Willy Mutunga: My Leader Without A Title

When I was asked to write something about Chief Justice Emeritus Dr Willy Mutunga; I contemplated whether I should write about Willy my friend, or Willy my comrade, or Willy my teacher, or one of the many Willy Mutungas that I have had the privilege to know and interact with. I must say I struggled with which Willy I should write about. Within that time, I had a personal assignment to re-read Robin Sharmas book, The Leader who had No Title and there came my answer, ‘Willy Mutunga: My Leader Without a Title!’

Willy is the single most Civil Society member who has served in one of the three highest offices of the land and came right back to his civil society family. In the words of Robin Sharma, I would say ‘the Superstar who never forgot his home’. If you know Willy well, you most certainly have interacted with his authenticity and frankness. Willy says things as they are in the most authentic language and added humour. I am not aware of an hour spent with Willy that I didn’t laugh my head off; whether in a meeting discussion, whether he is presenting in a conference or in a personal setting. 

When I first knew Willy in the early 90s, I was a young inexperienced activist groping in the dark in this human rights world and that of leftist politics. Not only did I not have enough experience, but I also had not read much in both of those areas. Interestingly enough; Willy treated me like an equal, always listening deeply and offering words like ‘great idea’, ‘great suggestion’ or great this or that, encouraging me to speak more without judgement – and I learnt to be confident in areas that initially seemed extremely challenging. 

Over the years, I have learnt that life is a continuous lesson which gives us the opportunity to grow every hour, day, month or year and during that growth, we hold particular positions, sometimes so intimately that we build a ‘tunnel vision’ on issues, on people, on ideology or even religion.

Twice I have judged Willy using my limited tunnel vision; in the 90s when Willy declined an offer to run as a Presidential Candidate for SAFINA party and in 2013 when the Supreme Court made a judgement against Raila Odinga’s petition. In the first instance; I so misjudged Willy’s reasoning out of my own limited knowledge and understanding of the political terrain of the day and in the second, because Willy was Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court, I held him personally responsible for the outcome of that judgement. I know I am not alone in this – the only difference is that I have reflected; not on Willy’s actions but on myself and my various weaknesses at those particular times in my life, my level of understanding of what personal choice and freedom truly means, my level of political and legal understanding, and I must say my emotions became more important than the facts on the ground.

I believe my attitude and high-handed manner severely dented our relationship. When I reflect back on my judgmental attitude, I realize how we lose our sheroes and heroes who are way ahead of us in knowledge and understanding because we judge them at our level and yet they are in another realm, but our eyes see them at our level. Willy for me is at the same realm as the late Professor Wangari Maathai, the late Richard Leakey and my late mother – these people operated in another realm which although I intimately brushed shoulders with them, I never truly understood their realm and therefore never fully reaped the benefits of proximity and what they had to offer. Mostly associating with them at a lower realm, judging and criticizing when they did not think like me or satisfy my expectations, not realizing that it is my expectations that had not grown to their level and therefore, I could only see one dimension of each of them and not the holistic person.

Fully understanding my Purpose and Calling has made me realize that everyone else has their own divine purpose and calling and therefore they see things differently and separately from me. Many times, I have expected people to see the world through my eyes and I believe this is one of the ways I treated my friendship, comradeship and overall relationship with Willy, in my eyes and according to my purpose and calling which is mine and not his. I did not realize that people are strikingly different; with different purposes to fulfil, with different sets of priorities even when they are my family, my friends or my comrades.

So why my leader without a title? Despite the heavy criticism many of us have shown Willy; myself as well, using some of these examples, Willy does not abandon his family, his friends or his comrades and that for me is a confirmation of the level he operates at, it is not petty or mundane. ‘Without a Title’, Willy continues to lead us with candour and confidence, without fear of judgement or criticism, the challenge is, will we continue to judge and criticize him with how far ‘our eyes’ see him or will we aim to rise to his level, step by step, day by day as we continue to transform this nation?


  • An International Award-winning human rights defender, an environmental activist, and a diversity, equity & inclusivity political rights activist.

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