I was privileged on 18th July 2016 to say a few words on behalf of ICJ-Kenya and the wider civil society community at a farewell party for Dr. Willy Mutunga as he retires as Kenya's Chief Justice. Here's a transcript of what I had to say:
Thank you Willy for mentoring many of us, for me, from when I was a foot soldier in the street battles in the early push for a people-driven constitution-making process in the mid-1990s. Although we were impatient, hot-blooded, young men and women then, we went out onto the streets knowing that you, our leaders, always had our backs, and we could be patient with your leadership as we knew that throughout, you had the interests of Kenyans at heart.
On behalf of ICJ-Kenya, whose board I am privileged to chair, I wish to thank you that during your leadership of the judiciary, you have made life much easier for us and for all other CSOs that work on judicial reforms. You have made justice more accessible to the poor and the marginalised by operationalising the Court Users Committees (CUCs), and you have demystified the office of the of the Chief Justice by maintaining an open-door policy. Thank you for the work you have done to humanise the judiciary.
I want to congratulate KHRC for convening such a diverse range of civil society actors here tonight. There are colleagues here whom I have not seen in years! This is a testament to the many colleagues who call Willy a mentor and a friend. But while we meet here tonight to celebrate one Willy, I remind us that just two weeks ago, this community came together again to mourn another Willy - Willy Kimani who alongside his client Josephat Mwenda and their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri - was brutally murdered in a case of extra-judicial killings allegedly by the police. Their tragic deaths are a stark reminder that although we now have one of the best constitutions in the world, the struggle to create a truly just, peaceful and democratic society is far from won. We re-commit ourselves to this struggle and to staying true to the cause until the battle for constitutionalism is won.
Freedom fighters tend to make terrible post-independence leaders This is because they come to office with a sense of entitlement and once they discover that they do not have what it takes to lead their followers in the new dispensation, they try to make up for it by unlawfully extending their stay in power. Our continent is not short of examples of this kind of leader.
But Willy Mutunga has proved to be the exception. Not only was he a freedom fighter offering great leadership to the constitution-making process in the 1990s, but he went on to become a great first Chief Justice in the new constitutional dispensation. And when he had made his contribution, although many would have been delighted to have him stay on until his retirement age in a year's time, he chose to leave in good time to give the JSC time to recruit his replacement well ahead of the next General Election. ICJ-K expects no less transparency in the process of recruiting the next CJ than the process that gave us Willy Mutunga.
And so tonight, as a great man leaves to go and do more great things, I am not here to say farewell because Willy Mutunga, you are really not going anywhere. But as a solder of justice, you are merely going on to march with a different detachment of the same army to which we all belong. For now I can only wish you God's blessings and guidance in that next season of your life of service.
I thank you