Kenya is ready for a woman Chief Justice

Justice Martha Koome, Alice Yano Jepkoech, Prof Kameri-Mbote

Justice Martha Koome, (left) Ms Alice Yano Jepkoech and Prof Kameri-Mbote

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

This week, Kenyans have had the opportunity to watch live the proceedings of the interviews for the position of the Chief Justice. So far five candidates have been interviewed and what a week it has been!

There have been moments of serious soul-searching regarding some past judgments by some of the candidates peppered with some light moments characterised by quirky responses from the candidates.

Out of the 10 candidates, seven are men and three are women. The women are Prof Patricia Kameri- Mbote, Justice Martha Koome and Ms Alice Yano Jepkoech. Prof Kameri-Mbote and Justice Koome have already had their turn in the hot seat and we await Ms Yano on the last day, week Friday.

While this is definitely an impressive panel made up of men and women of high ranking in legal circles, the focus — at least for me—has been on the three female candidates, with the two who have already done the interviews proving to be impressive.

For those who do not know, Prof Kameri-Mbote is a woman of many firsts, including the first female professor of law in Kenya and the first female dean of the University of Nairobi’s School of Law. I need not reproduce her CV here, but I must say that Prof Kameri-Mbote seems like a serious legal scholar and perhaps the most “learned” of the lot; if ever there was a comparison.

Justice Martha Koome, besides her sterling 33 years’ experience in legal practice, has a touching rags-to-riches story, from being raised by peasant mother to rising the highest echelons in the legal profession. Her story, that of a prayerful mother who inspired her to be the best, resonates deeply with some of us.

Poverty

From rural Meru to the Court of Appeal — and hopefully the Supreme Court — the story of Martha Koome is one that should be told over and over to girls struggling in poverty.

Ms Yano is the youngest of the shortlisted candidates. At 53, she has 25 years legal experience and previously served as the chair of the Maendeleo ya Wanawake, Elgeyo Marakwet branch. She also served as a commissioner for the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission from 2000 to 2006. I am looking forward to her interview.

With such strong female candidates, it appears likely that the next Chief Justice will be a woman. Usually, women are faulted for not applying for the top jobs, mostly because they fear that they are not up to the task, but not in this case. This time, not one but three highly qualified women have put themselves out there for the top job.

If one of these three women sails through, we will not only have the first female CJ but also a formidable duo of two women heading the Judiciary. Many might argue the plausibility – even the constitutionality — of this, but I think Kenya is ready for a woman Chief Justice.

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