Congratulations to dad for being awarded the ‘highest award a laywer can receive’ – Jurist of the Year 2004. Thank you to Aunty Nish for bringing this to our attention; it seems to have been kept very quiet…until now.
Below is a full article on dad and his award…I am not sure where the article is from and would be grateful if someone could let me know.
A man for all seasons
As 2004 Jurist of the Year Wanyiri Kihoro begins to receive congratulations, Njonjo Kihuria takes a look at the man who declined the Sh400,000 awarded to him as compensation for wrongful detention.
On Friday night, at a glittering ceremony organised by the Kenya Chapter of the International Commission of Jurists of Kenya, Mr Wanyiri Kihoro went up to claim the highest honour lawyers bestow on one of their own every year.
He had been given the award “in recognition and appreciation of his exemplary performance in the protection and promotion of human rights,democracy and the rule of law in Kenya”.
That the recognition is only for one year perhaps belies the fact that Kihoro’s battle to secure and promote human rights and democracy goes back a long way.
Way back in 1993, Kihoro and Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Kiraitu Murungi, then a human rights lawyer, made a pact.
Kihoro had been detained without trial between 1986 and 1989 and in the case, defended by Murungi, he was awarded Sh400,000 by the Court of Appeal. The two agreed, however, that the compensation money would not be picked until other victims of torture through detention had been equally compensated.
The Moi administration would not allow the duo that luxury, but now Kihoro cannot understand why his former lawyer-turned-powerful government minister has not influenced the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“That would have been the beginning of the healing process and I could have become a million shillings richer as the award was to earn interest at market rates until it was paid in full,” the former Nyeri Town MP said. “And since it has never offered been, nobody can accuse
me of rejecting it!”
It seems to be a character of the former political exile and MP that he fights, wins the battle but rarely claims the prize.
This time round, however, he happily accepted the award.
For the lawyer, the struggle for human rights started earnestly during the funeral of maverick politician J.M Kariuki in 1975 when, as a student leader, he called on the government to resign.
“When Simeon Nyachae, who was the Provincial Commissioner, Central Province, stood to deliver the government’s condolences to the family, he was booed by the students.
And when I stood to speak, I urged the government to resign and stop shedding crocodile tears,” Kihoro recalled, speaking to The Sunday Standard soon after the award.
Kihoro, who was to flee into exile in Britain years later, went into hiding as the government sought to “discipline him for rude behaviour”.
In later years, the land valuer went to Britain to study law where he became involved with the formation of the “Release Political Prisoners in Kenya Committee” in London in 1982, following the arrest of lecturers and other academicians by the Moi regime.
He undertook this with, among others, his wife, Wanjiru, and renowned author Ngugi wa Thiongo. Wanjiru has been bedridden, in a partial coma, since she was involved in a plane accident in Busia together with Narc ministers and MPs early last year. Minister Ahmed Khalif died.
Only the strong and brave can achieve what the lawyer has and still have quality time for his wife and family.
“It is more of a balancing act. I have to do what I must and at the same time take up her duties in respect of the family and women’s rights activism. It is not easy,” he says with a twinge of pain.
To keep his wife’s candle burning, he does legal work and training as well as participates in workshops organised by the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya, especially in respect of Members of Parliament.
Kihoro has lately undertaken major public duties, initially working as the secretary of the government properties investigations committee set up by Roads Minister Raila Odinga.
The former Nyeri Town MP served the committee that was looking into the allocation of government houses, land reserves, maintenance camps and material depots between February and September 2003. It handed in its report to the minister in December 2003.
Still working with the committee, Kihoro was in July 2003 appointed as an assisting counsel to the commission of inquiry into illegal/irregular allocation of public land.
Popularly known as the Ndung’u Commission, it completed its work in July and handed its report to President Kibaki. Controversy has, however, surrounded the release of the report, which was made public on Friday by Lands Minister Amos Kimunya.
To date, Kihoro believes he was detained for his anti-government activities as a student leader in 70s.
“Though they never told me why, I’m certain that I was detained upon coming back from my studies in Britain because of my student activism in the late 1970s and for becoming involved in the human rights movement in London later.”
Branded a Mwakenya sympathiser and tortured for three years, Kihoro was initially kept in the Nyayo House dungeons for three months before being transferred to Naivasha, Shimo La Tewa, Manyani and finally Kamiti GK prisons as a detainee. His experiences are recorded in the autobiographical journal, Never Say Die.
While in detention, he sued the state for compensation against torture, but when lawyer Gibson Kamau Kuria served the Attorney General with the suit notice in February 1987, he was picked up and detained as well. That is how Murungi came to take over the case.
Kihoro’s relationship with Murungi and human rights activities continued when in 2000 as the Nyeri Town MP, he tabled a Motion in Parliament for the compensation of all people who had suffered human rights violation since 1962.
Among these were Murungi’s uncle, General Baimungi, who among many other former Mau Mau freedom fighters, was reportedly killed by Kenyatta’s security forces for refusing to come out of the forest to join civilian life after independence.
Others said to have been killed were General Chui and General Kiugu.
Kihoro’s motion, which mainly sought compensation for those killed in North Eastern Province during the Kenyatta and Moi administrations, was shot down by then ruling party, Kanu.
Kihoro says as opposed to the 1993 court cash award, he found it easy to accept the Jurist of the Year award and described it as a “great honour and recognition” for the human rights work he has been involved in over the years.
“We have put too much emphasis on money, which inevitably leads to corruption. Our social values ought to change and there is much more dignity and respect in accepting this award, than accepting money,” Kihoro said.
He failed to get Narc’s nomination to vie for the Nyeri Town seat in 2002.
Kihoro has written four books including, Never Say Die, A Vision of the Future, A Natio nin Motion and the soon to be released, The Price of Freedom.