Meet the Little Known Powerhouse Behind Judiciary Transformation in Kenya, Duncan Okello as he Exists

‘Seven years a servant’ aptly captures the effective and consequential career of the pioneer Chief of Staff of Kenya’s Judiciary Duncan Okello.

And it has been a stellar service as the public sector loses one of its progressive marbles.

As the judiciary held its farewell luncheon for Mr. Okello on Friday, there was concurrence by all speakers that he has indeed been the quiet dynamo who powered Judiciary’s turnaround, even as he towered behind the scenes.

The camera-shy Okello was probably first seen by many as he expertly coordinated the swearing in of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto.

He was the articulate gentleman who would ask everyone to rise up as the judiciary mace was put in its place to signify the authority of the judiciary at the event.

And for the first time in events of this nature, he explained the content and meaning of these oaths.

Unknown to many, Mr. Okello who chaired Judiciary’s Internal Committee on Assumptions of office of the President and Governors, has been the to-go-to guy on important judiciary questions.

Described by CJ Maraga as an ‘Encyclopedia’ and by former CJ Mutunga as ‘the Wordsmith’, Okello is a man of prodigious knowledge and experience.

He brought his learning of Political Science, Law and Diplomacy to an institution that was much despised by public and ignored by the Executive.

His seven years played a big role in resetting the relationship between the three arms of government and asserting the place of the judiciary as well as humanizing it.

He was the intellectual, ideological and strategic anchor, credited for having led the technical teams that prepared the highly successful Judiciary Transformative Framework (2012-2016) as well as the Sustaining Judiciary Transformation Blueprint (2017-2021). This essentially entrenches Okello’s ideology in the judiciary for a decade.

The introduction of empirical data is one of the key reforms that Okello played a leading role in.  He chaired the inter-departmental committee that created the Daily Courts Returns Template that now makes it possible to know the caseload in the system.

This used to be guesswork before 2012. The Performance Management Directorate was established to lead this process and its work forms the basis of performance contracting and assessment. Judiciary today gives the most comprehensive reports to parliament than any other government agency.

For the few months that Okello has been, the gap has been visible. Mr. Okello fund raising skills always served the judiciary well as he was reputed for being able to always balance the politics with power.

His former colleague attributed the judiciary underfunding this year to his exit just before the budget was finalized, stating that if he had been there, that would not have happened even remotely. Okello who was believed to be a darling to President Kenyatta and also earned the respect of Raila Odinga, had a rare familiarity with the budget and parliamentary processes from his previous jobs. This skill saw him help raise the judiciary budget from 9 billion to 16 billion during his tenure.

A tweet by Chief Justice Maraga on 9th March appreciating Okello for singlehandedly raising 1 Billion shillings for the PLEAD programme aptly captures just how useful he has been for the institution.

The tweet read ‘Today, launched the 34 Million Euros Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery in Kenya (PLEAD) to support Justice Sector. Funded by EU. Wish to thank Chief of Staff Duncan Okello for securing 10.1 Million Euros for the judiciary under the program’. That acknowledgement by the CJ probably captures just how vital a cog Duncan Okello has been in the wheels of judiciary in Kenya.

Indeed, this has been a great service to the nation and his contribution will continue to impact on the lives of very many Kenyans even as Dr. Conrad Bosire takes over from him as CJ David Maraga’s new Chief of Staff.

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