made public, making him the 14th Chief Justice of independent Kenya.

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But as he transitioned into his new role, he perhaps overlooked one key thing: the political context that surrounded his appointment. The Executive would later make demands on his office which have resulted in open exchanges in high tension press conferences and outlandish outbursts at political rallies.

It was clear from September 1, 2017, that the relationship between the Judiciary and the Executive was irrevocably broken when the Supreme Court judges overturned the results of the presidential elections. From then on, any attempts at presenting a united front by the two critical arms of government fell flat, and it did not take long before the two parties started badmouthing each other.

There was the promise by President Kenyatta of revisiting the Judiciary following the annulment of the 2017 presidential election, and Maraga has always made it clear that the promise is being made a reality.

First was the reduction of the Judiciary’s development budget in 2018 that saw it get Sh50 million from a proposal of Sh2.5 billion. This sent the CJ into a spin and in an interview with NTV, he painfully talked about the bottlenecks the Judiciary had.

These bottlenecks varied from big things of not being able to hire more staff to handle the backlog of cases to the small, yet important things, such as not having a proper toilet for his visitors. “They need to tell Kenyans whether or not they regard the Judiciary as important,” he said during the interview. 

The outburst gave the Judiciary some breathing space. The purse strings were somewhat loosened, and the courts got some of what they had asked for. This seemed like a win for Maraga, whose calls to key decision-makers in government at the time, went unanswered. “A CJ is calling Treasury and nobody is picking my calls. What else are you expected to do?”

Around the same time, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i insinuated that there was “an evil clique of judicial officers, working with activist lawyers and elements in civil society who were determined to make sure the Executive does not function.”

That was not the first public outburst that pitted Maraga against the State. Neither was it the last. On Monday, he was at it again. Issuing an advisory to the president to disband Parliament for failing to implement the two thirds gender rule. “We must say no to impunity and hold everyone accountable for the actions or omissions,” he wrote.

As a staunch Adventist, Maraga perhaps overlooked the possibility that not everyone sees the world in monochrome. He walked into an office that was for years sedentary. Just another appendage of the amorphous nature of the State. Reform from within was never going to be easy. Although his intentions of keeping the Executive in check are good, he is realising that perhaps what he thought was behind is just his long shadow from the sunset of his career.

The CJ is surrounded by ambitious individuals who would see his self-sacrifice as an opportunity. As he embarks on his crusades, he needs to know and understand that Kenya, or at least those who hold power on behalf of the people, abhor heroes and shun any attempts at heroism.

The CJ has been as straight as lines on the shirt he wore during his interview for the post that is giving him sleepless nights.

Where the State expected a cheerleader, he has been a party pooper. Where the State expected a church mouse, he has been a vuvuzela. Where it was expected that he would behave like a socialite, appearing in State functions while ignoring the mistreatment of his office, he has done the opposite and behaved like a pious village pastor who’d rather go down holding on to the thing dearest to himself — his principals.

His realisation of this could perhaps explain why he is not going away quietly. Why? In the three months or so remaining in his tenure, he will be as messy and as noisy as possible. “Kenyans need to know the truth about the frustrations of the Judiciary,” he said in a 2018 interview.

As Maraga walks the last months of his tenure, the striped shirts, thin ties and dark suits are staying put. If his tenure as CJ was reduced to a song, he’d be the man dancing in the same style from the beginning of the tune to the end.

He cares little about what voyeurs are saying. You might change the tune from time to time, but Maraga’s hips have proven that they will not sway differently to please the spectators.


David Maraga Dissolve Parliament
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