Makau W. Mutua

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Makau W. Mutua (born 1958) is a Kenyan-American professor of law. In December 2014, Mutua resigned as Dean of the University at Buffalo Law School after a controversial seven year-term.[1] He still remains a SUNY Distinguished Professor and the Floyd H. & Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar at the Law School. He was the first professor in the history of the Law School to be named SUNY Distinguished Professor.[2] He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.[3] In October 2015, he joined the World Bank in Washington D.C. to work on governance and human rights. On 13 January 2017, Mutua was elected to a four-year term as Chairman of the Board of Advisors of the Rome-based International Development Law Organization.[4] He had been Vice Chair of IDLO since 2016. Originally, Mutua had been elected to a four-year term on the recommendation of the Obama Administration to the Board of Advisors of the International Development Law Organization or IDLO which is based in Rome, Italy.[5] He was re-elected to a second final four-year term in November 2016.

In July 2013, he was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York to the Moreland commission to Investigate Public Corruption.[6] In that role, was appointed – as did all the other commissioners – to the rank of Deputy Attorney General by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. By failing to write their Final Report The Moreland Commissioners never fulfilled their mission.

Mutua was ranked No. 110 by Buffalo Business First in the Power 200 most influential people in 2013 in Western New York.[7] In March 2012, he was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to a three-year term to the board of directors of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation.[8] In April 2011, he was appointed to a three-year term by Governor Andrew Cuomo to the New York State Judicial Screening Committee for the Fourth Department.[9] In May 2010, he became a member of the Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, the first Greek-letter society founded by African-American men in the United States. Mutua has been named several times as among the most influential black lawyers and educators in the United States.[10]

In 2003, he was appointed by Kenya's President Kibaki to chair a task force that eventually led to the establishment of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission in 2008.[11]


Early life and educationEdit

Mutua was born in 1958 in Kenya, the second of seven children. He received secondary education at Kitui School and Alliance High School. An excellent student throughout his life, he gained attention in other ways while attending the University of Nairobi with his vocal opposition to the national government. He was arrested in May 1981 for his dissent and was only released after fasting in a hunger strike for several days.[12] He eventually found his way to Tanzania where he applied for United Nations refugee status. He earned a Masters in Law at the University of Dar es Salaam, ultimately attending Harvard Law School in 1984. There he earned an LLM in 1985 and an SJD in 1987.[13]

Legal and academic careerEdit

After graduation from Harvard, he worked for White & Case, a New York City law firm, but later pursued his dreams of human rights advocacy with his work at Human Rights First, then known as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. In 1991, he returned to Harvard where he became the Associate Director of the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program. In 1996, he joined the University at Buffalo Law School faculty. In December 2007, he was appointed Interim Dean at the University at Buffalo Law School and was named the permanent Dean in May 2008. Mutua has served as Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, the University of Iowa College of Law, the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain, the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica, the University of Coimbra, Portugal, and the University of Puerto Rico School of Law, among others.[13][14] He was elected Vice President of the American Society of International Law from 2011-2013 after serving as its Executive Council from 2007-2010.[15] He was the co-chair of the 2000 Annual meeting of the ASIL.[16] He sits on the boards of scholarly journals and NGOs. He was a founder and serves as Chairman of the Nairobi-based Kenya Human Rights Commission.[17] In 2007, he gave the Abiola Lecture, the signature keynote address at the annual meeting of the African Studies Association, the leading Africana Studies academic association in the world.[18][19] In April 2015, Mutua received the Distinguished Africanist award from the NYASA (New York African Studies Association), the association's highest honor.[20] He has authored several books and dozens of scholarly articles in law journals and other publications.[13] His latest book, Human Rights Standards: Hegemony, Law, and Politics was published by SUNY Press in February 2016.[21] James Thuo Gathii considers him part of the movement known as TWAIL, or Third World Approaches to International Law.[22][23] In January 2017, Mutua was appointed to a four-year-term as Editor of the Routledge Series on Law in Africa.[24]

On 24 September 2014, Mutua announced that he was stepping down following a controversial seven-year term as Dean amid allegations of perjury and mismanagement of the school. "The dean's critics, and they are numerous, include some of the school's most highly regarded faculty members. They claim Mutua's management style divided the school at a time of great economic turmoil. Applications and enrollment at UB Law, like at most law schools across the country, are down dramatically, and the school is going through a downsizing of both faculty and students. Critics say Mutua, who came from within the ranks of the faculty, arrived in the dean's office with a "divide and rule" philosophy that placed a priority on loyalty and penalized critics while rewarding allies." [25] On 10 November 2017, the Buffalo News reported that Mutua blamed the sworn testimony from eleven tenured professors that he had committed perjury on "personal — and bigoted — vendettas" by a "small cabal of racist law faculty who had trouble accepting that a competent, reform-minded and independent black man was running the Law School."[26]

After he left the Dean's Office, he was granted a three-semester sabbatical at his full pay. Mutua is working as a human rights adviser for World Bank, an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries. Such consultants in Washington, D.C., where Mutua's Twitter account shows he spends most of his time, make an average salary of $90,000. The campus newspaper reported that "the university is still paying the former law school dean his full salary – a salary that nears $300,000 - despite being away from the school and taking on outside work." [27]

Kenya government and media activitiesEdit

In 2003, while on sabbatical in Kenya, he was appointed by the government of President Mwai Kibaki as Chair of the Task Force on the Establishment of a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, which recommended a truth commission for Kenya. He was also a Delegate in 2003 to the Kenya National Constitutional Conference, which produced a contested draft constitution for Kenya.[28] In 2006, he was legal counsel to John Githongo, the former Kenyan anti-corruption czar who exposed the Anglo-Leasing scandal in the Kibaki government.[29]

In a seven-year period, Mutua became a columnist for the Sunday Nation, one of the two the main newspapers in East and Central Africa. In September 2013, he departed the Sunday Nation and joined the Standard on Sunday, the Sunday Nation's chief competitor.[30]

Application to be Kenya's Chief JusticeEdit

Following the early retirement of Dr. Willy Mutunga from the Office of Chief Justice & President of the Supreme Court of Kenya in June 2016, Mutua was among the 10 people who applied for the job in response to the vacancy announcement by the Judicial Service Commission.[31]

When the Commission drew the short list of applicants who were to be interviewed for the job, Mutua's name was conspicuously and surprisingly missing from the list, despite his strong credentials.[32] A civil society organization filed a case at the Constitutional Court questioning the criteria used in the shortlisting, and demanding that applicants who met the constitutional requirements be interviewed.

It emerged in the litigation that Mutua had not been shortlisted since he had not obtained a tax clearance from the Kenya Revenue Authority since he had reportedly not met his tax obligations in Kenya. The Constitutional Court held that persons who meet the constitutional threshold for the office must be interviewed and given the chance to explain why they did not get clearances.[33]

Following this case, Mutua and four other applicants who had been left out of the shortlist were invited to interview for the job.

During the interview, the Judicial Service Commission put him to task over tweets he had made following the contested election of Uhuru Kenyatta as President of Kenya in March 2013.[34] In a tweet published shortly after the 2013 general election, Mutua indicated that he would not recognize Uhuru Kenyatta as President due to the circumstances under which he was declared the winner of the poll. Mutua stuck to his position, and referred to President Kenyatta as Mr. Kenyatta throughout the interview.

When the interviews ended, the Commission announced that it had settled on Kenyan Court of Appeal Judge David Maraga as the nominee for the Office of Chief Justice. Mutua was ranked third in the interviews.[35][36] On 3 December 2017, after the Supreme Court confirmed Kenyatta's reelection, Mutua reiterated his refusal to recognize his Presidency.[37]


In 1994, Mutua offered up an idea for how to reorganize Africa to construct 15 sustainable states from the 55 semi-viable states that existed at the time. He theorized this new ideal for the organization of Africa as a result of what he believed were the "consequences of the failed postcolonial state are so destructive that radical solutions must now be contemplated to avert the wholesale destruction of groups of the African people".[38] Mutua decided that the way in which the new states would be created would be by looking at ethnic similarities, cultural homogeneity, and economic viability. The new states that Mutua theorized included the Republic of Kusini, a new Egypt, Nubia, a new Mali, a new Somalia, a new Congo, a new Ghana, a new Benin, a new Libya, a Sahara state, Kisiwani, a new state made up of a collection of islands, and the current states of Angola and Algeria would remain the same.

Selected worksEdit

  • Human Rights Standards: Hegemony, Law, and Politics. SUNY Press. March 2016 ISBN 978-1-4384-5939-4
  • Kenya's Quest For Democracy: Taming Leviathan (Challenge and Change in African Politics). L. Rienner Publishers. 30 April 2008 ISBN 1-58826-590-0
  • Human Rights NGOs in East Africa: Political and Normative Tensions. University of Pennsylvania Press. 12 September 2008 ISBN 978-0-8122-4112-9
  • Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique. University of Pennsylvania Press. 10 November 2008 ISBN 0-8122-2049-8
  • "Savages, victims, and saviors: the metaphor of human rights". Harvard International Law Journal. 42 (1): 201–45. 2001.
  • Zaire: Repression As Policy (with Peter Rosenblum), New York: Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, 1990.
  • "Mazrui and Barkan: A Tribute," Journal of Contemporary African Studies (2016).


  1. ^ "Deep rift exposed as UB Law's dean resigns". The Buffalo News. 27 September 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  2. ^ "SUNY honors UB faculty - UB Reporter". Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  3. ^ "UB Law School Dean Named to Elite Council on Foreign Relations - University at Buffalo". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  4. ^ Prof Makau Mutua [@makaumutua] (12 February 2016). "Honored to be elected today Vice Chair of the Board of Advisors of the International Development Law Organization --" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  5. ^ "Governance Structure | IDLO". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  6. ^ "Governor Cuomo Appoints Moreland "Commission to Investigate Public Corruption," with Attorney General Schneiderman Designating Commission Members as Deputy Attorneys General". Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. 28 September 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  7. ^ "Power 200: WNY's most influential people". Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  8. ^ "Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation | Empire State Development". 14 April 2017. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  9. ^ "Fourth Department Committee Members". Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. 6 October 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  10. ^ "On Being A Black Lawyer (OBABL) Names Makau Mutua One of the Most Influential Black Attorneys in the U.S. - University at Buffalo". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  11. ^ "Makau W. Mutua". 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2009.
  12. ^ Elizabeth Stull (9 May 2008). "University of Buffalo School of Law dean escaped, battled, rose to top". Daily Record.
  13. ^ a b c "Mutua, Makau W. - University at Buffalo School of Law - University at Buffalo". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  14. ^ "Mutua named one of most influential black attorneys in U.S. - UB Reporter". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  15. ^ "Mutua Elected Vice President of American Society of International Law - University at Buffalo". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  16. ^ "SUNY Buffalo Law Links". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 November 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ Makau, Mutua (1 April 2008). "Human Rights in Africa: The Limited Promise of Liberalism". African Studies Review. 51 (1). ISSN 0002-0206.
  19. ^ Moize. "Bashorun MKO Abiola". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  20. ^ "Recognition puts Mutua in distinguished company - University at Buffalo School of Law - University at Buffalo". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  21. ^ "Human Rights Standards". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  22. ^ Gathii, James (26 September 2011). "TWAIL: A Brief History of its Origins, its Decentralized Network, and a Tentative Bibliography". Rochester, NY. SSRN 1933766. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  23. ^ Mutua, Makau (2000). "What is Twail?". Rochester, NY. SSRN 1533471. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  24. ^ "Routledge Studies on Law in Africa - Routledge". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  25. ^ "Deep rift exposed as UB Law's dean resigns". The Buffalo News. 27 September 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  26. ^ "Federal case that roiled UB Law School now over". The Buffalo News. 10 November 2017. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  27. ^ "UB still paying former Law School Dean Makau Mutua full salary despite his new job". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  28. ^ For UB law dean, Kenya's never far away Bloody political strife in Mutua's homeland keeps him involved The Buffalo News, 13 February 2008.
  29. ^ "Law professor advises Kenyan graft buster - UB Reporter". Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  30. ^ Reporter, Standard Digital. "Renowned columnist Makau Mutua moves to The Standard on Sunday". The Standard. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  31. ^ "The Star". The Star. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  32. ^ "The Star". The Star. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  33. ^ "High Court quashes CJ, DCJ, Supreme Court judge shortlist as interviews commence". The Star, Kenya. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  34. ^ Maua, Peninah (14 September 2016). "Past remarks on Uhuru haunt Makau Mutua during JSC interview -". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  35. ^ "Judge David Maraga nominated Chief Justice". The Star. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  36. ^ "Makau Mutua ranked third with 70 marks in CJ interview". The Star. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  37. ^ "Makau Mutua roasted on Twitter for reiterating he doesn't recognise Uhuru as president". Nairobi News. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  38. ^ African Political Thought | G. Martin | Palgrave Macmillan.