After failing as guardian of law, Wako now wants to be lawmaker
His 20 years of monumental failures notwithstanding, and in spite of presiding over massive graft cover-ups and protecting criminals, former AG has mustered the courage to join ODM’s ‘change’ brigade
Ever-smiling Amos Shitswila Wako, the immediate former Attorney General who dodged political responsibility for two decades, has found a new charmer.
He is vying for Bungoma Senate on an ODM ticket – benefiting from political pluralism that he frustrated at the height of Kanu hegemony.
So disillusioned was former US envoy Michael Ranneberger about Wako’s long reign at Sheria House, he described him as the grandfather of the culture of impunity that had taken root in Kenya. As a consequence, Wako was permanently barred from visiting the United States.
This turn of events was hardly surprising. Twenty-one years earlier, Wako was plucked from the United Nations, where he was vice chairman of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and dragged to Sheria House.
It was a gesture meant to appease Kenya and the international community, for the country was reeling from the totalitarian rule of Daniel arap Moi and Kanu.
The appointment came in the wake of the murder of then Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Robert Ouko and the detention of key Opposition leaders like Charles Rubia, George Anyona and Kenneth Matiba for agitating for political pluralism.
Wako’s appointment as AG was immediately followed by the repeal of Section 2(a) that had outlawed political parties, to entrench Kanu’s dominance, turning the country into a one-party dictatorship.
The restitution of the freedom of association led to registration of political parties, with Forum for Restoration of Democracy (Ford) on December 31, 1991, followed by Democratic Party, Ford Asili and Ford Kenya in quick succession.
But Opposition politicians soon recognised the field had not been levelled enough: Kanu still had the upper hand, thanks to some clauses that Wako sneaked into a Bill in Parliament.
At a time when Moi and Kanu treated the election date as a secret weapon, the National Assembly and Presidential Elections Act was drafted to provide that political parties be required to nominate their candidates within a period of not less than 21 days.
But Wako amended this to read “not more than 21 days,” sparking outrage which saw the matter referred to the court for determination. Justice Tom Mbaluto struck out the amendment, describing it as a mischievous and deliberate attempt by Wako to give Moi and Kanu an advantage in the 1992 elections.
Wako’s ignominy is staggering. In those days when the AG’s office wielded prosecutorial powers, Wako worked hard to protect human rights violators and corrupt senior government officers.
As an example, the so-called “tribal” clashes in the Rift Valley and the Coast became a permanent feature in the election cycle, forcing hundreds of thousands out of their homes as others were killed to prevent them from voting – if they were seen as Opposition sympathisers. The decision over whom to target was made on the basis of ethnicity. Predictably, nobody was prosecuted.
It was on Wako’s watch that the mother of all corruption scams was masterminded by Kamlesh Patni and implemented by bigwigs at the Treasury. More than Sh5 billion was looted from public coffers.
Yet again, the chief government legal adviser took no action, outraging some Western donor countries. Ranneberger aptly summarised Wako’s role as that of engaging in smokes and mirrors as he went through the motions of prosecuting the perpetrators while he was actually protecting them.
Civil society groups, which had earlier described Wako as a godsend reformer when he was elevated in 1991, started viewing him as a protector of corruption and bastion of impunity, complaining that no big fish was punished for breaking the law or stealing public money.
Former director of the defunct Kenya Anti-Corruptrion Commission, Aaron Ringera, in a status report to President Mwai Kibaki, fingered Wako for frustrating the war against graft, a verdict also arrived at by the Samuel Bosire-led judicial commission investigating the Goldernberg scandal in 2005.
The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee probing the shadowy figures behind the Anglo-Leasing scandal, where billions were looted in fictitious contracts reminiscent of Goldenberg, concluded that the AG had failed the Government by not only failing to provide sound legal advice but also by not prosecuting masterminds of the scam.
Wako was also accused of providing comfort to the perpetrators of the Anglo-Leasing scheme, and was at one point chided after his office sacked the director of Prosecutions and replaced him with a lawyer who had been acting as chief defence counsel of one of the suspects in the scandal.
Wako was further implicated in the Justice Philip Waki report in October 2008. The report squarely blamed his office for protecting the architects of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
According to Waki, Wako had failed the country and humanity by failing to bring to book those involved in the clashes, which left more than 1,300 Kenyans dead and more than 350,000 others homeless.
Wako says he is writing his memoirs. But the story that’s firmly written in Kenyans’ minds of his two decades at Sheria House is his failure to uphold the cardinal oath of office: upholding the rule of law.
For whatever it’s worth, Wako’s smile kept him going, and could return him to the public space as an ODM politician, perhaps to demand of others what he so poignantly failed to deliver for 21 years.