Law schools, revolutionaries and bandit state by RLS faculty R. Njogu
You see, my students have grown up in the “New Kenya”. They were born in a multiparty state. Education is free, women have both maternity and annual leave and can run for president, African students can attend European and Asian schools, married daughters can inherit their parents property … they do not know who Reverend Njoya is, why Freedom Corner exists or that once in the not so distant past, it was treasonable to imagine the death of the president.
At law school, my cohort was caught in the transition between the old and new constitutional orders. In a very real sense, we grappled with the ideas and ideals of the law as an emancipatory force.
We rallied around the idea of a new Constitution and what it would deliver to a system we understood as severely crippled. It would form the basis of what Willy Mutunga has called the decolonising jurisprudence. We have been lucky enough to see that – and many of us have been fortunate enough to midwife and nurse this transition. We are the generation that staffed the second decolonising revolution.
Grandstanding as this sounds, the generations of lawyers and law students before ours grappled with more primordial problems.
DISAPPEARING DEMOCRATIC SPACE
The inheritance and legitimisation of colonial power in the late 60s; and the executive despotism of the 70s; the attempted coup and the ever disappearing democratic space of the 80s; and the bloody push for multipartyism and fixed presidential terms in the 90s that eventually culminated into a new Constitution.
The 1980s and early 90s were perhaps the most treacherous times to have been a law student, lawyer, or worse, a law professor. Those were the days of great resistance. The days when saying the wrong thing in your lecture meant a night or 10 as a guest of the State at the notorious Nyayo torture chambers, Manyani, or elsewhere.
These human rights defenders resisted with their very lives. The tree of freedom from which we now eat was watered by their blood. We can picket all day, tweet all night, imagine the president dead and disagree with the establishment because they dared to be brave. They dared to tame the Leviathan.
Returning to my students — what is the crisis of their time? Asked another way, is the revolution over?
The body of a young human rights defender interred last weekend begs to differ. For his client, lawyer Willie Kimani challenged the injustice of a “bandit state” and paid the ultimate price. Extrajudicial killings are not new.
Neither is the state’s implication in them. But lawyers just don’t die in the line of duty! We are not soldiers! When we suit up and go to court, we expect a bruising battle, but not mortal combat. This death signals a breach on our last line of defence.
There is a crisis after all, for this generation of law students to address themselves to. Perhaps it is not yet uhuru, if a young lawyer can step out of a courtroom and disappear into the night. The tree of freedom must be guarded fiercely.
I often tell my students that the law is a powerful tool that must be wielded responsibly. Today, I say: the law is a powerful tool; it must be wielded bravely. The revolution is not over. #IAmWillie