In his column in the Sunday Nation of May 31 2020, Professor Makau Mutua argued that there was need for a constitutional amendment targeting the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). Although details about his proposed reforms were scant, he did articulate three core changes on structure, membership and mandate.
On structure, he proposed splitting the JSC in two: an independent body for interviewing judicial candidates and hearing petitions against judges and, a commission chaired by the Chief Justice that would exclusively deal with the judiciary’s administration matters.
On membership, Mutua seemed to prefer dismantling the current membership of the JSC and adopting a model more akin to how other commissions — such as the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights — are constituted. The effect of such a model would be to ensure that institutions with ring-fenced membership in the JSC — the Law Society of Kenya, the Magistrates, Judges of the three Superior Courts and the Public Service Commission — would have no representation in the body. The model would likely then require the President to appoint a recruitment panel for commissioners and then both he and parliament would have the final word on who become JSC commissioners.
On mandate, Mutua argues for reducing the role of the JSC and limiting it to “only interviewing judicial candidates and hearing petitions against judges”. His choice of words is critical, because interviewing judicial candidates is not the same thing as deciding which persons should be appointed judges. The most extreme of Mutua’s recommendations is on the removal of judges, which he proposes be ceded to parliament.
There are many reasons why Mutua’s suggestions are highly regressive and unhelpful. However, before I outline some of those reasons, it is critical to explain what the constitution currently provides in respect of the JSC.
The Constitution and the JSC
The JSC is one of the independent commissions established by the constitution. It has eleven members with its composition constituted through a mixed approach. The first category are permanent positions comprising persons occupying the positions of Chief Justice and Attorney General. The second category are elective positions with the first three being for the judges of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court. There are three other elective positions, one for Magistrates and the other two for a female and male advocate who are members of the Law Society of Kenya. Position to the third category are appointive, with appointment to the first position being made by the Public Service Commission. The constitution describes the remaining two appointive positions as “one woman and one man to represent the public, not being lawyers, appointed by the President with the approval of National Assembly”.
The JSC’s overarching role is to facilitate the independence, accountability as well as transparency and efficiency of the judiciary. One of its core tasks is nominating and recommending to the President, following a competitive and open process, persons for appointment as judges. Additionally, it is responsible for considering complaints against judges and notifying the President when to form a tribunal to determine whether a judge should be removed from office.
With the exception of the Chief Justice and the Deputy Chief Justice, whose candidatures have to be vetted by the National Assembly, the JSC essentially makes the decisions on persons to be appointed judges. Even for the Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice, the President and the National Assembly cannot substitute their choices for those of the JSC. Fundamentally, if the National Assembly declines to approve the person selected as Chief or Deputy Chief Justice, the JSC has to recommend an alternative candidate for vetting.
Of course, both Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta have shown their frustration with the constitutional edict removing from them the power to decide or directly influence the appointment of judges. This was apparent from the first appointments under the 2010 Constitution when Mwai Kibaki rushed to appoint a now retired Judge of the Court of Appeal as Chief Justice without the involvement of the JSC. The courts were quick to assert their authority, suspending Kibaki’s decision and the JSC eventually conducting a competitive process that saw Dr Willy Mutunga appointed Chief Justice. Ironically, Mutunga was perhaps the last person Kibaki had in mind for the position of CJ because, even though Kibaki’s autocratic tendencies now pale in comparison to Uhuru Kenyatta’s, still he seemed to prefer more pliant judges.
Nevertheless, while Kibaki was gracious after the courts blocked his choice, Uhuru has been contumaciously obstinate about seeking to influence the appointment of judges. It started in 2014 when he refused to appoint 14 Judges nominated by the JSC. The courts eventually forced him to make the appointments. Yet, since July 2019 he has refused to appoint 41 new Judges nominated by the JSC despite being ordered to do so by the courts. His court filings on the case show that he believes he can haggle over who he does not want to see appointed judge.
Ring-fencing the independence of the judiciary
The constitutional framework establishing the JSC is perhaps one of the constitution’s strongest tools to guarantee the independence of the judiciary by ensuring that (legally) political actors have little leeway to influence who becomes a judge. Yet, there are many other constitutional provisions that jealously guard the independence of the judiciary. This ring-fencing was not a chance constitutional design occurrence. It was reflectively deliberate. Historically, as Mutua rightly indicated, the propensity of Kenya’s political elite to demand control of the judiciary has been insatiable. Yet, in his wisdom, Mutua asks that parliament be given the mandate to remove judges. If this had been the case, nearly all our leading judges who have displayed exceptional courage in defending the rule of law would be long gone even where the threshold for removal was a vote by two-thirds of parliament. It would be an exceptionally gleeful removal ceremony as punishment for those judges who have displayed inestimable consistency in defending the rule of law and calculated to create a chilling effect on those still in the judiciary.
There is another and more fundamental reason.
The 2010 Constitution created a constitutional democracy. The cardinal feature of a constitutional democracy is the rule of law. Rule of law is a very basic concept which simply means that no person or institution should operate above or outside the law. That includes the President and his relatives. The sacrosanct task of checking that everyone operates within the law is assigned to the judiciary. A constitutional design that ensured that the institution entrusted to call out those who violate the law is to the extent possible devoid of interference was key. The solution was a professional yet diverse institution – the JSC – where no one voice had an eclipsing effect. Importantly, the designers of the Constitution made sure that legally the political class – the President and Members of Parliament – had a minimal, perhaps nearly inconsequential, role in deciding the composition of the judiciary.
Mutua anecdotally samples how judges are appointed in different jurisdictions starting from – yes, you guessed right – the United States. He then mentions India and South Africa while providing scant details about the relevance of these countries.
As a starting point, the United States is just the wrong place to go when one wants to argue a case for the independent and professional appointment of judges. To begin with, the United States is not a modern constitutional democracy. In fact, I would argue that it is not at all a constitutional democracy but perhaps merely a struggling democracy with a constitution written by slave owners. Second, recent events have shown how the political class in the United States manipulates judicial appointments to entrench their political ideologies through the courts. I need say no more here.
The most recent detailed study on best practice to guarantee judicial independence through appointments, tenure and removal of judges is by the Commonwealth in 2015. The study builds on and complements the Latimer House Principles, a set of guiding principles promulgated by the Commonwealth Heads of State in Abuja in 2003 for the best ways to ensure a true separation of powers between the three arms of government: the judiciary, legislature and executive. While that study does not rate the legal norms of individual commonwealth countries for their effectiveness in guaranteeing judicial independence, it distils a set of principles for best practice. Kenya’s legal framework, under the 2010 Constitution, would rate relatively highly measured against those criteria.
We have in the 2010 Constitution the best law we perhaps could hope for to support the independence of the judiciary. It is therefore difficult to understand how the amendments to the constitution that Mutua argues for, superintended by a regime that does not believe in an independent judiciary, can achieve better independence, transparency and accountability of the judiciary.
In ordinary times, Mutua’s proposals would not elicit a response. However, they are made during a season of heightened and choreographed demands by those who control the executive and parliament, to effect amendments that would neuter the independence of the judiciary. His proposals might just be part of the “intellectual” primer that the Building Bridges Initiative is desperately clamouring for to sanitise its upcoming proposals for constitutional change.
Right of Reply
I hope you’ve been well. I’ve read with interest your response piece in the Elephant. It’s challenging and engaging. Several points.
First, you essentialize democracy without realizing it’s a system of governing people based on the stilts and fictions of liberalism. Those fictions and stilts are very fragile. That’s why democracy is an experiment whose outcome is unknown. That’s why there’s nothing like a “modern” democracy. Every country has a dynamic and evolving political system within the genre of political thought and history known as democracy. What would interest me are thoughts about a post-modern post-liberal democracy.
Second, all systems and institutions rely on community ethics and standards of internalized norms and behavior. You can’t abstract Kenya’s institutions from its corrupt elites in the judiciary, executive, and legislature — and even civil society. It’s a rotten country, and you know it. The three arms of the state are all equally corrupt. They work together to steal and destroy. That’s why it’s fallacious to imagine the JSC or the judiciary is above the muck.
Third, law is important but not determinative of anything. Virtually all a society’s choices lie in politics — even law. If your politics are bad — as we’ve seen in the US, and has been the case since its founding, then your laws are bad.
Fourth, you can’t carve out a sane lane in the judiciary without capturing state power and then leading a moral, normative, and cultural revolution. Anything else is just elite and bourgeois musical chairs. Lastly, the founders of the American state weren’t slave owners — rather, they repressed ENSLAVED Africans. No one can normatively be a slave, but people can be empirically enslaved — I’ve written a chapter on this for a forthcoming book that Caroline Elkins has edited.
On the enslavement question, I just want to add that one human being can treat another as chattel, or commercial property — as Arab, Europeans, and White Americans did to black Africans. But this empirical transactional concept cannot normatively vacate the humanity of the person treated as chattel. In other words, one human being cannot be normatively owned by another. That’s why the term slave is a political assertion without a philosophical basis. It’s normalized by those who dehumanize black Africans in a bid to turn enslavement into a natural condition.
Finally, let me thank you for keeping the debate I started vibrant. We can disagree, even in civil society without ulterior motives, or being pawns. The tyranny of the intellect which requires orthodoxy or unanimity is by definition anti-intellectual. Let’s continue the debate and engage it in a higher gear when we meet post-COVID!
Prof Makau Mutua
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Haiti: The Struggle for Democracy, Justice, Reparations and the Black Soul
Only the Haitian people can decide their own future. The dictatorship imposed by former president Jovenel Moïse and its imperialist enablers need to go – and make space for a people’s transition government.
Haiti is once again going through a profound crisis. Central to this is the struggle against the dictatorship imposed by former president Jovenel Moïse. Since last year Mr. Moise, after decreeing the dismissal of Parliament, has been ruling through decrees, permanently violating Haiti’s constitution. He has refused to leave power after his mandate ended on February 7, 2021, claiming that it ends on February 7 of next year, without any legal basis.
This disregard of the constitution is taking place despite multiple statements by the country’s main judicial bodies, such as the CSPJ (Superior Council of Judicial Power) and the Association of Haitian Lawyers. Numerous religious groups and numerous institutions that are representative of society have also spoken. At this time, there is a strike by the judiciary, which leaves the country without any public body of political power.
At the same time, this institutional crisis is framed in the insecurity that affects practically all sectors of Haitian society. An insecurity expressed through savage repressions of popular mobilizations by the PNH (Haitian National Police), which at the service of the executive power. They have attacked journalists and committed various massacres in poor neighborhoods. Throughout the country, there have been assassinations and arbitrary arrests of opponents.
Most recently, a judge of the High Court was detained under the pretext of promoting an alleged plot against the security of the State and to assassinate the president leading to the illegal and arbitrary revocation of three judges of this Court. This last period has also seen the creation of hundreds of armed groups that spread terror over the entire country and that respond to power, transforming kidnapping into a fairly prosperous industry for these criminals.
The 13 years of military occupation by United Nations troops through MINUSTAH and the operations of prolongation of guardianship through MINUJUSTH and BINUH have aggravated the Haitian crisis. They supported retrograde and undemocratic sectors who, along with gangsters, committed serious crimes against the Haitian people and their fundamental rights.
For this, the people of Haiti deserve a process of justice and reparations. They have paid dearly for the intervention of MINUSTAH: 30 THOUSAND DEAD from cholera transmitted by the soldiers, thousands of women raped, who now raise orphaned children. Nothing has changed in 13 years, more social inequality, poverty, more difficulties for the people. The absence of democracy stays the same.
The poor’s living conditions have worsened dramatically as a result of more than 30 years of neoliberal policies imposed by the International Financial Institutions (IFIs), a severe exchange rate crisis, the freezing of the minimum wage, and inflation above 20% during the last three years.
It should be emphasized that, despite this dramatic situation, the Haitian people remain firm and are constantly mobilizing to prevent the consolidation of a dictatorship by demanding the immediate leave of office by former President Jovenel Moïse.
Taking into account the importance of this struggle and that this dictatorial regime still has the support of imperialist governments such as the United States of America, Canada, France, and international organizations such as the UN, the OAS, and the EU, the IPA calls its members to contribute their full and active solidarity to the struggle of the Haitian people, and to sign this Petition that demands the end of the dictatorship as well as respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of the Haitian people, the establishment of a transition government led by Haitians to launch a process of authentic national reconstruction.
In addition to expressing our solidarity with the Haitian people’s resistance, we call for our organisations to demonstrate in front of the embassies of the imperialist countries and before the United Nations. Only the Haitian people can decide their future. Down with Moise and yes to a people’s transition government, until a constituent is democratically elected.
Deconstructing the Whiteness of Christ
While many African Christians can only imagine a white Jesus, others have actively promoted a vision of a brown or black Jesus, both in art and in ideology.
When images of a white preacher and actor going around Kenya playing Jesus turned up on social media in July 2019, people were rightly stunned by the white supremacist undertone of the images. They suggested that Africans were prone to seeing Jesus as white, promoting the white saviour narrative in the process. While it is true that the idea of a white Jesus has been prevalent in African Christianity even without a white actor, and many African Christians and churches still entertain images of Jesus as white because of the missionary legacy, many others have actively promoted a vision of Jesus as brown or black both in art an in ideology.
Images of a brown or black Jesus is as old as Christianity in Africa, especially finding a prominent place in Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which has been in existence for over sixteen hundred years. Eyob Derillo, a librarian at the British Library, recently brought up a steady diet of these images on Twitter. The image of Jesus as black has also been popularised through the artistic project known as Vie de Jesus Mafa (Life of Jesus Mafa) that was conducted in Cameroon.
The most radical expression of Jesus as a black person was however put forth by a young Kongolese woman called Kimpa Vita, who lived in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Through the missionary work of the Portuguese, Kimpa Vita, who was a nganga or medicine woman, became a Christian. She taught that Jesus and his apostles were black and were in fact born in São Salvador, which was the capital of the Kongo at the time. Not only was Jesus transposed from Palestine to São Salvador, Jerusalem, which is a holy site for Christians, was also transposed to São Salvador, so that São Salvador became a holy site. Kimpa Vita was accused of preaching heresy by Portuguese missionaries and burnt at the stake in 1706.
It was not until the 20th century that another movement similar to Vita’s emerged in the Kongo. This younger movement was led by Simon Kimbangu, a preacher who went about healing and raising the dead, portraying himself as an emissary of Jesus. His followers sometimes see him as the Holy Spirit who was to come after Jesus, as prophesied in John 14:16. Just as Kimpa Vita saw São Salvador as the new Jerusalem, Kimbangu’s village of Nkamba became, and still is known as, the new Jerusalem. His followers still flock there for pilgrimage. Kimbangu was accused of threatening Belgian colonial rule and thrown in jail, where he died. Some have complained that Kimbangu seems to have eclipsed Jesus in the imagination of his followers for he is said to have been resurrected from the dead, like Jesus.
Kimbangu’s status among his followers is however similar to that of some of the leaders of what has been described as African Independent Churches or African Initiated Churches (AICs). These churches include the Zionist churches of Southern Africa, among which is the amaNazaretha of Isaiah Shembe. Shembe’s followers see him as a divine figure, similar to Jesus, and rather than going to Jerusalem for pilgrimage, his followers go to the holy city of Ekuphakameni in South Africa. The Cameroonian theologian, Fabien Eboussi Boulaga, in his Christianity Without Fetish, see leaders like Kimbangu and Shembe as doing for their people in our own time what Jesus did for his people in their own time—providing means of healing and deliverance in contexts of grinding oppression. Thus, rather than replacing Jesus, as they are often accused of doing, they are making Jesus relevant to their people. For many Christians in Africa, therefore, Jesus is already brown or black. Other Christians still need to catch up with this development if we are to avoid painful spectacles like the one that took place Kenya.
In Magufuli’s Shadow: The Stark Choices Facing Tanzania’s New President
One immediate concern is what steps Hassan will take on the pandemic, and whether she will change direction.
The sudden death of Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli has thrown the East African nation into a period of political uncertainty.
Vice-president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, has been sworn in as his successor, making her Tanzania’s first woman president.
The transition is all the more challenging given the major rupture – both political and economic – caused by Magufuli’s presidency. Magufuli, who won a second term in October 2020, dramatically centralised power and pursued an interventionist economic policy agenda. He courted controversy on a number of fronts, most recently, by claiming that Tanzania – contrary to mounting evidence – was Covid-free.
Hassan has called for unity and counselled that now is not the time to look at what has passed but rather to look at what is to come.
Despite the 61-year-old leader’s forward-looking stance, questions remain about how Magufuli’s legacy will shape her time in office.
The authoritarian turn
Magufuli oversaw the marginalisation of opposition parties and a decline in civil liberties. His first term was defined by heightened intimidation and violence against opposition leaders, including disappearances and physical attacks.
Thanks to five years of repression, the October 2020 general elections saw the opposition all but wiped out of elected office. The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi now controls all local government councils. It also holds 97% of directly elected legislative seats, up from 73% in 2015.
But Magufuli’s authoritarian tendencies were not unprecedented in Tanzania. For instance, the rule of his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete was also marred by human rights abuses as well civil society and media repression. Kikwete also cancelled Zanzibar’s 2015 election due to a likely opposition victory.
It remains to be seen whether Hassan will adopt a more liberal approach, loosening restrictions on opposition parties, the media and civil society. Even if she does, the damage will take time to repair. Opposition parties, for instance, may well struggle to regain their strength. Among other setbacks, they have lost almost all local elected representatives – a core element of their organisational infrastructure built up painstakingly over decades.
Centralising power in the party
Another key pillar to Magufuli’s legacy is the centralisation of power within the Chama Cha Mapinduzi.
In the early years under founding president Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s ruling party was dominated by the president and a hierarchy of appointed state and party officials. But, following economic liberalisation in the 1980s and Nyerere’s retirement from politics, the party became steeped in factional rivalries. These were spurred by new political alliances and an emerging private sector business elite.
This factionalism reached its height under Kikwete amid accusations of widespread corruption. Magufuli’s nomination as party presidential candidate only occurred because the rivalry among these factions left him as the unexpected compromise candidate.
Once in office, though, Magufuli quickly signalled he would be nobody’s puppet. He used his position as ruling party chairman to create a “new” Chama Cha Mapinduzi. This involved breaking with party heavyweights, including Kikwete, suppressing factional organising, and consolidating his own support base.
Magufuli’s new base was a cohort of freshly appointed party officials as well as civil servants and cabinet ministers. His loyalists likened these changes to a revival of Nyerere’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi. But, in our view, the comparison is misleading.
Like Magufuli before her, Hassan will be taking office – and party leadership – without her own political base. She will also have to contend with revived factional manoeuvring as sidelined groups try to regain an upper hand.
Hassan could align with a loyal Magufuli faction, which includes influential figures within the party. But, early indications suggest she intends to follow the advice of “party elders”, notably Kikwete. The former president reportedly attended the party’s most recent central committee meeting on Hassan’s invitation.
Aligning herself with Kikwete will likely lead to the reemergence of the internal factional rivalries that characterised the former president’s tenure.
Implications for economic policy
If president Hassan does continue to take a political steer from Kikwete, one likely outcome is that there will be a change in economic policy. In particular, a return to growth that’s led by a more business-friendly approach to the private sector.
Calls are already being made for such a course of action..
A careful reassessment of the Magufuli era is needed to guide future policymaking.
Magufuli used his control over the ruling party to pursue an ambitious policy agenda. This was also linked to his political project of centralising power.
Although this trend actually began under Kikwete, Magufuli accelelrated a move towards more state-led investment. Under his leadership, both state-owned and, increasingly, military-owned enterprises were offered strategic contracts.
Many state enterprises remained cash-starved, relied on government financial support, and registered losses.
Alongside state investment, the president also sought to discipline private sector actors. Some observers suggest that this led to more productive investment, notably by domestic investors. But others point to renewed crony capitalist ties.
Magufuli’s most high profile corporate battle was against Canadian-owned Barrick Gold and its former subsidiary, Acacia Mining. From the two, he demanded USD$190 billion in tax arrears and a renegotiation of operating terms.
Many saw this resource-nationalist approach as an inspiration and a model for African countries seeking to take greater control of their mineral wealth. But in the end – partly due to externally imposed legal and economic constraints – Magufuli walked back on some of his demands. Instead he opted for cooperation rather than confrontation.
He negotiated a joint venture in which Barrick took a majority stake of 84% and Tanzania the remaining 16%. Key elements of the nationalistic mining legislation passed in 2017 were also reversed.
On the plus side gold overtook tourism as Tanzania’s biggest foreign-exchange earner. In addition, some small-scale miners saw their livelihoods improve. Results were more mixed elsewhere, especially for Tanzanite miners in the country’s north.
Ultimately, Magufuli leaves behind a mixed economic legacy. It combines misdirected authoritarian decision-making with positive efforts to pursue an active industrial policy. Reining in unproductive domestic investors and renegotiating adverse contracts with foreign investors were part of this agenda.
There is a risk, given this complex mix, that Tanzania’s policymakers may learn the wrong lessons from his presidency, leading back to the flawed model existing before.
The pandemic and beyond
One immediate concern is what steps Hassan will take on the pandemic, and whether she will change direction.
Whatever she does, the health emergency and associated economic crisis will likely define her presidency. It could indeed define the economic trajectory of the African region in years to come.
Both Kikwete and Magufuli ruled through an economic boom period. Commodity prices were high and access to international finance was fairly easy. This gave them latitude to choose between various development approaches.
If Tanzania reverts to the status quo of the Kikwete years, the risk is a reemergence of rent-seeking but without the same highly favourable economic growth conditions. Indeed, as external conditions worsen, Hassan may find her options far more limited.
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