Book Review: The Gallant Academic – Essays in Honour of H.W.O. Okoth Ogendo.

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Authors/Editors: Prof Patricia Kameri-Mbote and Collins Odote
Reviewer: Odhiambo Orlale
Publisher: School of Law, University of Nairobi.

So many books have been written about land law in Kenya, but the latest focusing on “the Guru of land and property law,” Prof H.W.O. Okoth Ogendo, is in a class of its own.

The Gallant Academic is a 369-page collection of essays by the who-is-who in academia, especially at the University of Nairobi’s School of Law, about the don.

The publication was recently launched by Attorney General, Prof Githu Muigai, who is a former student and colleague of the don in the School of Law, is a living testament to the enduring contribution to property jurisprudence by an iconic scholar who bestrode the African continent like a colossus as a former Dean of the School of Law and as former vice-chairman of the National Constitution of Kenya Review Conference of Kenya in 2003-4.

Prof Okoth-Ogendo was until his death on April 24, 2009, a Professor of Law at the School of Law. The Launch was preceded by the Second HWOOO Memorial Lecture which  focused on a contemporary issue that Prof. Okoth-Ogendo contributed to: Climate Change. It was titled: Negotiating the Paris Agreement: Challenges and Outcomes and was delivered by Dr. Dan Bondi Ogolla who is a former Director of Legal Affairs and Principal Legal Adviser, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat (NFCCC).

It is to Prof Ogendo’s credit as an accomplished teacher and author that the Kenyan Constitution of 2010 contains a whole chapter devoted to by hitherto vexed issues of land tenure, land use, land administration and land conservation.

In the preface by the Attorney-General, he says: “Prof Okoth-Ogendo loved teaching and it was obvious. He loved students and he demonstrated it. He loved the university, not as an ivory tower, but as a community of scholars, young and old generating knowledge and preparing future leaders.”

According to Prof Muigai,  the whole chapter on land in the supreme law would never have been what it is, without the don’s deep reservoir of knowledge on land and property law, gained from his assignments all over the world.

Among the highlights of his pen are: Tenants of the Crown; Evolution of Agrarian Law and Institutions in Kenya; The Politics of Constitutional Change in Kenya since Independence, 1963-1969; Constitutions Without Constitutionalism; An African Political Paradox.

The easy-to read essays attest to the works of the former vice chairman of the Bomas Conference, and will also continue to inspire generations of scholars, lawyers and policy makers in discourses and debates revolving around land law in Kenya and beyond.

“As the normative, legislative and institutional framework for land ownership in Kenya continue to evolve; inspired by our Constitution, it is to Prof. Okoth Ogendo’s writings that we shall eventually turn,” says Dr Smokin Wanjala, a judge in the Supreme Court of Kenya, who critiqued the book.

The book is edited by former Dean of the School of Law School, Prof Patricia Kameri-Mbote and her colleague, Collins Odote, and has 18 chapters, divided into six parts.

Part One is about Okoth the Person where his widow, Ruth Adhiambo, remembers his personal and family life; others are Prof P.L.O. Lumumba who focuses on A Personification of Excellence; while former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga writes about his memory of Ogendo from 1968 to 1982. On his part, Prof Okoth Okombo, writes about Discerning the Guru’s voice in a scholarly text while another Supreme Court judge, Prof Jacktone Ojwan’g focuses on The Academic.

Four of his former colleagues have done justice to the topic in Part Two of the Book on Okoth’s contribution to land tenure foundational discourses. They are Gamaliel Mgongo Fimbo (In Search of Thematic Unity in Land Law: Tenure Security); Ben Cousins (Beyond Private Ownership – Alternative Paradigm for Rural and Urbane Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa); Liz Alden Wily (The Fate of Res Communis in Africa – Unfinished Business); and Collins Odote writes on The Conundrum of Unfinished Institutional Arrangements to Govern Community Land in Kenya.

The other topics are on Okoth’s contribution to governance discourses by Prof Yash Pal Ghai (former chairman of the Bomas Conference), Odenda Lumumba, Karuti Kanyangi and Prof Wanjiku Kabira and Nkatha Kabira, respectively.

Turning to the gender aspects under the topic, Okoth in Land and Gender Discourse, Prof Patricia Kameri-Mbote and Agnes Meroka, do justice by writing on The more things change the more they stay constant; and Gender Land questions and the marginalisaton of Maasai women, respectively.

In Part V, on Land Use, Elvin Nyukuri writes on Land Use Among Indigenous Communities in Kenya; while Charles Odidi-Okidi and Collins Odote, focus on Developments in Environmental Governance in Kenya.

The last chapters of the must-read book are on the don’s Curriculum Vitae (CV), Poem – The Dancing Maniac; selected messages of condolences and a bibliography.

According to Dr Smokin Wanjala, a judge of the Supreme Court of Kenya: “His research, writings and teachings on this monumental subject, generated a kaleidoscope of insights that helped disentangle what had generally become known as “the land question. In Kenya.”

The judge says the don did for land law what the likes of Prof Ngugi wa Thion’go, Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe have done for African literature.

Indeed, the Attorney General in his preface concludes saying that the don would be remembered as a great intellectual, a great teacher and a great jurist.

Says the AG: “This book is a very fitting tribute to the life and times of a truly great man and it is great privileged for me to have been asked to write the preface.”

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