Chief Justice David Maraga — The Kenyan Jurist who is setting a new standard for the rule of law in Kenya and across Africa. John B. Oyaro
Across Africa, there is a deep-rooted cultural norm that relationships outweigh principle — that the rule of law only bends in the direction of a selected few who have power and influence and are hellbent in making sure that it benefits them, their families, and benefactors.
However, in 2017 Kenya’s 14th Chief Justice changed how people viewed the law and its impact on transforming culture and society. He alongside 3 other judges nullified Kenya’s 2017 General election — the first in Africa and a global win for democracy. It was a monumental precedent that would depict the character of the man who during his judicial interview had sworn on the bible that he had never and would never take a bribe.
Before making his landmark ruling he reminded the country that when they came up with rules they had to follow them. More so that if society took pride in their belief in God, they ought to follow it up with action. It was a rallying call of measuring faith with reason and giving principle a chance in the weighing scale with relationships;
“The greatness of any nation lies in its fidelity to the constitution and adherence to the rule of law and above all respect to God,”
In a ripple effect, two years later Malawi’s Supreme Court followed Maraga’s footsteps and nullified the country’s election citing irregularities. The Kenyan jurist had done more than just embolden the Kenyan people — he had sent a message across Africa that it was possible to have change.
Having rattled the Kenyan executive that still maintained power despite the historic ruling, he faced a backlash that comprised of threats and intimidation that threatened his resolve to lead the judiciary. However, Maraga did not yield and further stated that he believed the country had to focus not only on the possible but what was right.
Just recently he doubled down with yet another historic decision- advising the President to dissolve Parliament for failing to enact legislation on the two-third gender rule in compliance with the Kenyan Constitution, a move that rattled another equal arm of government for their incompetence.
For a man devout to his faith and driven by principle, the Kenyan jurist has shown that Kenya could change if people made the hard choice to have leaders whose rallying call is a desire to do what is right. Both of his decisions are ahead of time and bestow upon Kenya a chance to change its ideological understanding of what it means to have a democracy and rise above tribal affiliation, corruption, and nepotism.
I have often marveled at how Republicans and Democrats in the United States fight to win the Presidency in order to get a chance to nominate a Supreme Court judge and how the court has and continues to impact the lives of its citizens. From landmark cases such as Brown Vs Topeka that marked the end of racial segregation in public schools to the controversial Roe Vs Wade that protected a pregnant woman’s liberty.
Both decisions greatly transformed the social setting of the world's most powerful country and even though the decisions made by Chief Justice Maraga are monumental, unlike the USA they might not wield the consequential power to transform.
However, its undeniable that both landmark rulings are a rallying call towards changing the norm in Kenya and setting the country as well as the continent into a new path-one where the rule of law bends towards truth and justice for the ordinary citizen.