Nairobi — In a misguided constitutional ruling on December 22, 2000, the High Court outlawed the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority, the predecessor of the Kenyan Anti-Corruption Commission.
Justice Aaron Ringera, who was the director, bade his staff farewell by quoting one of William Shakespeare's most famous and oft-quoted speeches: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players..."
Justice Ringera pointed out that his time to exit the anti-corruption fight had come. He expressed the hope that "should we meet again, the meeting would be a happy one." And some of those workers he bade goodbye to joined him again in February 2005 as the new KACC staff.
"Well, we enter the state of the anti-corruption stage a second time to play yet another part," he told them as a matter of course in a welcome speech at Integrity Centre, Nairobi.
Yet Justice Ringera never had any illusions about the fight against corruption in Kenya, though he may have looked like a latter-day Don Quixote fighting the windmills of graft.
"There is no doubt in my mind that institutions that fight corruption are an endangered species," he once said, like he was reminding himself of the reality check. "Without political will, they are like candles in the wind."
At the same time, Justice Ringera has had the reputation of being one of the most upright, ethical and erudite lawyers in this country. Yet, Ringera bashing on claims that he failed on his job as the anti-corruption czar, became almost a national pastime. But let's just say he allowed himself to become the fall guy for other people.
The good judge was also faced with a difficult legal fraternity. "The legal process itself, riding on the constitutional guarantee of due process, is often used and abused by accused persons to frustrate the progress and hearing of cases," he complained in one of his many speeches over the years as the KACC director.
"Well-paid, senior lawyers mount great resistance, employ every trick in the book and make it virtually impossible to conclude matters," he said.
"Constitutional applications and applications for adjournment for one reason or another are legion."
He also faced an over-expectant public, that did not appreciate the rule of law and due process. "It seems to me that Kenyans will be satisfied only if suspects are identified from media reports and so-called reliable information, arrested in the morning, charged, tried and sentenced by lunchtime, shot to death at 4pm and buried before sunset," he said.
In addition, he had a standing grouse with the Press and politicians. "Reading the Press, you might be forgiven for thinking that the commission has singularly failed to achieve its primary and only responsibility to prosecute all corrupt persons in Kenya," he said.
"This seed of discord is planted and re-planted by the Press and watered regularly by politicians, among them lawyers who should know better. I repeat once again, that KACC has no duty to prosecute anyone and cannot therefore be considered to have failed in the performance of such a duty."
Justice Ringera was a great believer in the rule of law and due process, a theme he repeated time and again in his speeches.
"I would like to state categorically that the commission will not, during my watch, behave like the biblical Herod or Pontius Pilate, who delivered the innocent heads of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ at the behest of a charming young girl and an hysterical Jewish mob respectively," he said when he welcomed new KACC staff.
He also told the Law Society of Kenya annual dance dinner on March 29, 2007: "I am on record as stating that, under my watch, the war on corruption will be fought not on political exigencies, but only within the four walls of the Constitution of Kenya and the law of the land.
"I am on record as stating for the avoidance of all doubt that, under my watch, the KACC will recommend prosecution of suspected corrupt persons only on the wings of sound evidence as I discern it, and as I taught the subject for many years at the Faulty of Law of the University of Nairobi.
Consequently, 'big fish', 'small fish', 'fat fish' and all manner of fish will be fried, unapologetically, only in the oil of the Constitution of Kenya and laws made under it."
But he was quick to add that the highest ideal, higher than fighting corruption, is constitutional governance under the rule of law. "We are all safer as citizens under constitutional governance and the rule of law," he concluded.