Liberal democracy has been vaunted as a sure way of safeguarding Human Rights the world over. The state of liberal democracy and her fruits all over the world has come under considerable challenge. The challenge is even more dire for the men and women who risk their lives to speak up for the down trodden, the marginalized, the weak and the oppressed, in essence the protection of liberal democracy. The world is topsy turvy at the moment with the rise of toxic nationalism in the Western world and the coterminous attrition of the support traditionally coming from the West for liberal democracy and Human Rights values in the global south.

The result has been that lives of liberal democratic proponents and Human Rights defenders has never been in evergreater peril as currently witnessed. Yet we have valiant men and women in the global south, inspired by altruistic concerns; people who endeavour to be inthe vanguard of Human Rights defence and the propagation of liberal democratic values. One such person is Waikwa Wanyoike, former Executive Director at Katiba Institute. Though he is no longer active as a Human Rights and Constitutional law defender in Kenya, Waikwa Wanyoike is not about to be forgotten. My first interaction with Waikwa was several years ago when he came to the Kenya School of Law where I was a post-graduate student taking my bar exams lessons, where he was invited to deliver a lecture of Appellate advocacy. He walked into the lecture hall in quintessential Waikwa fashion: no suits, tousled hair and carrying a courier bag. He spoke in a soft spoken genteel manner and at the end of the lecture; I walked to him and told him that our paths will cross one day.

The paths sure did cross, when I was to later join Katiba Institute as a research assistant. Waikwa taught me a lot while at Katiba Institute. He had an indefatigable attitude to what he did. He was all over so to speak. Waikwa would be the one to research, go to court and go for site visits. During his work, he would come face to face with the monstrosity that is arrogant state power. He would face rogue police officers who threatened him and his colleagues ever too often. The threats never deterred his commitment. What Waikwa stood for preeminently manifested in the rare attributes he possesses as a person and as a litigator. Waikwa Wanyoike bears a fine mind, an inquisitive and creative mind that would unravel problems and offer solutions in many an occasion. He is an ideologue, thoroughly impassioned; an advocate properly convicted in spirit and in mind about the cause he believes in; what we all ought to believe in.

Constitutionalism and constitutional law in general is imbued with underpinning understanding ‘that our constitutional democracy was forged on the anvil of division, past injustice and economic inequity, but also on the hope for reconciliation, nation building and social cohesion.’ The urge to re-create the constitutional order so as to render meaningful constitutional justice, to do things rightgained impetus after the promulgation of the Constitution 2010. Waikwa was a competent toiler in the quest to give meaning to the Constitution and Human Rights. He spearheaded innovative litigation in virgin areas such as with regards to socio-economic rights, where he was a constant figure not only in litigation but in advocacy and awareness programs as well. Minority rights benefited immensely from the vim and commitment that only Waikwa can give. He worked like a horse, ever dedicated and unassuming. As the boss, Waikwa cut the image of a team player, a servant leader, ever humble and a gentleman in every respect of the word. He never liked anyone calling him Sir. He simply wanted to be called by his name. He worked jointly with others and respect for him sprouted automatically as a result.

Within the legal circles, Waikwa earned the respect of his colleagues for not being antagonistic or cantankerous in court. He was courteous to a fault and his delivery meticulous, rhapsodic and intellectually fermented. He is a voracious reader, a person who takes time to understand concepts that he is dealing with. He reminds me of Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke’s sagacity when he talks of the ‘Courage of Principle.’ It is appropriate to synthesize what is meant by the Courage of Principle. Courage of principle implies three fundamental and inter-connected patterns of behaviour according to Justice Moseneke. The first is vision. The second requires concrete steps to pursue and realise the vision. The third is the preparedness to pay the price for a rigorous pursuit of the vision. Waikwa the passionate ideologue bears a vision that we are well capable of living meaningful and satisfying lives in a constitutional democracy, that justice and fairness can be removed from the rarefied world of academia and concrete meaning given to them in the corridors of justice and in our everyday lives.

Waikwa played his part in ensuring that the weak and the downtrodden were dignified through his activities at Katiba Institute and as a key player in civil society activities. He was a towering and dependable figure in ensuring that we are not going to be that generation that administers the last rites to the Constitution 2010. Waikwa most definitely paid the price for his noble activities. He barely rested. He never had time for himself. He faced the menace and barbarity of rogue regimes in the form of rapscallion coercive machinery. He never flinched though. He cantered on, working for the lowly and miserable. Today, Waikwa is no longer a constant feature in the activities of civil society in Kenya. He nevertheless leaves us with a legacy, forged on the path of commitment and enduring passion. He symbolizes to us the Courage of Principle.

By no means, this is not an epilogue on Waikwa’s cathartic influence on Constitutionalism and Human Rights defence. He will certainly be back at some point to continue from where he left. Ours is to remember his stellar contributions this far and to say thank you to him. We appreciate your work and commitment to it. You forever remain a leader and in the words of American author, speaker and Pastor John C. Maxwell“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” Waikwa knew the way, he went the way and he has showed us the way.


By Evans Ogada

Evans Ogada is an advocate in Nairobi ogadae@yahoo.com

This article was published by The Platform Number 45, July 2019