It’s law till I die – Lawyer Khamniwa

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Human rights activist and lawyer, John Khaminwa, has declared his love for law is unstoppable and at 85, he has no plans of retiring.

According to the renowned Kenyan lawyer, listening to the problems people bring to him is very therapeutic. Though having been through major life-changing tragedies of his own, the lawyer refuses to dwell on them. Popularly known as ‘a phone call away’, the passionate attorney is ever ready to stand in no matter how tough and complicated one’s case might be.

At 85, Dr Khaminwa can be said to have had enough of life after seeing, enduring and tolerating so many things. The one thing he just cannot seem to get enough of, even after 50 years of practice, is the law. According to him, this relieves his stress and keeps his hopes alive each day he wakes up.

Twice John has felt the cold icy hands of deaths on his loved ones. First was the death of his wife of 48 years, Joyce Khaminwa, a high court judge in 2014. He eulogises his wife with the words, ‘I miss my wife a lot. She was a brilliant judge. Yes, we had a wonderful marriage for over 48 years. What a partner she was.’

Justice Joyce Khaminwa, wife of John Khaminwa

Just as John managed to navigate life without his wife, the renowned activist lost his first son, Albert Khaminwa, who at the time of death had become senior partner at Khaminwa & Khaminwa Advocates, the law firm the veteran lawyer runs. Albert who was the child who followed his father’s footsteps in becoming a lawyer died in 2017. ‘He was a brilliant son’, the veteran Lawyer described.

To think these tragedies which clearly drilled a hole in the deepest parts of his heart will slow him down, Dr Khaminwa in an interview noted, ‘being an advocate is really fascinating. I like listening to people’s problems. It relieves my stress. You go and find this chap telling you he is suspected to have killed someone. Another is a woman crying to you that her husband has beaten her and kicked her out of their home with children in the streets. Listening and thinking about other people’s problems rather than your own is emotionally therapeutic.’ It is only death that can separate me from law, he said.

Lawyer Khaminwa in action

The highly respected lawyer has represented the high and mighty of society, with a few of his cases landing him on the wrong side of former President Daniel Moi. One of such was when he represented Stephen Mureithi, who had been removed as deputy chief of intelligence but declined. ‘I have represented Raila, Matiba, George Anyona among others during the struggle against dictatorship,’ he noted.

His representation of Wambui Otieno in the cultural conflict that pitched her against Umira Kager clan of Alego over the body of her late husband, SM Otieno, in 1986, shot Dr Khaminwa to the national limelight. Wambui Otieno was demanding the body of her criminal lawyer-husband to be buried in their Ngong Matasia home.

Khaminwa won the first round of the dragged battle and the High Court ordered the body given to the widow for burial in Matasia. The clan, however, won later in an appeal and had the body for burial in Alego, Siaya county.

Even after 50 years in law, Dr John Khaminwa insists he is so much in love with the practice and only death can stop that love.

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