I did not know Willie Kimani. In fact, I did not know anyone called Willie Kimani. I envy those who did, because I am sure they knew a truly unique, brave and committed humanitarian.
Now, we all know who Kimani was. We know that he swore to uphold the rule of law and administration of justice without fear or favour. We know that he took the courageous stand of fighting for the vulnerable, despised and downtrodden in the face of much danger to himself. We know that as a lawyer, Willie was never once short of options to make a good living for himself without sacrificing comforts many of us have learnt to take for granted. He could have joined a thriving conveyancing, Mergers and Acquisitions, Energy, Oil and Gas or International Law practice and done well for himself.
Kimani’s courage is shown by the things he chose to do with his life and career, and the way he went about it. He chose to serve people at the lower ends of our society, people who encounter adversity, oppression and injustice almost daily. People without anyone to turn to. People who pay the highest price for our collective political, economic, institutional and ethical failures.
As a young lawyer, I briefly worked with the human rights movement. I quickly learned that human rights defenders embrace a thankless calling: it is hard, often dangerous work which brings little in the way of material reward. Often, I had to share my meagre allowances with clients who had nothing to subsist on. You put in everything for the reward of a deep personal knowledge and satisfaction that you have done your part in making this world a better place. Your prize is moral and intellectual, buried deep within your personal constitution. You are the change you want to see.
Kimani took his chosen path seriously. In his last days, he was in pursuit of a case of brutal abuse of police power which had wrought a living hell in the life of someone of the kind we like to call an ‘ordinary mwananchi’. As Kimani progressed, threats to his client’s life escalated. Within no time, his own life was under serious threat. Kimani did not quit. He did not flinch. He did not hesitate. He did not run. He showed up and pushed on, because he would never have been able to forgive himself had he abandoned Josephat Mwenda. Such was this man’s conviction. Such was his courage. Such was his integrity.
Our society has its share of rabbits and donkeys and snakes and vultures. Willie Kimani was a lion of the first order. A lion who showed up. A valiant warrior who represented.
He stood up against people who had become accustomed to the idea that others live only at their discretion. People who think it is in order to take someone else’s life. Felons walking free and mocking justice. Kimani looked these characters in the eye and told them that the constitution, the rule of law, human rights and freedoms simply have to mean something, otherwise we are all doomed. Quite sadly, he lost his life to these criminals.
We will not see Kimani in person again. He is gone. And that is terrible and sad and very hard to accept.It is hard to accept and believe that this happened to him, here, now. It is terrible to now that people can be abducted, tortured and killed. By police officers. In Kenya. In 2016.
But his work, his conviction, his courage, his commitment; those exemplary values live with us , in us. Today we must feel, more than ever, the urgency of the call to take up our oath as advocates and live up to it without fear or favour. Today, we have an opportunity to ensure that custodians of law and order never again turn on their charges. It is possible to restore Kenyan’s trust in law enforcement institutions and officers by doing all we can to reject, protest, resist and eliminate all forms of corruption, injustice, oppression and abuse.
Inside that bleak container in Mavoko, Kimani fought pain and terror and found the clarity of mind to seek help. He found a piece of tissue paper and wrote his last words: find a way for me, for us, for Kenya; just find a way!. He banged at the walls of his dismal dungeon. He called out for help. He found a way. We who are alive and free have capability to strike a big blow for freedom. We must do it.
We are inspired by what we know of the life and work of Willie Kimani, and we must commit ourselves to take up his challenge in a manner consistent with his way. Even now in death, Willie Kimani does his duty: he shows up. Without fail. Without fear. Without Favour.
Author: Eric Ngeno
Advocate of the High Court of Kenya
Speechwriter – Presidential Strategic Communication Unit