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Great legal minds who served as AG since independence

The Attorney General is the head of the Kenya State Law Office and the principal legal adviser to the government. The office is so prestigious that the holder not only enjoys almost unfettered access to the President but must also be up to scratch in matters legal to aptly advise the President on critical matters of the day.

It then comes as something of an irony that although the law stipulates how he may be nominated, appointed and vetted by Parliament, the same law is silent on his removal. Whether this is by design or default it may be the catch! Kenya has had six AGs since independence with the longest serving being Charles Njonjo (1963-1979).

He was first post-independence AG. Born in Kabete in 1920, the son of ex-senior Chief Josiah Njonjo went to Alliance High School and the prestigious Budo Kings College, Uganda.

Styled ‘Sir Charles’ owing to his exquisite British mannerisms and lifestyle, Njonjo became famous during the 1970s Change-the-Constitution movement that sought to bar then Vice President Moi from automatically succeeding President Jomo Kenyatta in case of the latter’s death. Njonjo stopped the movement in its tracks.

He fell from grace following claims by Moi allies that he was a traitor being groomed by foreigners to take over reigns of power. He has lived a quiet life since. The next AG was James Karugu (1980-1981) whose tenure is not remembered for any tangible achievements, perhaps because he served for barely a year. Then came Joseph Kamere (1981-1983), who was also shunted after an unusual, if drama-free, stint of two years.

Just like his predecessor, there was nothing remarkable to remember Kamere by. Next came Matthew Guy Muli (1983-1991) who outlived his two predecessors by serving nine years. Amos Wako (1991-2011) was the next.

He was famously known as the smiling AG, owing to his genial demeanour, that belied a sharp legal mind. Curiously, only he and Njonjo took great pride in having the pinstriped suits as a trademark sartorial statement. Prof Githu Muigai (2011–present) was a surprise appointment, coming from the twin worlds of academia and legal fraternity.

A distinguished law scholar, he presided over a legally tumultuous period in the presidency of Uhuru Kenyatta’s first term, starting from the crimes against humanity charges the president and his deputy William Ruto faced at the International Criminal Court. It was a watershed moment for UhuRuto’s legal team when the pair emerged from the Hague-based court to win the presidency.

The Office of the AG draws its mandate from Article 156 of the Constitution, which vests on the office holder the responsibility of advising the government on legal matters, ensuring promotion of the rule of law and defending the public interest.

Its functions include advising ministries, departments, constitutional commissions and State corporations on legislative and legal matters. It also negotiates, drafts, vets and interprets local and international documents, agreements and treaties for and on behalf of the government and its agencies.

Controversial City lawyer Ahmednassir Abdullahi, the publisher of the Nairobi Law Monthly, once said of Githu: “Githu sleeps on the job, and sleeps soundly… Githu as AG isn’t visible. Whether it is his pronouncement of a national issue or defending the government’s policies, Githu has been low-key”. Opinion may, however, be divided about this description of Githu.

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