Senior lawyer Nzamba Kitonga collapses and dies

Lawyer Philip Nzamba Kitonga. Courtesy.

Former chairman of the Committee of Experts (CoE) that drafted the 2010 Constitution Nzamba Kitonga is dead.

 He is said to have collapsed while attending a funeral at his home area of Mutito in Kitui East Constituency and died while being rushed to hospital.

 His young brother Muthusi Kitonga said he became unconscious at the funeral and his wife who had accompanied him, evacuated him.

 Mr Kitonga who is a former MP for the Constituency said, the former LSK chairman, may have had a heart attack.

 “It was an emergency that we summoned the Amref wing to evacuate him to Nairobi for specialised treatment but all our frantic efforts didn’t bear fruit” he told Sunday Nation on phone.

 He said his wife drove him from Mutito, about 75 kilometres from Kitui Town, and decided to proceed to Nairobi when air rescue help wasn’t forthcoming. 

His condition deteriorated upon reaching Machakos Town and was pronounced dead at Shalom Hospital.

 Retired president Mwai Kibaki said Nzamba Kitonga oversaw the historic midwifing of Kenya’s 2010 Constitution, “itself an epic watershed moment that brought to an end a long running quest for change that had lasted no less than two decades.”

He adde4d, “Nzamba’s masterful touch as a team leader during a critical moment of significant transition that saw Kenya’s independence constitution give way to a new order that marked a turning point whose echoes remain part of the guiding principles and reference points that should also inform the path of future negotiations that will, in turn, continue to reshape and fortify the destiny of our nation.”

Mr Kibaki said Nzamba made his contribution to an eventful trigger moment that will forever define the direction Kenya will take in days to come.

“He goes down in the annals history as one of the few Kenyans who played an important catalyst role in redefining the course of our nation’s history,” he said.

ODM leader Raila Odinga who was prime minister when he led the CoE sent his condolences.

 “I have received with deep shock the passing of Dr Nzamba Kitonga, one of our country’s eminent lawyers; a first-rate legal mind and fighter for constitutionalism. Dr Kitonga consistently interpreted the constitution to make sure it grew with our people and our nation,” His death is an irreparable loss to our quest to improve on our 2010 Constitution where he served as chair of Committee of Experts,” Mr Odinga said.

 Kitonga was born in Kitui County 64 years ago. A Senior Counsel, he was regarded as one of the best constitutional lawyers in the country. Highly regarded within the legal fraternity, Mr Kitonga has never allowed the many hats he has worn before, influence him.

 Always amiable, the senior counsel would walk across Uhuru Park heading to Milimani Law Courts or back to town whenever he was not in a hurry. 

 He is a former chairman of State Corporations Appeals Tribunal, Chairman, Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review for Kenya, a previous Jurist of the year and a former President East African law Society. 

 He was among persons who were shortlisted for the position of Chief Justice and sought to replace retired CJ Willy Mutunga. Justice David Maraga beat him and others to the position.

Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu termed Kitonga as a “great son of Kitui who devoted his entire life to public good”.

 “We will remember him as a patriotic Kenyan who believed in the rule of law and immensely contributed to our 2010 constitution. He believed in a democratic Kenya governed by rule of law where all Kenyans enjoy freedom and rights. Having passed on at a time Kenya is gearing up to change the constitution to make it better, his contribution will be missed,” said Ngilu.

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko regretted Kitonga’s death saying:

“Born and raised in Kitui, the late Nzamba Kitonga beat all odds to not only become an icon in Kenya’s legal fraternity, but to serve as the President of the East African Law Society, and a member of the Committee of Experts that delivered the Constitution of Kenya in 2010, alongside many other outstanding achievements.”

LSK President Nelson Havi said, “The burden and pain of untimely death has weighed down upon the Law Society of Kenya heavily today. We have just lost Nzamba Kitonga.”

Former chairman of Parliament’s Justice and Constitutional Affairs Committee that cleared the names for the CoE Abdikadir Mohamed said the country was the poorer with his demise.

“Such a terrible loss to the nation his family and the legal fraternity. I worked with him on Katiba 2010. A decent Man of quiet demeanour and solid character,” Mr Mohamed said.

 A resolute legal mind, Kitonga has been a leading voice in the push to amend the 2010 Constitution saying time was ripe to improve on the areas that were not responsive to the needs of the people.

He was one of the few leading legal minds who had shown open support for the push to amend the Constitution through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

 In June, Mr Kitonga compelled by the need to make Judiciary free from what he called Executive interference proposed that the Attorney General should not sit in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

“The JSC has not been transparent in its work,” he said during a Webinar hosted by the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists attended by several legal scholars.

“The Harmonized draft was required by law to be submitted to the Parliamentary Committee on the Review of the Constitution sitting in Naivasha.  This Committee at Naivasha made adhoc, chaotic changes which altered some aspects of the design of the document,” he said recently.

 Mr Kitonga said the Naivasha draft also threw out the proposal that Cabinet Ministers be drawn from both Parliament and professionals like it is being proposed now. 

 “This model was recommended to enable the president to tap expertise across the board as well as to accommodate political interests. Countries are about politics. But importantly the Cabinet would be answerable both to the president and Parliament.  This is a cardinal requirement in the delicate system of checks and balances,” he said.