In Summary
  • The public doesn’t have to engage in the legal fantasy of presuming politicians accused of corruption innocent.

  • We, the people, know better. Let lawyers defend the corrupt in court. That’s their professional obligation.

  • They get paid the big bucks to carry water for the crooks. It shouldn’t be the public’s.

A foundational principle of the rule of law in a democracy is that a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty in an independent, impartial, and competent court. The court’s proceedings must be public and governed by due process protections. The accused has a basic right to confront the accuser. A democracy wouldn’t exist without these cardinal rules.


In Kenya, however, every crook and scoundrel caught with his or her hands in the public purse loudly cautions us against a rush to judgement and proclaims innocence. Yet I think the court of public opinion – not of law – should presume every politician fingered for corruption guilty until proven innocent. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Let’s dig deeper.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting we abandon our Anglo-Saxon legal tradition and jurisprudence to which we cling so fiercely as though Syokimau – the Kamba prophetess – came down from the mountain with it. No, Ma’am, I am not saying we should think of questioning wisdom received from those who colonised us.

Let’s remember one thing; all knowledge is local and contextual, even if it’s deemed universal. You don’t start thinking as a universalist and then become a particularist. You do the reverse – start locally and maybe, just maybe, go global.


Social truths always begin in some home neighbourhood. That’s why in Kenya we need to interrogate the principle of the presumption of innocence for politicians.

Let’s leave it to the courts to presume politicians accused of graft innocent until their guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt. But we, the people, should have a different, locally grown standard. Think with me and don’t indict me for becoming illiberal overnight. I still believe in the rule of law and political democracy, even though, as Winston Churchill said, it’s the worst form of government except for all others.

But the Kenyan experience suggests that the public would be foolish to hold onto the totem of the presumption of innocence for politicians as though it were a canonical fiat. As far as I am concerned, every politician accused of corruption is guilty as charged. Let me elaborate.


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