Dr Mutubwa: A car, proper clothes maketh good men


Dr Wilfred Mutubwa, an advocate and an arbitrator during an interview at his office on January 10, 2024. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

He will not admit it but Dr Mutubwa looks like a Congolese soukous dancer.

“It must be the beard,” he says. I disagree. It’s not just the beard. It’s his mien. It’s his gilt-edged frames that sit languidly on his face giving the appearance of a chic shadow professor.

Or it could be the leopard painting behind him in his office, staring intently at you, opposite its counterpart on the other side: a zebra. In this he seems (seeks?) to establish dominance, one is the prey, the other is the predator.

No marks for guessing who is who.

But as his students know, Dr Mutubwa, OGW, is not just your regular legal practitioner. He is the Dean School of Law at Mt Kenya University, a Chartered Arbitrator, a Court Member representing Kenya at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, he is the founder of Dr Mutubwa Law Advocates…look, it is faster to state what he is not, than what he is.

And what he is not a Congolese dancer. That’s sad, considering his two daughters remind him he is an oldy, asking why he is still on Facebook. His daughters have his number, because you see, even a leopard can become prey. At his piquant office in Westlands, with a to-die-for window view, he relives the dreams of his youth, the loss of his brothers, and the fact that he just doesn’t get why said daughters—or anyone really—would wear oversize tee-shirts that flow to just about the knees.

How does one get here?

I practice a different kind of law. I do a lot of construction and commercial law. I am an arbitrator, mediator, and adjudicator dealing with construction, commercial and financial disputes.

I was good in the humanities and drawn into stage plays and theatre. Thus, other than being a teacher, the only other profession that would serve me well was law.

My mother till today still asks when I am going to get employed, haha! We are only 26 chartered arbitrators in this country, and I have taught many judges in this country, the East Africa court, Comesa et al. I am an all-round lawyer and I have represented IEBC in procurement cases as well as many other election petitions.

You seem to have a lot going on...

Well, I am neither young nor old, what we call the midbar. The midbar is between 15 and 25 years. This is my 18th year in law and I am 42 years old. I supervise some students in law here and in South Africa.

How do you find time?

Somebody told me there is always time. The question is what are your priorities? Today if the president calls you to State House, you will find time. Time must be made. All these things can be achieved by planning your time. I come here by 7am and I still find time to drop my children to school. In this digital world, half of the meetings I need to do are virtual. But I also have very good assistants who help me to plan my time.

Has anyone told you look like a Congolese dancer?

I have been told I look Nigerian so many times. But I am born and bred Kenyan. Even when I am in Lagos people speak to me in the local dialects. Maybe it’s the beard.

Why did you start keeping a beard?

A time came in my life when I decided what I wanted to do for myself. I just like the look, and I have no particular philosophical reason like rebelling or pushing a certain agenda.

This is simply how I express myself. In life you have very few things you have agency on, so the little things you can do, better make the most out of them.

What’s the story of that leopard behind you?

I am an artistic person and artistry is about speaking through symbols and imagery. This is a leopard, overlooking those zebras. Business is about predators and prey, haha! The leopard represents the fact that I am an aggressive person but I am also very determined to achieve results. The leopard is very patient and stealthy, just like me. This is also one of the spaces where I represent my personality.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I don’t know whether I can say it here, haha! Some people say I have a weakness for cars.

Lately, I have got into the habit of buying classic cars for a million or two, then working with some more millions to reconstruct them. I am also a developer of some sort, the Kenyan style of no kugeria mani (I am just trying), a few rentals here and there. I am thinking about doing the same for houses: buy old houses and revamp them. Occasionally, I enjoy very fine whiskey.

What do you miss about childhood?

We weren’t rich or poor. My parents were respected teachers. I miss my brothers, the eldest was 12 years older than me. I miss the community life. I raise my children differently. Growing up, everyone in the community had an interest in our lives. I miss the ability to connect with my friends the way I used to.

Friendships nowadays have become transactional, what business connections do you have, what’s in it for me? Two of my elder brothers are deceased, one taught me drama, the other hockey. They would come with stories of the university so I wanted to make it there. I feel that sense of hollowness. If you want to live life, do it now. You are not in control of your destiny, so just do it now.

Do you have a special memory of your father?

He was a teacher of English and literature. He had never travelled outside the country but he would speak in refined English, you would think the man has travelled the world. He taught us that fine things in life are earned, it is good to speak and write good English and carry yourself in a certain way: he did not take mediocrity.

I ask myself, what kind of person would he be if he had the same opportunities as I? I miss that I never had the opportunity to do many things with him, I was that son who was born when he was quite advanced in age. He would have been 81 this year. He would drive us in his old Ford Marina and inspire us: buying a car is what a man does, dressing well, speaking good English that’s what a man does.

How are you like him?

I like cars. He felt a good man must have a car, buy proper clothes, speak and write properly. He was also a drama teacher, and he taught me how to write poetry.

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