By Jacob Oketch
Willy Munyoki Mutunga of Kenya, Our Hero of Justice, A semi-fictionalised Biography for Young People, written by Elizabeth Orchardson Mazrui, is a book that is highly recommended for, not only the young people but also all Kenyans who have a sense of where we should be headed concerning justice and fairness.
This book is mainly about the life and times of former Chief Justice and president of the Supreme Court of Kenya Dr Willy Mutunga, with a specific focus on the trajectory of his human rights and overall justice attainment efforts. In that sense, we can argue that indeed it is a semi biography since it focuses on a particular aspect of the persona’s life.
I get the sense that many Kenyans are clueless about the history of our country before independence and immediately thereafter. Infact, to the generation that was born during former President Mwai Kibaki’s reign, they know almost nothing about the reign of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and his successor Daniel Arap Moi. This book is rich in historical anecdotes that are quite educative about the history of the nation.
The pictorial portraits of which some are real photographs, greatly aid in hooking the reader to the story because they evoke real feelings of the events that are described. This is the rich aspect of the material culture of our history that is less talked about – the currencies we used before, the trading centers we frequented, the foods we ate and so on.
More importantly, the subject of heroism dominates the narrative. What comes to mind while reading the book is the relevance of the issue of heroism in the post modern world. Who constitutes a hero? Many a times we have witnessed situations where those we consider heroes are languishing in poverty regardless of what they contributed to the society. Readers will get to learn more about Kenya’s heroes as far back as the turn of the century, by reading this book.
By focusing on the life of someone who is still within our midst to project heroism, the author gives a powerful message that we actually need to recognize our heroes while they are still alive. Dr Mutunga is depicted as someone who has had a sense of justice and fairness since he was a child. An incident is narrated in the story of how he refused to be forced by his parents to marry a girl when he was still a teenager. He suffered detention for fighting for the rights of lecturers and the common person.
Every year, various people are honored for their contribution to the nation during the Mashujaa day celebrations. But having learnt by reading this book, that even children can be heroes, one wonders whether we have really recognized the real heroes in our midst. In fact, when you read this book, you will realize that you barely know the real heroes and heroines who shaped the history of this country. And they spread all over the length and breadth of this country. Reading a publication such as this awakens the nation’s conscience about the need to be cognizant of the contribution of our own people towards the betterment of our country.
The life and times of Dr Willy Munyoki Mutunga serves as an example of what we can achieve as a people if we treat each other fairly and justly. The struggles that Dr Mutunga and his colleagues faced at the hands of the Moi regime is a reminder to the rest of Kenyans to jealously protect the freedoms that they enjoy.
Indeed, many of us take for granted that nowadays we can say and write anything without any serious censorship. You will be more responsible after you read what Dr Mutunga and his colleagues had to go through for attempting to do just that – speaking and writing freely. It will make you to greatly appreciate how far we have come and you will be more responsible.
There is something about rootedness that is inhabited in where one comes from. We are able to see how the rootedness of the persona in the ways of his people enabled him to cultivate a high sense of justice from the very formative stages of his life – gratitude to his parents and members of his community for their love and support. The book delves deep into the lore and mores of Dr Mutunga’s people in the rural community and it is through these lenses that we get to understand the foundational principles of the former Chief Justice on a number of issues.
It is not in dispute that Kenya is a fragmented society and much of this is due to the nature of our politics which has been quite unfair to the citizens. A book that reminds us of the heroic acts of Kenyans who are still within our midst is quite refreshing. This is one of the best ways of waking our people to the realization that we ought to play our part in making our society more fair and just.
Writer is author of Aphorisms and Poems of Light