Growing up as a young man and interacting with various facets of the constitution, I marveled at how the Kenyan constitution vividly defines and distinguishes the judiciary as an independent institution separate from the executive. Indeed, it is widely known that both branches are meant to operate independently. According to Diane Watson, historically, the judiciary has often been the sole protector of the rights of minority groups against the will of the popular majority.
This underscores the critical importance of an independent judiciary for the well-being of the populace. In the past week, Kenyan President William Ruto has found himself entangled in a heated dispute with the judiciary, openly defying court orders that restrict his flagship policies and accusing judges of corruption.
Ruto went further to claim that certain judges are collaborating with the opposition to obstruct key government projects, including a housing fund and universal healthcare initiatives. His frustration is palpable: "It is not possible that we respect the judiciary while a few individuals who are beneficiaries of corruption are using corrupt judicial officials to block our development projects," Ruto remarked.
The government faced a significant setback in November when the High Court in Nairobi declared a housing levy introduced by Ruto unconstitutional. The judges argued that the plan to raise taxes to construct affordable homes was not only unconstitutional but also discriminatory. This declaration, however, triggered a strong reaction from the executive. Ruto, in a national address at the close of 2023, criticized the judiciary, accusing it of making decisions against state policies at the expense of the public interest.
Interestingly, this clash comes on the heels of the same judiciary upholding Ruto's victory in the 2022 Kenyan election. The opposition now finds itself in a position to challenge the government, urging it to file cases against allegedly corrupt judges across the judiciary to ensure justice prevails.
Amidst this tension, Chief Justice Martha Koome has expressed her readiness to engage in a dialogue with the president. However, the opposition and the Kenya Law Society oppose this move, fearing it could compromise the judiciary and lead to state capture within its ranks. The upcoming dialogue between the judiciary and the executive has left Kenyans eagerly awaiting the outcome, sparking intense debates about the essence of the matter and the independence of the judiciary.
As the nation holds its breath for the anticipated dialogue, it remains a crucial moment in Kenyan history, highlighting the delicate balance between the branches of government and the paramount need for a truly independent judiciary. The outcome will undoubtedly shape the future trajectory of justice and governance in Kenya.
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