Kenya's Chief Justice
More than two decades of writings particularly in the media revealed that Mutunga’s activism was inspired by a medley of nationalist thoughts. Among these are the anti-colonial fighter, Dedan Kimathi, Kenyan activist of Asian descent, Pio Gama Pinto, and the Guinea Bissau’s intellectual nationalist, Amilcar Cabral among others.
As a law lecturer in the 1970s and 1980s, his activism was identified with a small but determined group of radical academics among them Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Al-Amin Mazrui, Kamonji Wachira and Maina Wa Kinyatti identified with the Marxist/socialist ideologies in vogue at the time.
On 19 April 1972, members of this group formed the University Academic Staff Union (UASU). Mutunga became the General Secretary of the Union in 1979, months after Daniel arap Moi succeeded Jomo Kenyatta and embarked on tightening his grip on power. He immediately rallied other USU officials around a daring campaign for the reinstatement of Prof. Ngugi wa Thiongo to his former job of teaching English and Literature at the University of Nairobi. Ngugi, incarcerated by the Kenyatta government in December 1977, was released in December 1978 but never returned to his job.
As a result, Mutunga was arrested by the police an 10 June 1980, and a month later UASU was banned on 19 July 1980. However, Mutunga’s arrest threw to the public limelight alleged activities of a seemingly burgeoning Kenyan underground in the dark 1980s decade.
He was accused of being a member of the underground insurgent group known as the December Twelve Movement, and participating in the production of the Movement’s publication, Pambana. The police alleged they had found stamps used for mailing Pambana after searching his house.
On 12 June 1982, he was charged in court before before the late senior Magistrate, Mr. P.N. Tank. He was accused of being in possession of a ‘seditious’ leaflet bearing the headings: “J.M. Solidarity Day”; Don’t Be Fooled: Reject these Nyayos.” On 29 July 1982, he was detained, just three days before the 1 August 1982 abortive coup by the Air Force. He was also dismissed from his University job.
Dr. Willy Munyoki Mutunga (born, 16 June 1947 in Kitui District, Eastern Kenya) is a Kenyan lawyer, intellectual and pro-reform activist. On 13 May 2011, he was nominated by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) as the sole candidate for the position of Kenya’s Chief Justice that became vacant following the exit of Justice Evans Gicheru. President Mwai Kibaki, after consultations with Prime Minister Raila Odinga, passed on his name to the National Assembly for vetting and confirmation in line with the country’s new constitution. Mutunga’s nomination drew a searchlight on his hitherto little-known private life, pioneering an American-style scrutiny of the private records of those seeking high public offices.