A tribute to Mutula Kilonzo, SC


If the angel of death would listen I would ask him to postpone his strike upon Senior Counsel and Senator for Makueni, Mutula Kilonzo. Because of his legendary legal career, I had planned to meet him and sip from his pot of wisdom in the art and practice of law.

It never happened.

The Mutula Kilonzo I never had a conversation with, together with Mr. Jinaro Kibet, with whom I share alma mater, St. Patrick’s High School Iten in Elgeyo Marakwet County influenced my becoming a lawyer.

Born and bred in a humble rural village, Mutula Kilonzo worked his way up to success in law and politics. I pay my tribute to his success in law; politics will wait for another day. The late Senior Counsel was a paragon of hard work, discipline and determination.With no history of employment, Mutula Kilonzo started his law practice in a single room.

He built his law practice and his client list grew by the day and within no time it comprised the Who is Who in Kenya, including the former President Moi and KANU. He also served as the Chairman of the Law Society of Kenya. He would later be bestowed the prestigious title of Senior Counsel, the highest recognition one would attain in the Kenyan legal profession.

Mutula Kilonzo’s commitment and fidelity to the law was undoubted, his passion for the law was apparent in his seamless and effortless articulation of legal issues in and outside court. He took a position and defended it with admirable gusto; he had a moral courage to say NO to unprofessionalism and mediocrity.

He once made public a story in his legal practice where the late Njenga Karume, a businessman and politician tried to compromise him. In the case, Mutula Kilonzo was representing Kenya Breweries Limited in an appeal over an award of Sh200 million that the High Court had awarded Njenga Karume’s Kiambu General Transport Agency Limited. Njenga Karume allegedly offered him Sh60 million to mismanage the case and bungle it against Kenya Breweries, his client. He politely declined the offer. He would later win the appeal and the award to Njenga Karume was set aside. He undoubtedly raised the bar for legal ethics and professional responsibility.

I am not a fashion freak but his dress code was professional and modest, his pinstripe suits exuded confidence and sobriety. I must admit however that I don’t know what his obsession was with the yellow colour. Sometimes he dressed in it as if in protest or he had lost a bet the previous evening.

Mutula Kilonzo was human, with his faults and weaknesses; I am yet to see a faultless mortal. They say he was a proud and arrogant man, sometime near hubris. Kenya Revenue Authority thought he was not a patriotic citizen for he defrauded the public by not paying his taxes. He did not give Ceasar what belongs to him and the tax man attached his Parliamentary salary and allowances. But again our tax code on taxation of advocates is far from clear.

The criticism that I am willing to defend the Senior Counsel against is that he was a KANU lawyer and had former President Moi in his clients’ list in private law practice therefore he was bereft of reform credentials and had no moral standing to stand at the pulpit of governance and democracy or even morality and ethics.

This empty argument reminds me of the story of Charles “Cully” Stimson, US former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defence for Detainee Affairs, who in 2007, made irresponsible and inappropriate remarks about top US lawyers representing Guantanamo Bay detainees. According to Mr. Stimson, the US attorneys ought not to represent any of the Gitmo detainees. He believed that the detainees were members of the al-Qaeda terrorist group which had carried out unprintable atrocities in the US and still remains a threat to her and her citizens, and thus the lawyers should choose between representing terrorists and representing reputable American corporations. He went ahead to suggest that the US corporations should sever links with lawyers representing the detainees consequently attacking the integrity of those lawyers.

Mr. Stimson’s statement threatened the right to legal representation, a core principle in the American and any other civilised justice system. The Defence Department would later, and in my view correctly, issue a statement distancing itself from Mr. Stimson’s remarks. He would later apologise for such unfortunate remarks and resigned from his position.

Similar rhetoric was fuelled by the Republicans during the Obama campaign by linking him to his former slumlord client Mr.Tony Rezko, who had been indicted for federal charges of fraud and bribery, but the same was treated with deserving contempt.

Mutula Kilonzo’s critics, like Mr. Stimson do not appreciate the right to legal representation which in a larger sense espouses the right to equal protection and benefit of the law; or they are conveniently ignorant about it. They unleashed the same misguided missile towards lawyer Kioko Kilukumi when he was proposed for the position of Director of Public Prosecutions claiming that he had previously represented the who is who in Anglo-Leasing related litigation. Mr. Pravin Bowry was almost stopped in the track to becoming the Assistant Director of the now defunct Kenya Anti Corruption Commission (KACC) because he was good enough to represent highly connected persons in the former regime.

In private legal practice, lawyers represent saints or deplorable personalities alike facing a wide range of offences, and civil wrongs from sexual offences, murder, robbery with violence, corruption, terrorism, piracy, drug related cases, crimes against humanity, corporate commercial transactions, real estate, to divorce and family related cases. I am conscious that lawyers are not popular and likable personalities but without legal representation, injustice would reign supreme against the public.

Whereas lawyers may represent any person of their choice, there is equally a professional duty to ensure that every man has a legal representation. In fact British Barristers have no latitude to pick and choose the clients they represent courtesy of the time honoured “cab rank” rule. A client’s integrity cannot therefore be inferred to be his lawyer’s. The lawyer is discharging a professional and quasi-public duty.

Former President Moi was not a saint, but nonetheless entitled to a lawyer and a good one for that matter. Signing up President Moi to his client’s list, defending and protecting his interest was Mutula Kilonzo’s duty – a lawyer owes a solemn duty to his client breach of which may attract disciplinary proceedings or even a suit. Absurdity is personified if a lawyer is censured and possibly barred from public service based on his clientele in private legal practice.

Mutula Kilonzo’s legacy to any law student and young lawyer is that there is enough for everyone out there, just reach out and get what you want, you can be what you want to be regardless of where you come from. Ignore all the naysayers and live your dream.

Rest in peace Senior Counsel.

(Moses K. Chelanga is an advocate of High Court of Kenya, Legal Consultant Email:kmchelanga@gmail.com)

2 Replies to “A tribute to Mutula Kilonzo, SC”

  1. Chelanga, you speak for the majority of us when you say Mutula influenced you into becoming a lawyer. When I reminiscence those days of Cross Fire on Sunday and the pride they gave me as a lawyer hearing Mutula floor his opponents in the debate floor, I got the validation I needed that I was in the right profession. The man has remained true to form even unto his death: controversial, news-worthy, engigmatic and legendary!

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