For the first time in Kenya’s history, a woman is in the lead to become chief justice of the republic. After rigorous vetting sessions were done on April 14, Lady Justice Martha Koome Karambu emerged as the top candidate for the position out of ten candidates.
The Court of Appeal Judge’s name made waves in the country Tuesday following the announcement of her historic unanimous nomination by the Judicial Service Commission. Her name has been forwarded to President Uhuru Kenyatta for appointment. President Kenyatta has accepted the nomination and will forward her name to parliament for approval, according to Kenyan media.
During her vetting by the Judicial Service Commission, Koome was asked how she would tackle issues facing the judicial system if she makes it as its first female chief justice. She said the position requires top-notch managerial skills that could come from anyone with the right experience regardless of gender.
“I believe the challenges are similar whether a male or female CJ. It will be historic for the Commission to nominate a woman for the Office of [the] Chief Justice. Leadership is gender-neutral. It doesn’t require a man or woman.
“It is skills that will deal with the challenges we face. You need managerial skills because you will be overseeing various things. As a lady, I appreciate that everybody brings something to the table.”
According to the country’s constitution, the next stage will be for parliament to vet Koome and when she satisfies the panel, she moves on to be the first female chief justice of Kenya.
The 61-year-old Meru country native grew up in a polygamous family. She said it was tough from the start. “I am a villager in the truest sense. My parents were peasant farmers and we were 18 children from two mothers. So, for all of us, especially girls – it was a struggle to overcome the odds,” she said.
Now married with three children, she obtained her law degree at the University of Nairobi in 1986 and holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Law from the Kenya School of Law. In 2010, she earned a Master of Laws in Public International Law from the University of London.
Koome was first appointed to the high court in 2003 where she served till 2011. The next year, she began work as a judge of the court of appeal, according to JSC’s website. With over 18 years experience in the judiciary, she is a fierce defender of the rights of women and children.
According to the Daily Monitor, her priority in her new office if confirmed will be to reduce the backlog of cases by making possible the appointment of additional judges and magistrates, help to make the Judiciary Fund functional in order to ensure and promote its independence, advocate the use of technology and build more courts in the country to ease congestion.
The tenure of the former chief justice, David Maraga, ended in January. The position was left vacant after his retirement. He is known to have been unpopular with President Kenyatta after he ruled for the nullification of the 2017 elections, the first time a court has given such orders in Kenya and in Africa. Fred Ngatia, who represented President Kenyatta during the election dispute, was said to have been the favorite person for the chief justice job. Koome gained the upper hand probably because she is a well-known face in the civil society movement, reports say. She has served as a commissioner on the African Union’s Committee on the Rights and Welfare of Children.
She helped to draft Kenya’s 2010 constitution, which now outlaws gender discrimination. In 2020, Koome was a runner-up for the UN’s Kenya Person of the Year Award “for her advocacy of the rights of children in the justice system”.