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Kenya's Kibaki Under Fire by Legal Society

An influential group of lawyers in Kenya says President Mwai Kibaki has taken a number of actions recently that violate court orders. President Kibaki's move to grant land titles to displaced communities in the Rift Valley is under fire.

The law society of Kenya says the President Mwai Kibaki set a bad precedent when he issued land titles to members of the Ogiek community of the Rift Valley Province this past weekend despite a court order barring the action.

"Clearly the latest spate of disobedience is most unfortunate because it comes from the highest office, the president, and I think that where a court has stopped a specific act a person like a president should not be seen to defy that act by proceeding to issue title deeds," said Tom Ojienda, Chairman of the Law Society of Kenya. "It is the highest disregard of the authority of the judiciary coming from the holder of the highest office of the executive. It is the most unfortunate thing to happen in this country."

The Ogiek are a community of about 25,000 people scattered all over East Africa with the majority living in the forest areas of the Rift Valley. The Ogiek found themselves in trouble with the government last year when the newly elected National Rainbow coalition government of President Kibaki ordered people living in government forests to vacate.

While issuing the land titles to the Ogiek Saturday President Kibaki said it is an inalienable right for all Kenyans who own property to be issued with titles.

This is the second time the Mr. Kibaki has come under fire for allegedly violating a court ruling. Last week, a local council defied a court order to take over the management of a game park from wildlife conservation groups after President Kibaki awarded the local council the management of the park.

Mr. Ojienda says such violations of the law by the president and members of his cabinet can only be seen as attempts to lure votes in a national referendum on a new constitution that will take place next month.

"The main reason that the titles were issued to the Ogiek is clearly the referendum," he said. "I think the political considerations unfortunately are weighing top heavy on legal considerations. A lot of politics are taken the center point of activities of the NARC government and I think for the time being they have ignored the law. They gave out Amboseli park the other day merely because of the referendum. Clearly the law cannot be sacrificed at the alter of the referendum."

While President Kibaki has been campaigning, public opinion is divided on how to revamp the country's colonial-era constitution. Key issues include the importance of increasing the clout of the Parliament and the necessity of shifting power from here, the capital, to the outlying provinces.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua told VOA the government had no comment on the accusations by the Law Society of Kenya.