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Confusion Reigns as Kenya’s Judicial Crisis Continues

  • Michael Onyiego

Republic of Kenya Speaker of the National Assembly Kenneth Marende (file)

Republic of Kenya Speaker of the National Assembly Kenneth Marende (file)

As a key deadline for judicial reform approaches, Kenya remains in a state of limbo regarding the posts of chief justice and attorney general. A ruling in parliament Thursday ensured the uncertainty will continue a while longer.

The confusion over the positions of chief justice and attorney general is set to continue after Parliamentary Speaker Kenneth Marende granted a four-day delay for the publication of reports probing the nominations process.

The speaker had assigned two parliamentary committees to investigate the nominations of Appeals Court Judge Alnashir Vikram as Chief Justice and lawyer Githu Muigai as Attorney General last week, after Prime Minister Raila Odinga declared them invalid. The Prime Minister contends the nominations were made without his consultation as required by Kenyan law.

But after much suspense, both committees came before parliament to ask the speaker for additional time, arguing the volume of evidence presented needed additional scrutiny. Marende has extended the deadline until “at least” next Tuesday for the final reports to be brought before parliament.

Before presenting the issue to the committees last week, the speaker took center stage in the controversy, urging both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga to resolve the matter together.

“It is nothing short of heartbreaking to the people of this country that this process, that should herald a new beginning and inspire new confidence and legitimacy in this crucial organ of state, should get off to such a rough start,” Marende said.

But the two principals have failed to reach a consensus, instead allowing top aides to level accusations at one another during the committee hearings.

The matter has been further complicated by a ruling in the Kenya High Court declaring the nominations unconstitutional. Justice Daniel Musinga on Friday found the nomination process had violated constitutional requirement of equal opportunity by failing to include women candidates.

There is also the issue of vetting. Kenya’s new constitution requires every judicial candidate to first go through a process of examination to establish their qualifications for office. Neither Vikram nor Muigai has been through such a process.

Judicial reform is perhaps the most important component of Kenya’s new constitution. The Kenyan Judiciary was recently ranked by Transparency International as the 9th most corrupt institution in East Africa.

For now the clock is ticking as the judicial stalemate intensifies. According to the new constitution, Chief Justice Evan Gicheru is required to leave office by February 27th, making deliberations over his replacement a race against time.