13 May 2011

Kenya: Mutunga Smear is the Last Refuge of a Scoundrel


Nairobi — Having failed to fit Dr Willy Mutunga perfectly into any of the usual polarising groups -- Luo, Kikuyu, big tribe, small tribe, ODM, PNU -- some characters have seized on the little piece of jewellery on his left ear to try to block him from being appointed Chief Justice.

Interestingly, the man believed to be the father of the reform movement in Kenya won't be bothered much by this.

I suspect he sees this campaign in light of the freedoms and expanded democratic space he has in the past sacrificed his life fighting for.

Shifting debate to an ideological issue like gay rights is injecting a fresh breath of air into our public square, which is heavily polluted with dirty party politics and ethnic rivalry.

As long as the debate is kept within the limits of decency, it is a grievance over which nobody would want to grab a machete and attack his neighbour after the next General Election.

The other reason Dr Mutunga shouldn't be overly worried is the vacuousness of his detractors' strategy and the futility of the campaign itself.

You know one is losing the argument when they resort to desperate tactics like character assassination and public smear.

As Samuel Johnson, the 18th century English author, would say of this case, cheap propaganda is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

The anti-Mutunga smear has strikingly jarring echoes from the pre-referendum 'No' campaign when some creative minds sought to sell the lie that the new Constitution allowed same-sex marriages.

Just like very few Kenyans believed the lie then, very few will believe its latest version.

This leaves the anti-Mutungaists with just two cards to play: lobby Parliament not to approve the nomination or prevail on President Kibaki to reject it. Of course, there is no shortage of mischief makers and dirty jobs men and women in Parliament.

But there aren't too many of them willing to make suicidal political stunts either.

If there are any takers, Dr Mutunga's nomination might just hand them the rope with which to hang themselves. Remember the new Constitution confers the supreme authority on the people of Kenya.

For President Kibaki, he will be handling this matter with the public embarrassment of being forced to withdraw his unilateral nomination to the same post in February fresh in his mind.

I don't see his advisers like Prof Kivutha Kibwana staking the last 15 months of his term in office trying to stand in the way of the first public official to be interviewed for the job in the transparency of national television cameras.

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