Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Law Society must transform itself to remain relevant.

I sprinkled a liberal dose of sodium chloride on Jasper Mbiuki's polemic on the Law Society of Kenya before digesting it because he is The National Alliances Secretary for Legal Affairs (Why Law Society lost its clout as the people's voice and watchman, Standard on Sunday, April 14, 2013.) But I must admit that Mr Mbiuki is right. The Law Society has lost its focus; it spends more and more of its energies on politics than on the unglamourous end of its statutory mandate, especially of civic education on the law of Kenya. Its obsession with the political end of its mandate has had quite pernicious effects, even on its management. In 2007, just before the general election then, the Law Society was split right down the middle into pro-ODM and pro-PNU camps that did little to forestall the violence unleashed after the presidential results were challenged. In 2013, the Law Society would not be heard by the Supreme Court because in its public utterances, or those of some of the members of the Council of the Law Society (its highest decision-making organ), were biased towards the Uhuru and Ruto team.

When the Law Society, under the chairmanships of both Paul Muite and Willy Mutunga waded into the political arena in the 1990s, it was as a champion of the rule of law and a defender of the fundamental rights of all Kenyans. Sure, the target of the Society's ire was the KANU government of President Moi, but it did not specifically ally itself to the fate or fortunes of the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy movement that was at the forefront of agitations for greater political freedom for all Kenyans. Today, the Society has morphed into a partisan tool to be wielded against this or that political (usually presidential) candidate.

The Society faced a challenge in reinventing itself after the 2002 general election that ushered in the National Rainbow Coalition government. Many of its members were co-opted, in one form or another, into President Kibaki's administration. The Society ceased being a disinterested observer of the goings on in government. As a result, it could not find a unifying voice to cavil against the corruption and gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the Kibaki regime. The Society reached its nadir in 2007 and 2008 when it was unable to speak with one voice against the political violence that erupted after Raila Odinga of ODM lost to Mwai Kibaki of PNU in that year's presidential contest.

Today the Society finds itself unable to agree on a credible programme to advance its interests. If it is unable to persuade the highest court in Kenya that it is non-partisan, then it is incapable of being seen as an honest broker when major national events call for its advise. The Government of Kenya, all three arms of it, is undergoing transformational reforms in order to serve the peoples of Kenya better. It is time the Society took a leaf out of the political reforms being undertaken and undertook to transform itself for service in the Twenty-first Century. It still has a crucial role to play, especially in the political arena. But it can only play this role legitimately and credibly f it is not seen as a political plaything for one nabob or the other. The Society must have an internal debate about its future. It is the only way it can restore its bruised and battered reputation and be trusted, once again, as the voice of reason, truth and justice.

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