Justice Kakuru’s legacy challenges us to emulate him
What you need to know:
- In life, Kakuru looked in the eyes of fellow citizens without hesitation, for he was an honest man who spoke and acted with confidence born of freedom, independence, and sincerity.
Justice Kenneth Kakuru, who died a week ago, was the civilised person’s idea of a good judge. He was very independent minded, rendered impartial judgement, was reasonable and fair to a fault, with a humane disposition, and driven by fidelity to the laws of Uganda. His parentage shaped his courage in a land where many of his professional colleagues lived in fear of the secular ruler and his armed courtiers. His strong Christian faith enabled him to be an unapologetic servant of the law and the truth, and a defender of human rights. His selflessness propelled his passionate interest in environmental law and its application to serve future generations. His self-discipline was manifested in professional efficiency that was greatly admired and respected by the judicial fraternity.
The eulogies by fellow judges of the court, lawyers, politicians, and other opinion leaders were unanimous in their approbation of Kakuru’s courage and integrity. Alphonse Owiny Dollo, the Chief Justice of Uganda, distilled the essence of the man in a single paragraph. “Justice Kakuru will forever be remembered for a number of things, most especially his tough character,” Dollo said. “Kakuru called a spoon a spoon, not a small spade. He was an exemplary leader and a resilient manager who moved things and produced results before demanding the same from other members of the team. He was fearless and incorruptible and spoke his mind loud and clear.”
Had he heard these words while he lived, Kakuru would have probably urged his colleagues to speak with actions that matched what they admired about him. Now that his marvellous voice is stilled forever, I ask, on his behalf, that we live up to the standards that he set as a lawyer, a judge, and a citizen of Uganda. We must reclaim our independence as individuals endowed with intellects that are no different from those of people before whom we bow and act as slaves. We must not yield to the transient pleasure that comes from conforming to the demands of those who seek to rule and exploit us. Our actions should be driven by what is right, fair, legal, and just for all, not by what is expedient and likely to deliver groceries and trinkets from the rulers of the day.
On paper, Uganda has three arms of government that are supposed to be independent of each other. Kakuru believed in this, embraced this, and acted with resolute dedication to the realization of judicial independence. His voice was among the minority of unshakeable jurists who served justice, not the ruler’s palace. He did this with refreshing humility, completely devoid of the pomposity that some mistake for gravitas. What better way to honor him than to emulate his independence and sever the chains that bind the courts and hinder administration of justice!
Kakuru was perfectly happy to be called Kenneth, or Kakuru. I called him “brother”, and he reciprocated likewise. Our correspondence was always joyful. He educated me through honest comments on some of my published opinions and disabused me of some notions shaped by wishful thinking. His firsthand experience, acquired through his privileged front seat position, was a great source of inspiration and direction for me. I will, of course, continue to treat all he shared with utmost confidentiality, but I will use his insights to continue the struggle for a necessary mindset change that is an absolute requirement for individual freedom and collective progress.
Kakuru’s death reminds us, once again, that our allotted time on Earth is way too short to be squandered on trivialities that pass for living. Our lives are really about creation of our individual legacies. Some spend their time in voluntary mental servitude, toiling as praise singers and court dancers in exchange for patronage appointments, groceries, and ac-cess to opportunities for accumulating material possessions. Some consider driving an expensive Japanese motor vehicle or an appointment to a government job or being called “doctor”, “honourable”, “professor”, “canon”, “justice”, and such, or receipt of a cash-filled khaki envelope from the ruler, their ultimate purpose for living. That is fine, of course, for everyone is free to do as they please, if they do not violate the law.
However, my view is that these and other attractions that turn people into their slaves are transient and inconsequential. We shall not remember Kakuru because of the beautiful clothes that he wore, the houses and buildings that he contributed to Uganda’s land-scape, his titles, or even his stellar academic performance in school and universities.
We shall remember him as a man of great integrity, a lawyer who defended human rights and fought for the environment, and a judge who was utterly committed to justice, constitutionalism, and the rule of law. He was not afraid to stand on the side of Uganda, with most Ugandans, against the wishes of a ruler whose personal and dynastic ambitions threatened the fate of our country. A century from now, students of history and law will be taught about a man called Kenneth Kakuru ka Kamuzhanduzi. The names of his contemporaries that amassed material riches and titles, and those who inflicted pain on fellow citizens through corrupt dealings and selling their consciences, will be anecdotes in forgotten digital archives.
In life, Kakuru looked in the eyes of fellow citizens without hesitation, for he was an honest man who spoke and acted with confidence born of freedom, independence, and sincerity. In death, his legacy challenges us to emulate him from the benches of the courts of justice, from the pulpits of church sanctuaries, from front and back benches of Uganda’s parliament and district councils, from platforms of political campaigns and other partisan meetings, from lecture rooms and classrooms, and from our laptops, and other devices through which we express written opinions.
My thoughts are with his siblings, his wife, his children, and other relatives, to whom he was a wonderful source of love and support. Their loss is too great for anyone else to understand. However, we are comforted by the knowledge that Kakuru is safe, destined for eternal glory in the presence of God with whom he was reconciled through acceptance of salvation through Jesus Christ. It is well.
Muniini K. Mulera is Ugandan-Canadian social and political observer. [email protected]