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Kenyan President, PM, to Rethink Judicial Appointees

  • Michael Onyiego

Kenya’s Parliamentary Speaker Kenneth Marende (file)

Kenya’s Parliamentary Speaker Kenneth Marende (file)

Kenya’s Parliamentary Speaker Kenneth Marende has rejected controversial judicial appointments made by the President last month. As key deadlines for judicial reform approach, the process is back in the hands of Kenya’s divided leaders.

The appointments of major positions within Kenya’s Judiciary are back in the hands of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga after nearly three weeks of controversy and confusion which gripped the country’s government. Late Thursday, Parliamentary Speaker Kenneth Marende ruled to a noisy chamber that Mr. Kibaki had violated the National Accord and Reconciliation Act when he failed to consult the Prime Minister on the nominations.

“The constitutional requirements are not met if the national assembly receives a list of nominees to constitutional offices on which there is open and expressed disagreement between his Excellency the President and the Prime Minister," said Merende.

In January, President Mwai Kibaki appointed Judge Alashir Vishram and lawyer Githu Muigai for the positions of Chief Justice and Attorney General of Kenya. The appointments were made while Prime Minister Odinga was in Ethiopia attending a Summit of the African Union. Mr. Odinga immediately declared the act invalid, telling media he had asked Mr. Kibaki to wait until his return for discussions regarding the posts. Mr. Kibaki also named a director of public prosecution and a budget controller.

In his ruling, Marende called on both principals to reach a consensus on the nominations before resubmitting the names to parliament for final approval.

Members of the President’s Party of National Unity expressed universal shock and anger at the rulings. Shortly after Thursday’s session, visibly disgusted Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta disputed the ruling.

“Are we now saying the country will not move forward until Raila says so?" asked Kenyatta.
"The decision is likely to increase tensions in Kenya’s already strained coalition government. But perhaps lost amid the previous three weeks of frenzied debate was a High Court ruling which separately found the nominations invalid."

On February 4, Justice Daniel Musinga found the nominations process had violated constitutional requirements of equal opportunity by failing consider women candidates. The ruling, which was seemingly ignored by Kenya’s lawmakers, appeared to play a role in the Speaker’s decision.

“It is unconstitutional and the unconstitutionality cannot be cured by any act of this house or its committees, nor a vote on a motion of this house," said Merende.

Kenya now faces a race against the clock as the judicial reform process heads back to square one. The new constitution requires current Chief Justice Evan Gicheru to vacate office by February 27.