Willy Munywoki Mutunga, professionally addressed as Hon. Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga, is a figure whose life story intertwines with legal brilliance, activism, and a touch of controversy. Born on June 16, 1947, in Kitui County, Kenya, he has left an indelible mark on Kenya’s legal and social landscape.
Early Life and Education
Willy Mutunga’s roots trace back to Kitui County, where his father, Mzee Mutunga Mbiti, worked as a tailor in Kilonzo. In the crucible of Ithookwe Primary School in Kitui, his academic prowess surfaced. He proceeded to Kitui School for his Kenya Certificate of Education exams, achieving a remarkable feat by scoring six points (an “A” in all subjects), earning him a spot at Strathmore College for his “A” levels. This paved the way for a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of Nairobi in the 1970s, followed by a Master of Law from the University of Dar es Salaam. Later, he earned his Doctorate of Law from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto in the late 1980s.
Willy Mutunga Activism
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Mutunga, then a Law lecturer at the University of Nairobi, spearheaded a group of academics aligned with Marxist/Socialist ideologies, including Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Al-Amin Mazrui. The formation of the University Staff Union (USU) in 1972 marked a significant step, with Mutunga assuming the role of Secretary General in 1979. His activism, especially in advocating for Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s reinstatement, led to his arrest in 1980, and the subsequent banning of USU in 1980.
Accused of involvement in the December Twelve Movement, Mutunga faced charges in 1982, leading to detention and dismissal from his University position. In exile in Canada, he continued his intellectual pursuits and co-founded the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) with exiled students.
Return to Kenya
Upon Kenya’s return to multiparty democracy in 1991, Mutunga resumed his role as an influential figure. He served as vice-chairman and later chairman of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) from 1991 to 1995, launching the LSK into activist politics. In 2004, he joined the Ford Foundation, eventually becoming its executive director, focusing on human rights and social justice.
Willy Mutunga Chief Justice
The pinnacle of Mutunga’s career came with his appointment as Chief Justice of Kenya’s Supreme Court on June 20, 2011. His tenure aimed at reforming the judiciary, earning praise for his integrity and legal expertise. However, controversy surrounded his early retirement on June 16, 2016, linked to concerns about potential post-election petitions and constitutional crises.
Willy Mutunga Wives
Willy Mutunga’s personal life has been a subject of interest and controversy. He has been married twice, first to an undisclosed wife with whom he has a son and a daughter. His second marriage to Professor Beverle Michele Lax ended in divorce in 2009, marked by accusations of dishonesty.
Speculations about Mutunga’s sexuality arose during his Chief Justice nomination, with debates over his choice to wear an earring. Mutunga clarified that it held ancestral significance and affirmed that he is not gay.
Willy Mutunga Businesses
Mutunga’s religious journey has been marked by transitions from African traditional religion to Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and, ultimately, Islam. His decision to wear an earring is rooted in ancestral guidance.
Beyond his legal and advocacy roles, Mutunga is a businessman, owning a law firm in Nairobi, a share in a Nairobi apartment, and land in Kitui. His wealth includes future benefits of approximately Ksh. 33.3 million and a monthly income of Ksh. 1.27 million as Chief Justice.
Willy Mutunga’s legacy spans legal reforms, human rights advocacy, and an enduring impact on Kenya’s socio-political landscape. His journey, filled with highs and controversies, reflects a commitment to justice, activism, and navigating the complexities of personal and professional life.