On Dreadlocks, Ancestors and Kenya's New Chief Justice

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A couple of days ago, Kenya's newly appointed Chief Justice, Dr. Willy Mutunga declared that from now on, lawyers are allowed to appear in court wearing ear studs and dreadlocks. This announcement was met with varied responses from the Kenyan public.

Dr Willy Mutunga

If you live in Kenya, by now, you would have surely heard about the chaos that surrounded the nomination of our new Chief Justice. For those of you who aren't in the loop here's what you need to know; Dr Willy Mutunga wears a stud on his ear. His stud carries symbolic and religious connotations, he explained himself (not that he had to) by stating the following;

“I have two ancestors. A man and a woman. They both had earrings; and in 2003 as I prayed to them they instructed me to wear one so that they can protect me.”

This did not bode well with the conservatives within our society; and mind you, they just happen to form the majority, so you can only imagine the uproar that ensued. Long story short, his impressive qualifications and expertise earned him the title of Kenya's news Chief Justice. Here here.

For decades now, the Kenyan law profession has been know for its strict dress code. Lawyers are discouraged from wearing brightly colored clothes, flamboyant jewelery, or loud attire. Power suits and "tame" hair are the order of the day. Self-expression is unheard of in this and many other similar professions. This of course is understandable; there is a certain need for (and I use this word carelessly) "seriousness" in this line of work.

Chief Justice Mutunga rocked the boat with his recent declaration. Studs and dreadlocks are permissible? Surely this must mean the end is nigh!!? Women and children first!! SAVE YOURSELVES! No really, this is a HUGE deal for us. We continued to follow the European standard of culture post independence. As such, natural hair (dreadlocks, afros etc) has always been frowned upon especially in the workplace. Corporate organizations, institutions and many professions have encouraged men and women to be smart and presentable... Smartness in this case often means power suits, smart heels and hair tied back into a ponytail - preferably relaxed or straightened. Chief Justice Mutunga's new regulations are pretty much pissing (pardon my language) on that train of thought... Could this launch the era of acceptance for natural hair in Kenya? The thought excites us.

Jomo Kenyatta and a Mau Mau rebel leader. The Mau Mau insurgents were believed to have the first recorded Rasta locs, around 1953. They hid in the mountains of Kenya and grew their hair out. “Dreaded locks” is what their hair was referred to by the news.

The Chief Justice didn't stop there... he also added that judges will no longer wear "colonial wigs and robes". He welcomes suggestions from the Kenyan public to come up with a simple robe that can be worn over a suit. Something that we can call our own.

The quality of a man (or woman) is not on what he/she presents on the outside, it is what inside that counts. Can you deliver? Do you have what it takes? Do you posses qualities that make you the perfect person for the job?

Don't judge me by the height of my fro or the sway of my locs. Know that I am more capable than ten of you will ever be. How do you like that?

But that's just us... Have your say in the comments, we would love to hear them.

Anonymous said...

What is the real meaning of independence and self government? Its great to see Kenya break away from the Brit strong hold. Before the white man came to Kenya and Africa we had the freedom of expression. After all this years its great to embrace the wangu wa makeris, the Mau Mau fredom fighters. As Bob Marley said. "Immancipate yourself from mental slavely"

Maria said...

I think this is a GREAT move and Kenyans will get over it quickly enough. I mean, if we can so quickly and easily forget about things like the Anglo Leasing, we should be able to get over the "outrage" of dreadlocked lawyers (Kenyans please dont prove me wrong).

Great move also on the stupid-looking white powdered wigs. Those look stupid even on WHITE English judges, leave alone black Kenyans.

Mutunga's story about his ancestors telling him to wear a stud sounds a bit ridiculous. Personally I think he is making it up as a way to challenge religious freedom - if I can claim Christianity or Islam as an excuse for all sorts of shenanigans (Kenyan pastors/moguls), why not make the same allowances for a Traditional Religion? I like the way this guy thinks, I hope he has time to implement other more relevant changes in the justice system before they find a way to remove him.

Anonymous said...

I found this interesting as well. Going by the comments in the Daily Nation online edition, most people are not thrilled. But I dare say, it's about time! I always thought the wigs looked ridiculous not to mention hot! A simple robe is more appropriate. I think the CJ simply wanted to send the message that people are free to express themselves through dress/hairstyling. To those who think this is the beginning of anarchy, I'd say everything is fine in moderation. For example, a stud is fine but if someone wore rows of studs on both ears, plus a nose ring that would be excessive IMO. As for hair, whether it's a fro or locs or cornrows, so long as it's clean and neat that's cool as well.

All in all, I think the backlash the CJ has received is because he is a non conformist, that always makes people uncomfortable. But sometimes to move forward, someone has to be willing to rock the boat!


kinky_lockz said...

dare i say this without sounding radical: "[Her] beauty cannot be measured with standards of a colonized mind." Michelle NdegeOcello

the prospect of us accepting our true selves excites me. more freedom of expression, diversity. us redefining our own social cultural life.

yet in the corporate professions, can we unashamedly stamp our Africaness on everything?! brightly colored clothes, flamboyant jewelery, and loud attire done with taste and class is not everyone's skill... Gidion Mbuvi is just jokes! i don't want a bling MP... i want someone with substance who comes to the job looking ready to take care of business not ready to hit the club.

simple, smart and neat is what we were taught at school. though both Mutunga and Mbuvi have piercings, it is discretion & character that separates them in my opinion. so i guess i'm moderate on jewelry and for new robes and locs!

Imani said...

Love this post...it's about time.


Sonique said...

Though I don't like some of his judicial philosophies, I must admit, I like that colonial wigs will be a thing of the past and that being African and natural will not make you penalized in the court room...

Kurly said...

We really do believe that we can now shed the post colonial beliefs of Kenyans and push forward to being our own state with our own court robes and hopefully an independent judicial system. We can now have greater freedom of expression and diversity, which we can all be proud of.
We are not trying to be political here but the colonialists stripped us of our traditional dress, jewellery, hair etc..we can now be glad to at least be free of the colonial way of thinking and move forward and we completely agree with Dr Mutungas non conformist beliefs!

Mbabazi said...

a true forward thinker who stays true to his africaness. I hope this comes through even in his policies and work

SugarPuss said...

This right here, this one right here "Don't judge me by the height of my fro or the sway of my locs. Know that I am more capable than ten of you will ever be." shall be my mantra this entire month!!

Like you said last time, the revolution will be televised...It might seem like a small issue but the fact that he got the job in spite of his appearance is a huge deal. It speaks on so many levels, am even confused, should we talk about finally shedding off archaic concepts totally irrelevant to our times, or should we talk about getting hired for the qualities and growth you'll bring to a place and not because your cousin is the minister's wife's brother, or should we talk about respecting each other and tolerating each others religious beliefs, or should we talk about accepting our culture not as an occasion(weddings and fancy occasions) but as our way of life, in the office, black tie events....but all i can say is, it always gives me thrills seeing Willy Mutunga on national television talking about MP's paying taxes and other serious debates with that oh-so-present shimmer in his ear,taunting the man!!!

Anonymous said...

A roll that needs some recognition in society, such as judges, police etc. should simply be recognised by a type of clothing (uniform/robe). How the person's body looks is a matter of their roots, personal beliefs and so on, religious and otherwise. This is about identity and once we have identified what role these individuals take. Their personal modifications on their own bodies should not matter. The only thing that should be on trial is their ability to do the job correctly.

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