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Kaya Elders call for legislation recognizing Mijikenda traditional courts

The Mijikenda Council of Elders has started a campaign to woo county assemblies in the coastal region to champion for the enactment of laws recognizing the Mijikenda traditional dispute resolution mechanism.

Kaya elders drawn from all the nine Mijikenda sub-tribes met the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the County Assembly of Kilifi, Messrs Jimmy Kahindi Kadhua and Stanley Kenga, Wednesday to persuade them to spearhead the entrenchment of Mijikenda traditional courts into law.

They said the abandonment of the Mijikenda culture and judicial system had led to an escalation of wrongdoing in society, noting that some disputes were better addressed at the community level instead of relying on conventional courts that may not understand the community’s unique culture.

They urged the government to recognize the Mijikenda traditional courts known as Kambi ya Kiama the way the Islamic Kadhi’s Courts had been recognized and entrenched in the Kenyan Constitution.

Mzee Hamisi Juma Mwaviko from Kaya Digo said the abandonment of the Mijikenda culture and by extension the community’s traditional dispute resolution mechanism was responsible for the wanton killing of elderly persons on allegations of witchcraft.

“Many elderly persons have been brutally murdered on suspicion that they are practicing witchcraft, but this would not be the case if our traditional courts were allowed to arbitrate in cases of misunderstandings between family members,” he said.

Mwaviko said due to lack of cultural direction brought about by modernism, there was disrespect toward elders among the youth as well as an escalation of child delinquents and teenage pregnancies that conventional courts had failed to cure.

“In the past, a Mijikenda girl would remain a virgin up to marriage, which many times took place when the girl was well over 30 years, but since our cultures and traditions have been abandoned, reports of teenage girls falling pregnant have been the order of the day,” he said.

Mzee Mwaviko said the Mijikenda Council of Elders would go to all the other county assemblies where the Mijikenda lived and petition them so they could get enough backing to draft a bill to the National Parliament for the recognition of the courts.

Elder Baya Mitsanze from Kaya Fungo, while describing the structure of the traditional courts, said the mechanism would start at the family level with an appeal system that stretches to the clan level (Kambi ya Kiama).

“Any party dissatisfied with the decision of Kambi ya Kiama will have the liberty to appeal that decision at a conventional national court and the decision taken by the traditional court should be taken into consideration while deciding on the matters at hand,” said Mitsanze.

He said the courts would also be used to promote peace as well as protect the environment, with those flouting the law being punished in accordance with the customs of their respective sub tribes.

Responding to the elders’ request, Speaker Jimmy Kahindi Kadhua said he would commit the request to the assembly’s committee in charge of culture, which would in turn sit down with the elders to draft a petition to the assembly for adoption.

“When the assembly reconvenes on Wednesday next week, I will bring the matter to the attention of the committee in charge of culture, which will then arrange to have a sitting with you in a view to drafting a proper petition to the assembly,” he said.

On his part, Deputy Speaker Stanley Kenga said the laws of Kenya allowed for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, noting that cultures that were in tandem with the Constitution had a chance of thriving in the country.

He said the establishment of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms would help in tackling the huge backlog of cases in Kenyan courts, adding that the Kenyan laws also advocated for the establishment of such mechanisms.

“The Chief Justice has been lamenting that there is a backlog of court cases in the country’s courts and that he has not been properly facilitated in terms of budgetary allocations and the inadequate number of judicial officers to handle all cases,” he said.

He said the traditional court system would tackle many cases at minimal costs and bring peace among community members.

He said the County Assembly was in the process of passing the Public Participation and Civic Education Bill that would empower the assembly to conduct civic education on important matters, including matters touching various cultures.

“If cultures and traditions are not preserved, the future generations will be completely lost as they will not be able to identify themselves with their communities,” he said.

The Mijikenda traditional courts were unveiled recently at a colourful ceremony attended by members of all kayas within the coast regions, and graced by renowned Mombasa-based lawyer George Kithi.

By Emmanuel Masha

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