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Kenya’s trail-blazing Chief Justice David Maraga set to retire

By Morris Kiruga
Posted on Monday, 14 December 2020 17:55

Kenya Judiciary
Kenyan Supreme Court Chief Justice David Maraga presides during the judgement of the petitions at Supreme court in Nairobi, Kenya. Chief Justice David Maraga in 2017 (AP Photo/Sayyid Abdul Azim-File)

Kenya's Chief Justice David Maraga, whose five-year tenure was marked by a historic nullification of presidential election results in 2017 and subsequent public fights with the executive, has retired from the position.

Although his retirement takes effect in mid-January when he turns 70, Maraga announced that he would be going on leave from as of 11 December.

Maraga, the country’s 14th Chief Justice and the second under its new constitution, took over in 2016 after the early retirement of his predecessor, Willy Mutunga. Unlike Mutunga, a lawyer who had not served in the judiciary before his appointment in 2011, Maraga had been a judge for 13 years.

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In 2017, CJ Maraga led the majority decision in the Supreme Court that led to the nullification of the August elections. The decision put him at loggerheads with President Kenyatta, who told a public forum that he would “revisit” the issue.

  • In the years since, CJ Maraga has fought back debilitating budgetary cuts and other issues
  • In one of his last acts this year, he advised President Kenyatta in September to dissolve the country’s legislature for failing to pass affirmative action laws.

Replacement blocked

On Thursday 10 December, a legal activist in Nairobi filed a suit to prevent the temporary replacement of Justice Maraga by his deputy, Justice Philomena Mwilu.

Since a much publicised arrest at her chambers in the Supreme Court in August 2018, Justice Mwilu has been fighting off corruption allegations in the courts and her employer, the Judicial Service Commission.

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  • The corruption allegations relate to suspicious property and loan transactions between the judge and Imperial Bank, a mid-tier lender that collapsed in 2015 after the death of its long-term MD, Abdulmalek Janmohammed.
  • Although Justice Mwilu managed to ward off the court process, which ruled that the evidence against her was obtained illegally, the allegations still form part of four ongoing petitions for her removal.

What next?

In addition to the Chief Justice, there is one other open seat in Kenya’s seven-member Supreme Court bench. The two positions are likely to attract competition and fervent speculation as they come less than two years before the next election cycle, and months before a planned constitutional referendum.