On 21 November 2009, during the 50th Anniversary conference of the Kenya Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-K), I offered myself as a candidate for a position on the Governing Council of ICJ-K. Below is the Candidate Profile that I circulated to members introducing myself and the agenda I hoped to pursue if elected. The members elected me to a two-year term and re-elected me to a further two-year term on November 2011.
ICJ-K COUNCIL ELECTIONS
21st NOVEMBER 2009
CANDIDATE, ICJ-K COUNCIL
On 30th November 2004, a lawyer jumped over the perimeter fence around the private members car park at Parliament buildings and ripped the flag off a cabinet minister’s sleek limousine. He was immediately arrested and charged in court the following day with creating a disturbance in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace. But instead of pleading to the charge, he proceeded to sing the national anthem in Kiswahili and to make a speech in full view of TV cameras, whereupon the presiding magistrate, Aggrey Muchelule, ordered that the lawyer be taken for a psychiatric evaluation. But was the lawyer really mad or was he just mad with the NARC Government? And would you entrust him with a position on the ICJ-K Council. Well, here is your chance to find out. Please read on…
A. NJONJO MUE – A BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL PROFILE
Njonjo Mue is a Human Rights Lawyer and an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya having been admitted to roll of advocates in 1991. He currently serves as the Head of the Kenya Office of the
– based International Centre for Transitional Justice which works to promote accountability in post conflict societies by supporting transitional justice mechanisms. Until recently, he worked as the Head of Advocacy at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. New York
He was educated at Alliance High School; the University of Nairobi where he obtained an LL.B; Kenya School of Law; Oxford University, UK, where he was a Rhodes Scholar and studied international law and comparative human rights; Helsinki University in Finland where he obtained a diploma in Contemporary Problems in International Law; and the Nairobi International School of Theology where he obtained an MA in Christian Ministry and Leadership.
He has vast experience in leading successful human rights organizations both in
and abroad. He served as the Head of the Africa Office of ARTICLE 19 – The Global Campaign for Free Expression, in Kenya Johannesburg, South Africa; as Regional Director for Panos Eastern Africa based in Kampala, Uganda; and as Executive Director of Christians For a Just Society which seeks to mobilize the Church for social action in . He also worked briefly as the Head of Policy and Advocacy with World Vision Kenya . Kenya
Njonjo is a holder of several leadership and human rights awards, including being named the youngest Jurist of the Year by the Kenya Section of the International Commission of Jurists in 2000 for his commitment to fighting for democracy, human rights and the rule of law; and the Anthony Dzuya Leadership Award by the Young Professionals Forum.
He currently serves on the Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee for
Kenya, and the Research Ethics Committee of the . He is a prolific writer and campaigner on human rights and social justice issues and has spoken to audiences at home and abroad. Aga Khan Hospital University
Njonjo is keen on citizens’ participation in reform initiatives through legislative advocacy and was a founder member of the
on whose Board he currently sits. He is also a Fellow of the International Centre for Transitional Justice. Institute of Legislative Affairs
B. CRUSADER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
From leading peaceful demonstrations at university to protest the gruesome murder of Dr. Robert Ouko to representing Kenyan youth in celebrating the bicentennial of the French Revolution at a youth conference in France in 1989, to being a founder member and sitting on the advisory board of the Oxford Civil Liberties Society, to taking a leading part in demands for a new constitution in the heady days of “No reforms, No elections!” in the1990’s, Njonjo has given his life to the cause of the fight for human rights.
Engaging the powers
Njonjo kneeling before armed riot police in a nonviolent
pro-reform demonstration at Central Park,
31st May 1997 (Picture courtesy of People newspaper).
Njonjo believes in creative nonviolent action to bring about sustainable social change as well as to highlight injustice. On 31st May 1997, during a rally called by pro-reform activists to press for a new constitution, Njonjo led a group of activists in forming a human shield by kneeling before a fully armed contingent of riot police and GSU personnel to protect their civil society colleagues as they attempted to hold a peaceful rally to press for a new constitution. While the rest developed cold feet, Njonjo was left alone, unarmed, kneeling to face the police. The picture above was carried by ‘The People’ newspaper, the day after the rally was violently disrupted by the police, under the caption, ‘Praying for the Nation.’
Season of discontent
It was the season of discontent. It did not take long for a country that had been voted the most optimistic nation on earth following the NARC victory in 2002 to sink to the depths of despair as the lofty promises of the rainbow dream team dissipated into a mere mirage and the political elite descended into the gutter of mudslinging and name calling in the wake of a dishonoured MoU. The only thing the new government seemed agreed upon was the urgent business of raising MPs salaries and processing their car allowances and tax-free mortgages. Corruption skyrocketed with the advent of Anglo leasing hot on the heels of the yet to be resolved Goldenberg scandal. As usual, it was the ordinary citizen who bore the brunt of the failure of governance, struggling to eke out a living amidst skyrocketing inflation.
Paying the price
Njonjo at the High Court cells, charged with
creating a disturbance in Parliament on
30th November 2004 (Picture courtesy of
Rather than merely join in the chorus of disapproval that was taking place in every bar, bedroom and boardroom, Njonjo decided to dramatize the outrage most people were feeling but did not know quite know how to express. After taking two weeks to do a whistle stop tour of all the eight provinces speaking to ordinary people about the performance of their government to ensure that he was not alone in the despondency he felt towards the new government and its broken promises, Njonjo drafted a 10 point memorandum of protest addressed to Parliament and pasted it on the main entrance of the National Assembly.
A few days later, on 30th November 2004, he scaled the wall of Parliament and took away a pennant flag off a cabinet minister’s limousine to symbolically demonstrate the government’s loss of moral authority to govern. Contrary to press reports that he slapped Assistant Minister George Khaniri in the process, Njonjo’s action was entirely nonviolent as Khaniri himself later confirmed. Njonjo was promptly arrested and charged with creating a disturbance.
“Yes, I am mad!”
When the charge was read out before a packed courtroom and in front of TV cameras, Njonjo opted not to plead, but rather to sing the national anthem to further dramatize the nature of and reason for his nonviolent protest. When the presiding magistrate ordered that he be taken for a psychiatric examination, Njonjo made the following memorable speech:
“Your honour, if in Kenya today it is considered normal for ministers to drive vehicles worth ten million shillings while a family of six in Kibera subsists on forty six shillings a day, then you don’t have to ask a psychiatrist, I will tell you myself, I am mad; if it is considered normal for MPs to be taken to Mombasa on holidays by BAT to be bribed to block tobacco control legislation while our people continue dying of tobacco related ailments, then I am mad; if it is normal for our leaders to traverse the land hurling insults at each other while our people are robbed, raped and murdered, then I am mad; and I take comfort in the fact that I am not the only one, we are millions of mad people who do not want to act normal while watching our country going to the dogs.
“As for the charge before you, your honour, I beseech you not only to find me guilty, but to hand down the harshest sentence permitted by the law.” Njonjo was incarcerated for two weeks before being released on bond. The Attorney General later withdrew the charges, despite the fact that he could not technically do so as Njonjo had already pleaded guilty.
While many dismissed Njonjo’s actions during that November of discontent, a few read it for what it really was, a legitimate and well targeted act of protest against the country’s failing leadership. Writing in an article aptly titled,
– a nation in despair that appeared in a local daily and on the African Economic Analysis blog, one commentator, Michael Mundia Kamau, said: Kenya
There is something terribly wrong in this country. There is a devastating and looming crisis in our midst, and direction out of this needs to be established fast. Government and local authority functions have crumbled to the detriment of an entire nation. It is this sheer frustration that drove an exasperated Njonjo Mue to confronting two government ministers on the grounds of parliament on 30th November 2004. Njonjo Mue’s bold and courageous act of confrontation will one day rank alongside that of the Boston Tea Party of 1773, the storming of the Bastille in Paris on July 14th 1789, the beginning of the modern civil rights movement in the United States on December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama and the brave, bold and courageous manner in which civil rights activist James Chaney met his death at the hands of white captors in June 1964 by telling them to their faces, “I aint running”.
After paying tribute to other Kenyans throughout history who had gone against the grain and stood up for what they believed in, the author went on to say:
Njonjo Mue’s bold and courageous act of 30th November 2004 is nevertheless an enviable and inspiring wakeup call to both the entire Kenyan leadership and to the ineffective and heavily compromised Kenyan middle class in deep slumber, a heavily compromised 21st century Kenyan middle class that makes 18th century
’s Marie Antoinette and her callousness, appear saintly. The Kenyan middle class on which the country relies on for direction and intellect is decadent, and hopelessly preoccupied with sex, pleasure, alcohol, flashy cars and flashy cell phones. Fresh impetus and direction needs to be given to the Kenyan dream, struggle and movement, and Njonjo Mue played a shining role in this respect on the 30th November 2004. Sanity and direction urgently require to be restored in this country. France
I felt the same way on learning that it was actually Njonjo Mue who had scaled the walls of parliament and torn a flag off a government car. Mue was protesting what he felt was our new government’s complete betrayal of all of the ideals, all of the people’s struggles, that brought it into power. His audacity made me feel somewhat gleeful – for I find I have to try harder and harder every day to continue to believe in all of the reforms initiated or promised by the National Rainbow Coalition. And although, unlike Mue, I am dealing with my disillusionment from the comfort of my organised, safe work space and certainly not scaling parliamentary walls, it gives me great pleasure that someone else is. Because I do still believe in dialectics – thesis, antithesis, synthesis. And actions like Mue’s enable, make possible, the kind of actions I contemplate now. Actions like Mue’s highlight, in all the ways that organised advocacy, diplomacy and negotiations of the kind that my organisations do not, the basis on which we are all acting. So, I agree with the National Constitution Executive Council in their calls for all charges against Mue to be dropped on the basis that they constitute legitimate protest – an exercise of his freedom of expression. Dramatic gestures. They have their uses.
Weeping with those who weep
A year later, Njonjo was in the headlines again. This time, as Executive Director of Christians for A Just Society (CFJS), he took on both the Kenyan and the American governments over compensation for victims of the 1998 bomb blast at the US Embassy in
. Fourteen of the victims who were permanently injured and lost their livelihoods because of the bomb blast had gone on a hunger strike and camped at the August 7th memorial park seeking compensation. Njonjo mobilized CFJS members to donate blankets for the survivors and temporarily moved the offices of CFJS to the Park and spent some nights at the park in solidarity with the survivors. Nairobi
He led CFJS in collecting signatures for a petition to the US Government for compensation. However when he went to the
embassy to present the petition, he was arrested and charged with creating a disturbance. He was incarcerated at Industrial Area Remand Prison for one month before being discharged. US
Although the survivors were violently dispersed after spending 124 days and nights at the park, their campaign maintained momentum. On 7th August 2008, their commemoration ceremony at the Park was attended by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Internal Security and other senior government officials, the first time the government had been represented at the anniversary of the bomb blast in five years. On 9th September 2008, the Chairperson of the August 7th Welfare Association, whom Njonjo had helped in organizing events and writing speeches and memoranda, was honoured with an invitation to address a Symposium on Supporting Victims of Terrorism that was hosted by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, at the United Nations in New York. (See ‘Victims of terrorism share stories at U.N.’ - Los Angeles Times, September 10th 2008, ( http://articles.latimes.com/2008/sep/10/world/fg-victims10 ).
Their campaign for compensation continues.
“I was in prison, and you visited me.”
On 17th November 2008, while working with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Njonjo received a call from an anonymous warder at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison informing him that there had been daylong disturbances at the prison the day before and that one prisoner had been killed. Njonjo immediately drove to the prison and found the prison’s top brass in the process of a major cover-up. Njonjo managed to go into Cell G6 where the body of the dead prisoner was still lying as his fellow inmates refused to let the prison authorities take it fearing that they would be blamed for it while they knew that he had died at the hands of brutal prison warders. In the process of his investigations, Njonjo discovered that prison warders had unleashed brutal violence including scalding inmates with boiling water. But what shocked the nation and the international community beyond was footage of prison warders mercilessly beating naked prisoners which Njonjo smuggled out of the prison and which was aired on TV locally and abroad and led to widespread condemnation of the warders actions including by the Minister of Justice. The officer in charge and several warders were interdicted and several reforms undertaken as a result.
(See ‘Karua condemns torture claims’ - http://www.kbc.co.ke/story.asp?ID=53944
KBC, 19th November 2008;
jail beating to be probed – BBC, 19th November 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7737168.stm; Unrest at Kamiti as prisoner dies – Daily Nation, 18th November 2008, http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/492496/-/tm2v88/-/index.html ) Kenya
Fighting the good fight
Whether engaging in intellectual human rights discourse in the hallowed cloisters of Oxford, representing Kenya in human rights conferences abroad, collecting signatures for human rights petitions in the street, facing off with gun totting and teargas wielding riot police, or exposing brutality in prisons and campaigning for reform, Njonjo’s philosophy has always been that human rights campaigners must choose their battles not only because they can be won, but because they must be fought. His quest for justice and human dignity has taken him everywhere from the heights of hobnobbing with the great and the good in cocktail parties with ambassadors and cabinet ministers, to the dungeons of gloom in the death traps that are
’s prisons. Wherever the fight has taken him, Njonjo has remained a courageous and consistent crusader and a spokesperson for “the least of these.” Kenya
Working together to pursue justice for the poor
Njonjo, second from left, joins other civil society leaders meeting with ICC Prosecutor,
Luis Moreno-Ocampo (centre), at his office in
on September 18, 2009 to press The Hague
for justice for victims of post election violence (Picture courtesy of the Office of the Prosecutor, ICC).
C. ASSOCIATION WITH ICJ-K
Member in good standing
Njonjo has been a member of ICJ-K since the early 1990s. On November 27th 2004, he was among a small group of jurists to be recognized by ICJ-K for being a member in good standing, and consistent with his commitment to human rights democracy and the rule of law.
Holding the fort
Between 1995 and 1997, he served in the ICJ-K Secretariat as a Programme Officer and was responsible together with the then Executive Director, Connie Ngondi, for starting some of the ICJ-K’s flagship projects such as the Paralegal Programme which is still ongoing as the current Human Rights Education Programme. Between August 1996 and February 1997, Njonjo worked without pay for ICJ-K at a time when it was facing severe financial constraints following the collapse of its banker, the Kenya Finance Bank.
Jurist of the Year
In 2000, ICJ-K named Njonjo Mue Jurist of the Year. The Award is given annually by the ICJ-K to a lawyer who has demonstrated unparalleled courage and determination for the preservation and restoration of human dignity, and realization of the tenets of democracy and the rule of law. At 33, Njonjo is the youngest ever Jurist of the Year in the 16 year history of the award. Writing in the ICJ-K Quarterly Newsletter Issue No. IX in January 2001, the then ICJ-K Executive Director, Kagwiria Mbogori said:
Last year’s recipient of the (Jurist of the Year) award was remarkable in three respects. Firstly, he was by far the youngest person to receive this award. Secondly, although many of his efforts in the advancement of human rights have clearly impacted in
Kenya, the recipient has been resident in for the last three years. Despite his relative young age, he has been a critical force in getting Kenyans outside the country… to rally together for democracy and human rights back at home. Thirdly, as a prolific writer, he has been at the forefront in the use of electronic mail and the Internet to advance the cause of human rights in South Africa . In this way, he has opened our eyes to the unlimited potential that exists in these new technologies. It was thus with great pride and pleasure that the ICJ-K presented the 2000 Jurist of the Year Award to Mr. Njonjo Mue. Kenya
Njonjo has remained an active member of ICJ-K and has spoken at several ICJ-K workshops and conferences including its public lectures and annual conferences including in 2007 and 2008, and the just concluded 50th Anniversary Conference.
D. WHY NJONJO SEEKS TO BE ELECTED TO THE ICJ-K COUNCIL
ICJ-K celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year as a human rights organization that has few equals in
Kenya and Africa. It does so at a time when as a country is at a crossroads as we seek to recover and heal from the violence that followed the disputed 2007 General Election and that brought us to the brink of civil war. Through Agenda 4 of the National Accord and Reconciliation Process, the country has embarked on a series of reforms that if carried out properly will amount to nothing short of recreating our republic. A restoration of fundamental rights and the rule of law is a critical focus of this process and the leadership of ICJ-K will continue to be crucial in this regard. Kenya
Although a seat on the ICJ-K Council would optimize his contribution, it is by no means a necessary condition for continued engagement. Failure to win this election would by no means act as a bar to Njonjo’s consistent commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law that ICJ-K has already recognized. He will gladly continue to contribute as a member to promoting the mission and vision of ICJ-K as it enters its sixth decade.