The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), MUHURI, and Social Justice Centres Working Group strongly condemn the reckless and insidious attacks by William Ruto against the Judiciary and Kenyans who continue to challenge his repressive policies.
It is noticeably clear what Mr. Ruto is politically scheming against the judiciary in the midst of the deepening political and economic regression under his rulership: having already infiltrated and captured Parliament and many other independent institutions, he now set his sights on this crucial arm of the state, which remains the core beacon of hope and justice to Kenyans.
His recent remarks are an affront to the doctrine of separation of powers. It is clear that the constitutionally guaranteed, and therefore protected, role to interpret the law belongs with the judiciary. The president, by making the careless and ill-thought remarks, failed to respect the institutional and decisional independence of the judiciary. Mr. Ruto’s action of singling out particular cases in court and publicly disparaging the characters of judicial officers is tantamount to intimidation and a blatant attempt to interfere with the decisional independence of the judiciary.
Further and in what appears to be his characteristic manipulative nature, President Ruto took on a path to set the public against the judiciary when he declared that the courts were being used to halt his development programmes. And in brazen contempt of court, in the full glare of the media, he went on to order the Principal Secretary for Roads to ensure resumption of construction of a road whose determination was still pending in court.
This statement serves as a pointed reminder for Mr. Ruto: The Judiciary, as explicitly outlined in Article 161 of the Constitution, stands as an independent and equal arm of government. This means that the judiciary is meant to be beholden solely to the Constitution and the people of Kenya, impervious to the meddling fingers of any person or authority. The Judiciary is not his pawn to manipulate; it is an autonomous entity designed to operate beyond the reach of political and executive whims and puppetry. In any case, the president should know better to follow the well-established judicial hierarchy that provides channels for individuals who are dissatisfied by a court decision to appeal or seek review of the decision in a higher court.
For the Judiciary is mandated to ensure justice prevails in all circumstances and therefore should not sacrifice constitutionalism at the altar of political expediency. Its steadfastness in upholding the rule of law should not be misconstrued as corruption and should be protected from the unfettered 'powers' of the Executive. Indeed, we take note that some of the cases coming under the president’s attack raise important and valid issues around public participation and the procedures followed in coming up with laws that impose levies and fees, for instance on the Social Health Insurance Fund and housing projects. As a healthy democracy, it is important that such issues are canvassed and resolved through the platform of a court of law. Any other way would open floodgates to anarchy.
Moreover, Mr. Ruto should remember that he is not above the law and the national office he occupies is a creation of the Constitution and the people of Kenya. Thus, his threats to disobey court orders will set a calamitous and regrettable impact on his regime. Given that the executive arm of the government is a key player and beneficiary of the criminal justice, his bad decisions against the judiciary will fuel lawlessness and lead to self-sabotage. He must be reminded that he occupies an immensely important office assigned to him by the people of Kenya. He therefore must exercise great caution in the execution of his mandate and ensure he remains measured in his utterances.
It is utterly disheartening that the treacherous journey undertaken by daring Kenyans since the 1960s to dismantle presidential imperialism and its unbridled control of courts and other state institutions during the autocratic KANU regimes under Presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi culminating in the Constitution of Kenya 2010, is now at risk of being undermined by the divisive and disruptive pronouncements emanating from an office designated as a symbol of national unity. This is a stark indictment of a political system that appears oblivious to the sacrifices and aspirations of the people he is meant to serve.
It also ironical and unacceptable that the regime in its dispatch from State House Nairobi (dated January 3, 2024, and titled "Just for the record") in response to a statement issued by the Law Society of Kenya dated January 3, 2024, mischievously misconstrued its current fights with judiciary with the quest for progressive reforms instituted by the Kibaki regime after the removal of KANU in December 2002. In fact, what we are experiencing is a devious effort to take us back to the horrible and repressive dispensation where judiciary was subservient to the executive.
We cannot forget the fact that a good number of this regime are a product of this bleak, dark past. It is no wonder we are increasingly creeping into a fascist regime that attempts to suffocate virtually every state agency. This must be resisted strongly.
One wonders whether the Attorney-General (AG) and the Solicitor-General are in dereliction of their duties. Their primary role is to promote, protect, and uphold the rule of law and champion the public interest as the principal advisors of the President. However, their performances cast doubts on whether they are anything more than spineless enablers of Executive overreach, owing to their allegiance to power over principles.
Demands and Actions
- President Ruto must immediately issue an unequivocal apology to the Judiciary and stop the attacks, interference, intimidation and threats including to other institutions and all Kenyans who continue to challenge his punitive and retrogressive decisions.
- Judiciary should consider laying down its tools unless Ruto retracts his political threats and utterances for the rule of law is no longer applicable to this regime.
- The Kenya Kwanza regime must end its proclivity to autocracy, personal rule and obsession with institutional capture and disregard of the rule of law.
- Kenyans and the legal fraternity should strongly consider filing complaints with the Law Society of Kenya against the Attorney-General and the Solicitor General for failing to provide sound legal advice to the President regarding the critical role that the Judiciary plays.
- Finally, and pursuant to Article 3(1), we call upon Kenyans to continue respecting, upholding and defending the Constitution at all times, and by all legal means.
In conclusion, we remain in solidarity with the judiciary on this matter and offer our unequivocal support to the LSK in its call for nationwide demonstrations next week in expression of civic dissent against the attacks by the president. We call upon lawyers and the rest of Kenyans to turn up in big numbers.
May Justice be our Shield and Defender. Aluta Continua