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Meet law student who applied to become Kenya’s next Chief Justice – VIDEO

A man of nine names who took 11 years to complete a degree in law, sums up Paul Andrew Kongani Udoto Kongani.

When names of applicants for the Chief Justice position were published last week by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), this Kenya School of Law student was listed among the 14 people who wanted to succeed Willie Mutunga as the head of the judiciary.

And although he knew he had little chance to make the cut, he still had high hopes.

“I was 50/50 though it was more probable that I would not have been shortlisted because of the 15 years experience required, which by the way I think lacks legal justification and is meant to discriminate against the youths,” Mr Kongani told Nairobi News in a candid interview.

LOCK OUT YOUTH

PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU
PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU

Mr Kongani said he has since requested the JSC for a written explanation for his disqualification, which he intends to use to challenge his disqualification in court.

His own life story portrays a character full of resilience and a stoic determination to succeed against all odds. He rose from a poor background and educated himself through the proceeds of his carpentry workshop

“My father (Mzee Wawire Kongani) died in 2004 when I was expecting to graduate from Moi University with a degree in law. I was left with a fee balance of about Sh250, 000, out of which my mother (Petronilla Nelima) could only afford Sh5, 000. My clan contributed Sh 3, 000 after two-year reassurance and my elder brother Sh 3, 000,” recalls Mr Kongani.

He holds no grudges on his clan for keeping him waiting for two years and only giving him Sh3, 000 in the end.

Luckily for Mr Kongani, while still at Moi University, he interned part-time at a law firm where he says he acquired two years of experience. He later became a freelance legal adviser after all hopes of completing studies had dimmed.

BECAME A CARPENTER

Faced with the uncertainty of ever finishing his degree in law, Mr Kongani, then aged 27, became a carpenter in Bungoma town, putting into use the skills he acquired during his O’level studies in Bungoma High School under the tutorship of one Mr Mutoro.

Four years into carpentry, Mr Kongani had raised enough money to retrun to Moi University to clear his fee balance. He completed his coursework and graduated in 2011.

“After graduating I got married and travelled to Nairobi with my newly wedded wife where I did odd jobs like mjengo and my ordinary carpentry to survive in the city,” said Mr Kongani.

In 2012, he got employed as a junior marketer at Barclays Bank where he earned commissions on top of a sh10, 000 monthly retainer.

“I switched to different junior marketing jobs in different insurance companies looking for an entry point to the legal offices in vain until in 2013 when I decided to go back to Bungoma and revive my workshop.

“I had only Sh3, 000 which I used to make a four by six feet bed and after two years I had raised the stock to be worth Sh250, 000,” says Mr Kongani.

While in Bungoma he would often pop into an advocate’s law firm to keep his lawyer side active as well as offer free legal advice to people.

JOINED SCHOOL OF LAW

By 2015, he had raised sufficient money to join the Kenya School of Law. His former colleagues at Moi University, who were now advocates, helped him in raising the amount.

He joined Riara University where he took three compulsory courses that were required then joined the Kenya School of Law in 2016.

Mr Kongani submitted his application for the Chief Justice position despite still being a student and admits that he never consulted anyone.

“I didn’t think of consulting as I have my personal opinion and feel that some issues ought to be challenged in the spirit of the constitution as seven years maximum is enough for one to gain the experience required for a Chief Justice job which is mostly administrative,” Mr Kongani told Nairobi News.

With five years’ experience working part time in law firms he felt he was qualified to become Kenya’s next Chief Justice.

PLANS FOR JUDICIARY

“If appointed, I had plans to invest using the available resources in the judiciary,  like the parcels of land where most courts are. I would invest in building mega structures and letting out space for rental income that can then be used to increase the number of courts and judges without overburdening the other arms of government,” said Mr Kongani.

PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU
PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU

He says the judiciary, like any arm of government, can raise funds through available resources instead of over-relying on budgetary allocations so as to maintain its independence.

His plan would have been to have a High Court in each of the 47 counties and 15 permanent Courts of Appeals across the country, each shared by three counties.

“This will help speed up the judicial process as the pile up of cases in courts including magistrate courts is too much,” he says.

Mr Kongani also stated that he would have started a programme that publicly rewards non-corrupt judges and magistrates so as to increase efficiency.

He says the current appraisal methods are not effective because they do not include hefty financial rewards for excellent judges and magistrates.

“I would also have an independent organization to help with the blacklisting of those involving themselves with corruption. The current reforms done by tribunals of legal practitioners cannot be effective, there is need for an independent body,” says Mr Kongani.

The 39year-old is not sure if he will ever apply for the position after the term of the new Chief Justice’ends, but in the meantime, he intends to start programs that will help youths who come from poor backgrounds.