Welcome to 2024, to Canaan, to the premier world


New Year's Address by Prof J Osogo Ambani, LLD, Dean, and Associate Professor of Public Law, Kabarak Law School

It is my brother and colleague Mr Elisha Ongoya's Facebook page that first broadcast the news (in March/April 2021) that I had joined Kabarak Law School (KLS) as Dean and Associate Professor of Public Law. The matter went viral when that combined with a tweet by my other brother, Cabinet Secretary, Hon Onesmus Kipchumba Murkomen. And then my alma mater, the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, touched its key board and the news of my posting was amplified to the region and beyond.

This news was greeted with excitement across my networks. The many congratulatory messages that nearly crushed my phone, the warm and genuine reception by students, faculty and staff at Kabarak, and the countless pledges of support, including by distinguished academics and other influential personalities, could humble even pride itself.

My mentor (Mr Kennedy Buhere of the Ministry of Education) immediately forwarded a book on university management. Prof Ambreena Manji, Dean of International for Africa at the School of Law and Politics, Cardiff University, took hold of my hand from Day 1. And firmly so. Prof Sylvia Kang'ara, founding Dean of Riara Law School, encouraged, guided and lived solidarity. A hard copy congratulatory note from our founding Dean, Prof PLO Lumumba, was reassuring. Action being the language of love for my mentor and my Dean at Strathmore Law School, Prof Luis Franceschi, he inspired and checked on me 'no sooner than' to ensure I had settled in peacefully.

Then there was the call to action. Our Vice Chancellor, Prof Henry Kiplangat, threw the first serious challenge at my desk when he tasked me to ensure KLS ranks among the top law schools in Africa. But he moderated the weight of this assignment through his promise to support this vision fully. Prof Willy Mutunga, Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya Emeritus, ended his congratulatory message with a prophetic statement – 'you will be my Dean in your new station'. Ms Rahab Wakuraya, the Associate Dean of KLS, alerted me that the plane that is KLS had been taxiing for far too long, that it was ready for a steep takeoff.

The motivational messages above met the threshold for a jamboree! But the challenge to raise the bar, to found a premier law school, spared no energy for a celebration. It was time for work!

In March/April 2024, when I complete a term of three years, we will be launching a book on gender and agricultural governance in Kenya co-edited by myself and authored by our faculty and students. We will also be hosting the African Regional Round of the 22nd Edition of the John H Jackson World Trade Organisation Moot Court Competition. Even more significantly, we will be entering Canaan, which for us means the double blessing of the two new KLS chambers and the fresh values that we have agreed must accompany this historical migration.

Great scholars, only God could organise events with such serendipity; which is why I praise Him greatly. Indeed, between the emotional start I have described above and the anticipated cheerful end of a term, God has been faithful. His hand is visible in our many milestones. In the interest of time and space I mention only but a few and in a random manner.

From the time of my arrival, we debated and passed an ambitious strategic plan for the 2022 – 2026 season. Christened Our commitments, the Strategic Plan pitches our vision at a falsetto – '[t]o set a very high bar for excellence, ethics and virtue in legal education'. The mission for KLS is to impact the universe through excellent legal education, cutting-edge legal and interdisciplinary research, and devoted community service - all from ethical and biblical perspectives.

Our commitments has seven strategic pillars:

  • i. Enhance the quality and quantity of legal and interdisciplinary education;
  • ii. Optimise our capacity to conduct and disseminate cutting-edge legal and interdisciplinary research;
  • iii. Improve our capacity to take part in community service initiatives;
  • iv. Strengthen the physical, spiritual and psychosocial wellbeing of our students as well as bolster their support programmes;
  • v. Strengthen and maintain an efficient, effective, and democratic governance system at the Law School;
  • vi. Promote the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in our teaching, research and other works; and
  • vii. Provide and maintain quality and adequate human, financial and physical resources.

Pillar i. requires us to engage top-notch academics. Thus, in November 2021, and in time for the strategic season, Prof Mutunga joined our faculty as an Adjunct Professor of Public Law becoming the first Full Professor of Law at KLS and the first Chief Justice to join the academy in Kenya or perhaps anywhere in Africa.

A few months later, in January 2022, Prof Mutunga crowned his appointment by delivering an Inaugural Lecture under the title 'In search and defence of radical legal education: A personal footnote.' Prof Mutunga's Inaugural Lecture is historical in the sense that it was the first at Kabarak University and only the third by a law academic in Kenya.

Other new distinguished academics who now stride the hallowed KLS chambers include Ms Jean Okumu, Mr Humphrey Sipalla, Dr Henry Paul Gichana, Dr Juma Paul Ochieng, Dr Harrison Mbori Otieno, Ms Melissa Mungai, Prof Kiwinda Mbondenyi, Mr John Said Nyanje and Mr Wachira Maina. Additionally, the entry of eminent legal practitioners Mr Cyril Kubai, Mr Dennis Ngarichia, Mr Kelly Malenya, Hon Gordon Ogola (formerly Speaker, Migori County Assembly) and Hon Dominic Rono (formerly Speaker, Kericho County Assembly) has strengthened our traditional 'practice edge'.

Great teachers and poor students make a terrible match. Luckily for us, this has been eschewed. Throughout the season under review, we have continued to attract some of the most gifted students in the country and will soon take the region by storm. Our international students Kenaya Komba, Nabintu Laetitia, Christian Rugenge and Victoria Okeke have only pioneered a route many will soon walk.

Our students have continued to excel in various moot court competitions and debates,[i] and have proven to be capable of competing favorably with the very best the world has got to offer.

This intellectual edge is bound to widen after the launch of a new and revolutionary Bachelor of Laws (LLB) curriculum in September 2023. The new curriculum strengthens our governance niche by introducing courses such as Ethics and Anti-Corruption Law; reorganises the order of courses to afford learners three specialisations at third year - Governance Law, Corporate Governance Law and International Law; introduces courses that are more relevant to our immediate community like Agricultural Governance Law and Sports Law; pioneers the teaching of personal development for law students through the Personal and Social Skills for Lawyers course; empowers learners for the 21st Century through courses like Digital Literacy for Lawyers and Data Science for Lawyers; and entrenches innovative andragogical approaches such as clinicals and experiential learning, court monitoring, moot courts, the Socratic method, term papers, and open book examinations, among others.

As part of Pillar ii. we have organised world class conferences, webinars and lectures where serious ideas touching on topical legal subjects have been debated and disseminated.[ii] Through these important forums, we have had the privilege to host very influential personalities. These include: all the chief justices since the 2010 Constitution, that is, Prof Mutunga, Hon Dr David Kenani Maraga and Hon Martha Koome; the Attorney General of the Republic of Kenya Emeritus, Prof Githu Muigai; President William Ruto's Cabinet Advisor on Women Rights, Ms Harriet Chiggai; the Assistant Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Prof Luis Franceschi (thrice); Court of Appeal Justice, Grace Ngenye (twice); High Court judges, Teresia Matheka, Hedwig Ongudi, and Samuel Muhochi; distinguished advocates Ambrose Weda, Charles Kanjama, Daniel Ngumi, Ochieng Dudley, Julie Matheka, Ochiel Dudley, Christine Nkonge, and Ken Melli; and distinguished scholars, Dr Gautam Bhatia, Dr Victor Lando, Dr Dancun Okubasu, Dr Adem Abebe, Dr John Wamwara, Dr Duncan Ojwang, Dr Ken Mutuma, Dr Jane Wathuta, Prof Ambreena Manji, Prof Richard Albert, Prof Yaniv Roznai, Prof Migai Aketch, Prof Rosalind Dickson, Prof Ben Sihanya, and Prof Sylvie Kang'ara to mention but some.

We have also signed memoranda of understanding with many organisations. These include: Amnesty International; European Law Students Association; Hivos East Africa; International Commission of Jurists Kenya; Kenya National Commission on Human Rights; Konrad Adenuaer Stiftung; Save the Children; and Validity Foundation.

Also as part of commitment ii., our Vice-Chancellor established the Kabarak University Press (KUP) and graciously stationed it within KLS, under the leadership of Mr Sipalla, for incubation. Barely over two years later, KUP is transforming academic publishing in the region not just by the rate at which it is churning out knowledge but also by the originality, quality and rigour of its outputs. Already, KUP has published the following books and periodicals:

  • Githu Muigai, with Dan Juma, Power, politics and law: Dynamics of constitutional change in Kenya, 1897-2022, Kabarak University Press, 2022
  • J Osogo Ambani, Caroline Kioko (eds), Decentralisation and inclusion in Kenya: From pre-colonial times to the first decade of devolution, Kabarak University Press, 2022
  • J Osogo Ambani, Humphrey Sipalla (eds), Mental health and the criminal justice system, Kabarak University Press, 2023
  • Willy Mutunga, In search and defence of radical legal education: A personal footnote, Kabarak University Press, 2022
  • Kabarak Law Review, Volume 1 (2022)
  • Kabarak Law Review, Volume 2 (2023)
  • Kabarak Journal of Law and Ethics, Volume 6 (2022)
  • Kabarak Journal of Law and Ethics, Volume 7 (2023)
  • African Journal of Commercial Law, Volume 2 (2023)

The first volume of Kabarak Law Review (KLR), which is edited by our undergraduate students, was published in December 2022. The second followed exactly a year later in December 2023. About 36 blogs later, KLR could boast of editing what is perhaps the most active students' blog in Africa.

Another milestone in the period under review was the establishment, in 2023, of the African Centre for Governance, Leadership and Ethics (ACGLE) within KLS and the appointment of Dr Gichana as its first head of department. ACGLE will anchor the study and post-graduate teaching of African governance, leadership and ethics later this year.

Our Vice-Chancellor also established the Centre for Legal Aid and Clinical Legal Education (CLACLE) and appointed Dr Paul Ochieng Juma as its chair. CLACLE promises to be the theatre for clinical legal education, and our formal conduit for community service initiatives like legal aid clinics, legal aid, and public interest litigation.

Even before CLACLE's establishment, a robust culture of community service through legal aid clinics and charity had taken root. For instance: -

  • On 6 November 2021, we partnered with the National Legal Aid Service, Nakuru Branch, and the Nakuru Community Justice Centre to offer legal aid services to residents of YMCA and Bondeni areas of Nakuru County.
  • On 10 and 23 March 2022, we mentored students in Chemasis and Kipsyenan secondary schools.
  • On 26 November 2022, we donated necessities to the internally displaced persons camping at the Athnai Camp.
  • On 10 October 2022, we partnered with Amnesty International Kenya to conduct clinics in Kaptembwa area of Nakuru County during their 10th year anniversary.
  • On 25 October 2023, we partnered with the Law Society of Kenya, Rift Valley Branch, and Justice Defenders to attend to detainees and prisoners in Nakuru Prison.

As part of Pillar v., we have established an efficient and democratic administrative infrastructure comprising: monthly Executive Committee and School Board meetings,; regular Dean's Students' Forums; a functional and inspirational Law School WhatsApp Group (Canaan Bound); and the Students' Grievance Handling Procedure, which lays down the channels for seeking help, complete with an ombudsperson system.

On 15 December 2023, our Chancellor, Hon Dr Gideon Moi, crowned our profession by awarding the Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya Emeritus, Hon Dr Maraga, the Degree of Honoris Causa Doctor of Laws in honour of his contribution to the learned fraternity.

Low moments

But we have had our low moments as well. On 1 August 2021, at the height of Covid 19 measures, and just when I was settling down to my new assignment as Dean, we lost our beloved student, Emmanuel Mutura Ndwiga, and his brother, Benson Njiiru Ndwiga, to what remains a sad, mad and bad case of police brutality. Obviously, the evil police officers were preoccupied with the individual and physical mortality of the young and promising scholars. Unbeknown to them, the collective efforts of the students' body and the never dying intellectual platform of which KLR is a part would immortalise the good brothers by continually revisiting the subject of policing.

Another low would come in October 2023, when we had to discontinue 164 of our students on academic grounds. Most of them had overstayed their welcome of eight years, and others ignored our progression guidelines. While we regret this loss, we have resolved to build a robust academic foundation upon these ruins.

Priorities for 2024

We shall continue on this promising trajectory in 2024. When God wills, my key priorities for this pivotal year shall be, to: -

  • Implement Our commitments fully.
  • Consolidate the gains made in the various fronts highlighted above such as research and publications, moot courts, conferences and webinars, efficient and democratic administration, and progression.
  • Host the 22nd John H Jackson Moot Court Competition with unprecedented excellence.
  • Introduce a couple of world-class masters programmes.
  • Institutionalise within KLS a law clinic - a law firm capable of representing indigent Kenyans, litigating public interest cases in Kenya and beyond, fostering clinical legal education, and organising legal aid clinics as a component of community service.
  • Actively market our brand locally and internationally.
  • Strengthen our student mentorship programmes.
  • Support the completion of work on the new twin chambers.

Welcome to Canaan

Yes, in April 2024, we shall occupy the twin new chambers; what, for two years, we have called Canaan!

Great scholars, Canaan is both a physical place and a spiritual space. The physical place is a state-of-the-art facility comprising two magnificent auditoriums, two Supreme Court level moot courtrooms, stunning chambers for the Dean, research centres and visiting professors, and several ultra-modern classrooms; and an outdoor amphitheater to boot. It will be a sight to behold!

That excellence is meant to inspire us to aspire for such and greater levels; to foreshadow the places of our future. Oh yes, Canaan is a place of dreams; individual dreams for career prosperity, but also a corporate dream for premier status.

Canaan is also a spiritual space. For the uninitiated, a new land is an impetus for renewal. It is a space for revival where our core values must flourish. These values include; integrity, ethics, industry, excellence, teamwork, humility, service and responsibility.

As our savior Jesus would say, love is the one value that unifies them all. Love goes with integrity, with honesty. We work hard for the good of those we love. We do stuff for them excellently. We partner with them. We are humble where they are concerned. We serve them diligently. And we are responsible for them – their keeper. Love is the virtue for Canaan.

Welcome to Kabarak in 2024, to Canaan, to the premier world. May the good Lord bless you exceedingly abundantly!

[i] For instance: -

  • Between 3 June 2021 and 5 June 2021, our students (Marion Bii Chepkemoi, Lewis Morara, Ann Kariuki, Sharon Amwama, Elsie Kemunto and Onesmus Musungu) participated in the All-Kenya Moot Court Competition and won three out of the four awards available (the awards for the Best Team, Best Memorial and the Best Oralist).
  • Between 3 July 2021 and 16 July 2021, our students (Samson Muchiri, Kevin Kipchirchir and Daisy Biwot) participated in the Nelson Mandela World Moot Court Competition and emerged second runners-up globally.
  • Between 23 August 2021 and 4 November 2021, our students (Samson Muchiri, Kevin Kipchirchir, Daisy Biwot, Marion Joy, Grace Jelimo and Onesmus Musungu) participated in the Foreign Direct Investment Moot Court Competition and emerged fourth globally, and were the Best African Team in the Global Rounds.
  • Between 22 November 2021 and 26 November 2021, our students (Daisy Biwot, Samson Muchiri and Kevin Kipchirchir) participated in the Ad Hoc Negotiation Competition, held in Dubai, and won a Gold Medal and the trophy for the Best Negotiating Pair.
  • Between 20 March 2022 and 25 March 2022, our students (Jesse Thaiya, George Gor, Faith Wanjala, Tabitha Maobe and Fidel Kibwana) participated in the All-Kenya Moot Court Competition, and won awards for the Best Overall Oralist, Best Male Oralist (Jesse Thaiya) and Best Female Oralist (Faith Wanjala).
  • Between 24 March 2022 and 31 March 2022, our students (Rebecca Andeso, Faith Chepkoech, Sam Ndwiga and Risper Anduru) participated in the John H Jackson World Trade Organisation Moot Court Competition, African Rounds, and won the Competition. Risper Anduru was awarded the Best Oralist in Africa.
  • Between 16 July 2022 and 24 July 2022, our students (Daisy Biwot and Marion Jeluget) participated in the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition, where they were ranked the Best African Team, Third Best Team in the Preliminary Rounds, and the 8th Best Memorial globally.
  • Between 19 August 2022 and 28 August 2022, our students (Esther Boyani, Lewis Morara, Elsie Kemunto and Daniel Wachira) were Runners UP in the Foreign Direct Investment International Arbitration Moot, African Rounds.
  • Between 31 October 2022 and 2 November 2022, our students (Marion Jeluget, Youngreen Mudeyi, Jeconea Okoth, Jesse Thaiya, Timothy Muyendi and Adeline Chelagat) participated in the Pan African Commercial International Chamber of Commerce Mediation Moot and won the award for the Best Overall Team.
  • Between 18 March 2023 and 20 March 2023, our students (Barack Onyango, Fidel Tekin and Faith Ndubai) participated in the John H Jackson World Trade Organisation Moot Court Competition, were ranked Second in Africa, and had the Best Overall Written Submissions in the Africa Regional Rounds.
  • Between 16 July 2023 and 19 July 2023, our students, Adeline Chelagat and Elsy Jemutai, participated in the 15th Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition, received the honourable mention of having the Best Written Submissions in Kenya and Africa and 7th Best Written Submissions globally.
  • on 16 June 2023, Levy Masinde and Esther Blessing Nasimiyu were the Best Team during the First Model African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child Moot Competition.

[ii] These include: -

  • 27 January 2021 - Discussion on the role of creative arts in social transformation.
  • 28 January 2021 - Prof Willy Mutunga Inaugural Lecturer, 'In defence of radical legal education: A personal footnote'.
  • 31 March 2021 - Avid Readers Forum, 'Maritime Delimitation in the Indian Ocean, Kenya v Somali ICJ case'.
  • 24 April 2021 - Avid Readers Forum, 'The Future of Women's Rights from a TWAIL Perspective'.
  • 21 May 2021 - Public Legal Awareness Webinar, 'Dissecting and Analysing the BBI Judgement'.
  • 27 August 2021 - Katiba @11, 'Deconstructing the BBI Judgment'.
  • 8 - 9 September 2021 - 'Colloquium on Internal Displacement in Africa'.
  • 6 - 7 September 2021 - 'Nothing for Us Without Us - Securing the dignity of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities in the criminal justice system'.
  • 22 October 2021 - 'Avid Readers Forum on ICJ Judgement'.
  • 2 February 2022 - Prof Luis Franceschi, 'International Affairs in Times of Crisis'
  • Ø8 April 2022 - 'The Last Word: Unpacking the Supreme Court decision on BBI'.
  • Meet the Author Series: 20 May 2022 – Prof Ambreena Manji
  • Meet the Author Series: 26 October 2022 - Prof J Osogo Ambani
  • 15 - 16 June 2022 - The Annual Kabarak Law School Conference: 'Devolution of Power and Inclusion of the Marginalised in Kenya'.
  • 26 August 2022 - Katiba Day 2022: 'Constitutionalism: Pitfalls, Gains and Way Forward.'
  • 7 October 2023 - 'Dissecting the Supreme Court Presidential Election Petition Decision 2022'.
  • 26 October 2022 – 'The Relationship between the State and Religion.'
  • 15 December 2022 - 'The EACJ Decision: Nullification of Kenya US Trade Negotiations.'
  • 26 January 2023 - 'Kabarak University Press: Faith and Environment Roundtable Series'.
  • 3 March 2023 - 'Grand Debate on State and Religion'.
  • 10 March 2023 - Avid Readers Forum- 'The Supreme Court of Kenya and the LGBTQI Question'.
  • 25 - 26 July 2023 - Annual Law Conference, 'Gender Equality for Efficient Agriculture'.
  • 20 September 2023 - Justice Samuel Mukira Muhochi, A Public Lecture 287 Days later: Reflections on Being a Judge.
  • 26 September 2023- Ambrose Weda Esq: 'Fresher's Breakfast Inspiration Talk'.
  • 27 October 2023- 'Constitutional Identity in Kenya, The Great Southern Conversation.'
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