Kennedy Ogeto: Former Solicitor General appointed Ruto's legal adviserMonday March 27 2023
For a man who wanted to become a matatu driver when he was growing up, Kennedy Ogeto probably counts himself lucky to almost always find himself at the centre of power rather than on the fringes of it.
Appointed last week as the Legal Adviser to President William Ruto, the former Solicitor-General became one of the few individuals thought to have been in the Inner Circle of former President Uhuru Kenyatta to get a similar role in the current administration.
During the Supreme Court hearing of the petition challenging Dr Ruto's victory in the August 2022 election, his name was mentioned as having been among members of the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) that allegedly made a controversial visit to then chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Wafula Chebukati before the results of the presidential election were declared.
Others on the delegation said to have been on the delegation were former Principal Administrative Secretary at the Office of the President Kennedy Kihara, former Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai and Lt Gen Francis Ogolla, the Vice-Chief of Defence.
The Supreme Court did not find any wrongdoing on the part of the NSAC members.
Mr Ogeto was also part of the Assumption of Office Committee that oversaw the smooth power handover to Dr Ruto by his predecessor.
If the University of Nairobi-trained lawyer was a trusted confidante of former President Kenyatta, he has earned the same favour with his successor.
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With 26-year legal expertise, he is arguably one of the country’s top lawyers and has handled cases on behalf of powerful people in government and even the government itself.
“I would run away from school and [my mother] would take me back. She never caned me. This gave me time to reflect,” Mr Ogeto told a parliamentary committee when he was being vetted for the role five years ago.
Some of these notable cases he has handled include the petition against the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) in 2020 where he represented the government.
He also represented former President Kenyatta at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague where his client had been sued for crimes against humanity related to the electoral violence of 2007/208.
Mr Ogeto studied for both his undergraduate and Master's degrees in law at the University of Nairobi. He also holds a diploma in Legal Practice from the Kenya School of Law.
His experience transcends national boundaries, having represented different international entities in different disputes.
His law firm, Ogeto, Otachi and Company Advocates, where he was previously a managing partner, specialises in international and municipal law.
Mr Ogeto was the lead defence counsel for Rwanda at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania.
He was also the co-lead defence counsel for a former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commander at the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone.
In July 2020, he was a member of top Kenyan attorneys who represented Kenya in a suit by WalAm Energy Inc. at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), which the government won.
WaIAM had sued the government for cancelling its geothermal resources licence issued in 2007 by then Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi.
The licence had given the US-Canadian company exclusive rights to explore, drill for, extract, produce and dispose of geothermal steam and other geothermal resources in Suswa for 30 years.
The win saved Kenya Sh37 billion in compensation that WalAM Energy Inc. had sought as damages.
The government had revoked the licence in 2012 after WalAm Energy Inc., arguing the company lacked the capacity to carry out the exploration and exploitation work.
Upon his appointment as Solicitor-General in 2018 to replace Njee Muturi, he smoothly sailed through parliamentary vetting.
During the vetting, then National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale described Mr Ogeto as a “refined, decent and seasoned” lawyer.
“I know him personally, both in public and in private. [He] will turn the State Law Office into an effective and efficient institution. Of late, the government has been losing cases. Mr Ken Ogeto must fix that problem,” Mr Duale said.
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Working at the State Law Office, while exciting, had its fair share of challenges for Mr Ogeto and other lawyers. In 2020, he admitted to some of the difficulties the officers face while representing the government in legal matters in and outside court.
“This office has faced challenges on account of inadequate facilitation. There is a lack of office equipment such as computers and printers. State counsels across the regions [experience] logistical challenges on court attendance,” he said.
He revealed at the time that the government was being sued in 3,000 cases every year.
As of 2019, the government was liable for payments of about Sh800 billion in fines, compensation and claims awarded by the courts against it. These included awards to victims of torture and business litigants.
“As the government’s principal lawyer, we are tasked with a great burden. One that needs considerable resources to undertake. Inadequate equipment has been posing a serious threat to our efficiency and effectiveness,” he said.
There have also been controversies during his time in public service. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Ogeto was thrust into the limelight by intra-governmental differences surrounding the formation of the Emergency Response Fund (ERF).
Then President Kenyatta had established the body to mobilise funds for emergency response against the contagion.
While the Treasury believed the ERF was a public entity, the State Law Office considered it a private entity.
“We have been advised that the appointment of the members of the board was not intended to, and was, consequently, never effected as per the provisions of legal notice No 38 of 2020,” Mr Ogeto told the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee.
Chaired by East African Breweries Limited (EABL) chief executive Jane Karuku, the Kenya Covid-19 Emergency Fund Limited had been registered under the Companies Act as a company limited, with the mandate to manage funds raised by the board.
Part of this money, about Sh338 million, had been received from the Treasury.
“This, therefore, means that the money raised and held by the board cannot be deemed to have been collected by a national government entity or under statutory authority,” Mr Ogeto argued.
In his eventful public service, he has had to sidestep threats to his career, with the year 2020 being particularly turbulent for him.
The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) had threatened to expel him and then-Attorney General Kihara Kariuki from the roll of advocates for ‘‘personal liability’’ for alleged failure to advise the President to swear in 41 judges that had been cleared by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
The long-running dispute had pitted the Judiciary and the Executive. As soon as Dr Ruto was sworn into office, the judges were sworn in.