Kenya’s Chief Justice selection

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Kenya is going through the process of selecting the next chief justice. Candidates for the post are being interviewed by a panel of prominent lawyers in a public hearing. This is a new selection process – previously the chief justice was appointed by the president and did not need to be accountable to anyone else. You can tell that the lawyers are enjoying digging into the (often ill-prepared) judges. Ahmednasir, the former law society of Kenya chairman had this question for Lady Justice Ang’awa:

Your judgments consist of one line or one paragraph rulings, skeleton in nature and lacks depth. It is evident you have a problem writing in prose. Do you think writing in poetry will help or capture the essence of justice?

Reading the coverage of the hearings is quite entertaining and also illuminating. The interviewers are bringing up particular cases that the judges handled and putting them to task for decisions handed suspiciously in favor of connected politicians or businessmen. The best part of this is that the judges never thought they would have to explain their decisions and some are still indignant when asked to.

Going back to Ang’awa – how does a judge of the High Court make a career of issuing one-line rulings? Sure, it looks good for her statistics that she clears many cases. At this level, though, the goal of a judge is not simply to adjudicate conflicts – they interpret the law, provide guidance to lower courts  and establish precedent which will guide future courts. How is one to infer a legal doctrine from one-line rulings? My advice for the justice is to branch out. Try some verses as Ahmednasir suggested. Maybe combine the love for brevity with poetic skills and write some haiku.

The American Presidential campaign was filled with mudslinging and hate. The republican propaganda machine painted the picture of Obama as an un-American outsider, a terrorist, a socialist; they stopped short of calling him the anti-Christ. It reminded me of the Kenyan election. Thankfully, in the American case, the losing candidate conceded defeat graciously and the winner accepted the concession magnanimously.

The propaganda machine did not go away on polling day. Talk radio is still active spreading fear and hate. Last week, a Republican Congressman, Paul Broun, made the allegation that Obama would establish a Gestapo force in America (on talk radio, no less). A news report from AP has the details.

Broun was specifically referring to a July speech by Obama, where the then-Democratic presidential nominee said he supports a civilian force helping the military when it comes to national security.

Responding to those comments, Broun told the AP Monday: “That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did. When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the U.S. military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.”

“We can’t be lulled into complacency,” Broun added. “You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany.”

The statement is absolutely untenable and irrational. It is amazing to see this happen in America. Politics has moved from the realm of reasoned debate and policy discussions to appealing to people’s fears and latent prejudices. The target audience is divided into groups totally unrelated to the policies – in America, Palin preached about a “real” America and an “elitist” or “unpatriotic” fake America. If this were in Kenya, the proxy for policy discourse would would be tribal affiliation. Accusations would be “my opponent is a Muslim; he will only help his tribesmen” et cetera. Those are not quite as bad as “my opponent is Hitler” (though the republican machinery did use these earlier on). The experience makes me rethink my perceptions of tribalism. The line of division doesn’t matter – the tendency to fiery irrational hate and even violence is the same.

Obama’s victory has been hailed as a victory for America. It is an affirmation that the country lives by the ideals that it was founded on. The vibrant movement that Obama mobilized shows that the government really is of the people. His unlikely ascendancy shows that it is still a land of opportunity – where a middle-class multi-racial kid from a single parent upbringing can rise to the highest office in the land.

For a nation that started out treating black people as sub-human and just 30 years ago criminalized interracial marriages, the transformation is amazing. As an African living in America, I share the euphoria of the black community. Obama is Joshua to Martin Luther King’s Moses. Dr. King led his people through the great struggle. He inspired many and spoke of a future in which the value of a man would be determined by the quality of his character – regardless of race. This is that time and this is the land of his dreams.

In the last speech he gave on the day before he was assassinated, King talked about the promised land:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

It is noteworthy that Obama is not the traditional black revolutionary. He is the “new black man”. Reading his life story, you get the impression that he looks beyond race. Being black is only part of who he is. Franz Fanon spoke of this new man in his advice to the 3rd world revolutionaries:

For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must make a new start, develop a new way of thinking, and endeavor to create a new man.

As an African, I see a different promise in Obama. I don’t think his administration will especially prioritize Africa or give us extra development aid. He already has quite a job cut out for him fixing America. What I do hope is that he will show the next generation of African leaders the value of the New Man. There are many parallels between the black struggle in America and the African struggle. The Americans have overcome by evolving a new man. We need to borrow a leaf from them and move past the fixation with colonialism and neocolonialism, blaming our present on the crimes of past generations. We need to formulate a plan of the future of our continent that does not involve retribution or righting past wrongs. We need our own messenger of Hope.

I held the rails on the third floor balcony and strained my eyes towards the valley a little on the left to see if a flare, or the bright of a flame, would light up the hazy mist hanging over the valley. Kevin stood on my left.

“The police must have arrived. You hear the sirens?”

We all strained to expecting some flashing lights to announce their arrival. An orange glow persisted above the misty haze.

“No, that can’t be a fire. It’s the flood lights.”

“Yeah, they’re floodlights,” we all agreed.

“They’re not flashing.”

“Yeah, they’re not flashing. They can’t be fires … must be the flood lights.”

There were a couple rat-a-tats in quick succession from the left edge of the valley. Two or three reverberated from Juja Road, on the opposite side.

“Dude, that must be the Mungiki.”

“You mean the ones to the left?”

A few more distant shots.

“Do you think it will spill out of the valley?”

“Maybe.” A pause. “I really don’t know … actually maybe. But wait … it doesn’t sound that bad.”

We stared into the valley, expecting it to answer us back. Wails, distant and feeble, then – still distant, but – more certain.

“Something’s going on. What’ll we do if it spills over into Pangani?”

“I think we’ll have time to leave the house and get away.”

“Yeah, there’s many houses before they reach our block.”

“There’s also a wall. The one they built two years ago to keep the thieves away.”

“But dude, you know the road passes right behind our compound?!”

“Aw, goodness me!”

The orange glow persisted above the valley. As I sighed “goodness me!” I turned and this girl was clung tightly on Dedan’s arm. Dedan had another girlfriend??!! Still, I felt lonely, a little scared perhaps. But certainly wishing the girl was clinging to my arm instead.

The distant shots again. Another, louder, where Juja Road met the street our gate stood on. Three bangs no more than a hundred meters from our gate! We all scurried down the stairs and in one fell swoop the two girls, Kevin, Dedan and I found ourselves in our tiny bachelor’s pad. Two chapattis were still rolled in a clear polyethene bag, left-over ugali on a plate, and the beef sufuria balanced on giant tweezers on the table. We excused the mess. I offered my name to the two girls and was surprised Dedan offered his too. Kevin had meanwhile dashed to his house to latch it but was back in a moment. With Joanna, the next-door neighbor. Joanna stood at the door.

“Please come in.”

“Goodness … you think it’s going to grow worse?”

In the house I offered Mani and Nunu dinner. Nunu stared at Mani. I stared at Mani.

“Er … I’ve already eaten.”

“I don’t think so … really? It’s fine … it will be okay … will you?”

“Uhm … not really.”

“Tea then?” Unrelenting.

“Okay, tea.”

“But you’re taking dinner … right?” I said turning to Nunu.

“Tea too.”

I stared disapprovingly. Play-acting … or rather, desperately persuading. To overcome Nunu and Mani’s fear, society’s fear, our fear, my fear. As much as we boast of our collective welcoming spirit, a surprising majority of us never dares eat in strangers’ homes. Perhaps I saw myself in them as I pleaded. I was grateful that they agreed to eat.

Dedan had since gathered the courage to walk up to the gate and stare down the whole length of the street and confirmed that there was no one on the 10 o’clock street. He ominously announced that it would be a long night as he walked in with Kevin. (When Kevin – and Joanna -eventually got the courage to leave, Dedan explained that Kevin had been too scared to walk up to the gate with him).

“Dudes, what if Luos overrun this compound? We’ll be finished!”

Joanna told Kevin never say that!

“But it’s true … we’ll be done!” It sounded exuberant, but what it lacked in pathos, it made for in sting. Dedan and I would not be overrun.

Mani and Nunu wished they’d traveled to Kiambu that day. They’d now be safe.

I said it would be fine. I said it as much to Mani, Nunu, Kevin and Joanna as I did to myself. Perhaps more so to them, as they seemed more scared than I was. You see, I’ve never quite seen danger make a beeline towards me and that makes me believe I’ll always be fine. Dedan seemed to feel the same way.

“Dude, it could be the Mungiki …” I found myself saying. Kevin interrupted the silent stares that answered better than would have been said … “Let’s watch TV.”

“We guys have DSTv and GTv … have a favorite?” Dedan asked. Nunu and Mani said anything would be fine. I thought they felt cold but couldn’t say, so went to the other room and grabbed two blankets for them. Kevin had grabbed the living room linen, and, sitting next to the door, occasionally pulled the door to stare the way of his house to make sure no one had by chance got into it. Joanna, Dedan and I watched TV.

It was sleep, however, that eventually overcame everyone’s scares. At 3 a.m. Kevin felt safe enough to leave at the urging of Joanna, who, though afraid, wanted to go to bed but was too afraid to leave alone. By 4 a.m. it was Nunu and Mani who said they thought they would be fine. But they made us promise to grab them in case anything came up. We’d also made Eleven, the Eritrean, promise to drive us away in his car if anything came up.

When we finally had the house to ourselves, I poked fun at Dedan for being so good with the ladies. He laughed. But we both reflected similarly. It’s Dedan who said first. Afraid that Luo mobs may overrun our compound, our Kikuyu and Meru neighbors had come to seek safety in our house. But we’d also needed them. We both knew we’d have hidden in the second room and asked Kevin to answer for us if perchance the Mungiki came knocking. My friend hypothesizes that perhaps some primordial sense of insecurity in each of our tribes crescendos into irrational orgies of violence such as may have been happening in Mathare that night. True, it makes sense. But that primordial fear also drove us to seek refuge in our differences. We all want to live.

Kenya is slowly recovering from the effects of the post-election violence that rocked the country for the first two months of the year. One of the parties in the conflict, ODM, is calling for amnesty for those arrested for participating in the violence and various crimes around it. This, they say, is necessary for national healing. A blanket amnesty, in my opinion, is neither necessary nor conducive for the goal of national healing. Read more

Rem Acu tetigisti Gado!

Gado on Moi’s ODM comments

Yesterday Kibaki made public a proposal for free secondary education and interestingly this program goes into effect in January of 2008. Obviously, this declaration ties the hands of whoever is to succeed him. The fact that the president promised it means there exists a source of funding and the necessary infrastructure to implement this policy. Let’s see what ODM does with this. Below is Gado’s take on this.

Gado - free things

Godfrey Mwapanga, alias Gado, is Kenya’s leading editorial cartoonist. Occasionally he does disappoint but it is pieces like today’s that keep me as a fan. The seeming obliviousness of leaders to exactly how destructive bad elections practices are is caught in the piece below – and with such style!

Obasanjo’s report card