A lawyer without a solid resume is like a rubber-soled tap dancer. Kamau Karori, partner in charge of the dispute resolution practice at Iseme, Kamau and Maema Advocates, seems to be wearing the right shoes for the job.
As co-counsel, he successfully defended Kenya in an investment arbitration proceeding filed by Cortec Mining Kenya with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.
In Chambers Global, a guide that ranks the best lawyers and law firms in over 200 jurisdictions around the world, he has consistently been ranked among the top arbitrators in Kenya. In 2018 he was awarded the Order of the Moran of the Burning Spear [MBS}. He talked to JACKSON BIKO.
What are some of the things you regret leaving behind as you grew older?
I’m not sure whether I would call it regret. But, I think it’s the sense of community as I grew up in Trans Nzoia, at the foot of Cherangani Hills. It was a mixed community with simple people. We never locked our house. I never saw a padlock until I went for my Form 5 studies in Kitui.
There was no awareness about who belonged to which tribe. I had a shop in Kesogon and would walk from the trading centre, about three kilometres to my house, carrying money without fear of being robbed. Then I came to Nairobi and found all these walls we’ve built around ourselves. Most people hardly know their neighbours.
Looking at your life holistically, what part do you feel needs work?
I’m impatient with people who cannot do it themselves. I went to what were called Harambee schools. From a very early age, I learnt to teach myself, I stopped depending on teachers to give me reading material.
And so when I sit with people and someone says “I’m not able to file that document because the clerk is not available” I get frustrated because, why can’t they handle it themself? But I need to remember that these guys were not brought up like I was.
What do you worry about most now as a 52-year-old?
I worry about the kind of country we’re leaving for our children. We can’t be talking about the same thing we’ve been doing for the last 20 to 30 years. We cannot be talking about how the country is not developing because of corruption, about the dangers of our endemic tribalism.
I really worry about whether my children will have the opportunities I have promised them they will get as long as they work hard. Will they be forced to go and try to make it elsewhere after they’ve been pulled down by circumstances beyond their control, like say on account of where they were born?
And then in my own profession, I genuinely worry about the boychild. Out of every 20 people I interview here, 15 will be females. So what is happening to the boys? Where are they? Where are they going?
We have many activities and programmes to advance the girl child, and that’s good. I’m not saying stop it, it should happen but I’m not sure that the solution is to bring them up while forgetting about the boy.
You have sons, how are you raising them?
I have three sons aged 24, 19, and 10. I also have a daughter. I’m deliberate about how I raise my children. I believe that for a boy to survive in today’s world, he needs to be equipped sufficiently to know what the society expects of him. So I spend a lot of my time with my boys teaching them what a son ought to be in relation to his parent and how he should relate with his siblings.
If you see a boy or a young man who has absolutely no respect for authority, check who the father is. They learn more from just seeing how he behaves. They appreciate the importance of coming home at reasonable hours because their father has set the example.
They also learn about respect for their mother [and other women] of his relationship with his wife. They learn more about the importance of God and religion because they see him going to church, etc.
What is your limit as a father?
[Chuckles] I’m not on social media. I choose not to be there. I don’t understand it. I’m also not a big fan of gadgets. During the time we’ve been sitting here, you haven’t seen me pull out my phone and stuff. And so I sometimes wonder if that takes me away from things that are uniquely important to my children, who live in the age of social media. Maybe if I was sure [social media] I could discuss with them the challenges they face in this regard, but I am not.
Do you sometimes think about death?
I do and sometimes wonder what will happen when I’m gone. Will everything be fine? Will the business do well? Will the family be okay? I worry about death, it’s naive not to. I worry about the legacy I will leave. I worry if it will be painful.
Have I used the opportunities presented to me in this life, both socially, as a parent, as a lawyer, as a business person or am I looking for another 50 to be able to do it?
But this anxiety is alleviated by the fact that I have been surrounded by very prayerful women. My mother was very prayerful. My wife is also prayerful. She is the leader of the Bible Study Fellowship now. She is a lawyer. Because of this, I have a perspective on what death is and the reality of death.
When have you been most scared in your life?
(Pause) Interesting question. I never really thought about that. When have I been most scared in my life? [Long pause]. When my mother died 19 years ago. It was scary. I was also scared after finishing law school. I never found a job, I created my law firm.
I had a wife and child on the way. I was worried if I would be able to take care of my young family. There was no one to admire. My parents weren’t rich, so it wasn’t an option. There was no fallback position. It was just me.
Do you think you referee both in marriage and at work?
The way I handle things in the office and at home is very different. At home there is an element of love and affection. I have a lot more leeway and leeway in how I run the house because at the end of the day everyone knows what I’m doing is in their best interests. here [at work]it’s different.
There are laws that govern how I treat people in the office. The education of people here is very diverse. You must be very sensitive to how you treat people. Thus, the way I treat my secretary is not the way I will treat my clerk, my lawyer or my partner.
Do you ever worry about money?
I have a money philosophy. I don’t worry about money, but it is important for me to have enough assets to take care of myself in my old age so that I am not a burden on others.
I would like to make sure that my wife and I are taken care of in our future so that we never come back to our children for help. I don’t want to be a burden on anyone.
Is there ever enough to take care of you in your old age?
If that’s how things are now, absolutely. I wouldn’t be worried about the money as such. If you are sick, that changes things.
What have you learned about human nature all these years of pleading?
That there are different types of people. The first group is perpetually prone to litigation. It’s almost like an occupation for them. So the minute someone doesn’t pay on time, they rush to court. Then the second
group will go to court so that everyone loses. In the majority of inheritance cases, these people fight for property, not because there is not enough for them, but because they do not want others to get anything.
And then the last one breaks the rules just because he’s not going anywhere. I think that is the reason why Kenya is not progressing. Our objective is not the pride of the result but the short term profit.