Why LSK's Faith Odhiambo deserves more than a toast this women’s day

Law Society of Kenya president elect Faith Odhiambo during an interview at Ombok and Owuor Advocates offices in Nairobi on March 2, 2024. 

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • After 21 years, a woman has ascended to the leadership of the lawyers’ body.
  • Former CS Raychelle Omamo, the first woman to lead the society, served as chairperson from 2001 to 2003.
  • Faith Odhiambo will now juggle law practice, academia and the LSK presidency.

It is a humid Tuesday afternoon and the heavy traffic on Gitanga Road, Nairobi, leads to the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) offices. From the gate, it is party time.

High-end cars and learned friends in their element – navy blue suits – are mingling over drinks and snacks.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) officials are present.

The stage is set for the official release of the results of the just-concluded LSK elections.

Minutes later, a beaming Faith Odhiambo, the LSK president elect, emerges with her certificate in hand.

Easy like a Sunday morning, Ms Odhiambo interacts with her learned friends, who excitedly take pictures and post on their social media accounts.

She smiles, it is her big day, though not bigger than March 27, 2024, when she is expected to take the oath of office.

“The celebrations have been ongoing for about a week. We even expect a blast on International Women’s Day,” a lively, young female lawyer whispers.

I gather that Ms Odhiambo’s win is big for not only the LSK, or women lawyers, but also for the women of this country.

After 21 years in Kenya, a woman has ascended to the leadership of the LSK. Raychelle Omamo was the chairperson between 2001 and 2003.

Ms Odhiambo is the first woman president of the LSK, the reason she deserves more than a warm mention, a toast, a dance, some wine, chocolates, perfumes and flowers on this International Women’s Day.

Themed “Invest in women: Accelerate Progress”, the day highlights the importance of gender equality, women’s and girls’ empowerment, and their rights to healthier lives.

Ms Odhiambo has clinched this great milestone at a time when the country is crafting a formula to hack the two-thirds gender rule, which will ensure gender balance in representation, especially in top decision-making echelons.

In an interview with Nation.Africa, Faith shares her story.

Just who is Faith Odhiambo?

I am an advocate of the High Court of Kenya. I practise at Ombok & Owuor Advocates and teach law at the University of Nairobi.

I have previously served as a council member at the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (Fida-K) for two years, secretary to Fida Board for two years, Nairobi representative of the LSK, then vice president of the society.

Tell us more about your childhood?

I was born in Mombasa at Pandya Hospital. My father worked in Mombasa, and my mother was working in Nairobi. Besides the distance, we managed somehow.

When I was about two years old, we moved to Nairobi. I can say that together with my four siblings, we grew up in a Catholic home. Years later, I would learn that my father was Anglican.

All along, I had thought that both my parents were Catholic because they raised the five of us in the Catholic faith. We went through Catholic schools and we were a closely knit large family through my aunties and uncles.

What would you say you are proud of about your parents?

I had supportive parents who encouraged us to read widely, and supported our hobbies and interests. My father believed that education is key to you defining yourself.

From his large family, he was the only one who had got an education. So, he really wanted all his children to be educated and to grow up being independent.

My mother pushed us to do more. That is how I did accounting, Certified Public Accountant (CPA-K) and started arbitration while still in university.

I did French, studied a bit of Arabic and basic Italian because of that push. She was like, “It is better to get lost in books or in church, than get lost in the world.”

She had studied her undergraduate and master’s courses when we were still in school. She would ask us, “If I can raise the five of you and study, what is stopping you?”

Was becoming a lawyer one of your childhood ambitions?

In my teenage years, I used to watch The Practice, an American legal drama television series. It inspired me into pursuing law.

I loved Ellenor Frutt, and how she articulated herself in court. Her client was on death row and the Supreme Court had given her short timelines.

I admired just how well Ellenor and her team put in the work, spent late hours researching and trying to change the fate of the law. She was an atheist but prayed, “God I will believe in you if you help me in this one.”

Then she won the case and it sort of changed her trajectory, even her practice and beliefs. That was breath-taking for me.

When I was choosing the subjects to pursue while at Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School in South C, Nairobi, I was already thinking of the University of Nairobi. It was famed for having some of the best law professors and lecturers.

What inspired you to join academia?

I used to see my father marking scripts and lecturing students. He would really read the riot act at his students who missed classes or were not doing well. He took teaching to a different level.

He believed that he had to follow up and mentor his students in excellence. Also, one of my lecturers, Josephat Ayamunda, at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), was the first to give me a teaching opportunity.

It was a tutorial presentation and it felt so nice. I was surprised by my classmates’ reaction after I presented that topic. I confirmed that I can actually teach.

Right after my master’s degree, another of my lecturers, Dr Naomi Njuguna, gave me a teaching opportunity as a trainee tutorial fellow at CUEA. She mentored me, and took me through teaching.

Dr Njuguna would later join the University of Nairobi, and when the opportunity came up for a tutorial fellow, she encouraged me to apply.

It is here that I met Prof Kameri Mbote and Prof Collins Odote, both of whom mentored and encouraged me to follow my niche in commercial law. I am now working towards my PhD.

Your views on the two-thirds gender rule?

The two-thirds rule needs to bring in an enabling equity even in our Parliament.

When I was the LSK representative for Nairobi, I presented a petition requesting the Chief Justice to disband Parliament because it did not meet the two-thirds principle.

I believe that should Parliament meet the two-thirds principle, there will be that push towards the Judiciary, and the President would ensure he meets the principle even in his appointments.

There needs to be some level of equity. As a society, we need to support and build female leadership. It is up to us, women in leadership, to mentor others.

It is up to the women policymakers, and the men who sit in these positions of privilege, to prepare even their daughters to go to that level.

Do you think recommendations by the two-thirds gender taskforce will pass through Parliament?

We have seen more than six bills that are not going through, and it is quite unfortunate. We (the LSK) hope to support wherever we can to ensure this comes to fruition.

The President, as the head of state, has a role to set the tune towards the two-thirds gender rule. He has a majority in Parliament.

We also ask the head of opposition, the Right Honourable Raila Odinga, to support the same. If the two support this initiative, they will lay a strong foundation not just for the women in leadership but also for our daughters to grow into leadership.

How does the two-thirds gender rule play out in the composition of the LSK Council?

I celebrate the Law Society of Kenya today because they saw me fit as a leader, not as a woman to get this position. But it has taken us another 21 years to get a female to this position in the LSK.

There is still a lot of work to be done. The current council is fairer. We have some more women, about six. The previous council had only four women. We are more balanced.

What are your future aspirations for the LSK?

The PSP (protection, stability and progress) agenda is what we are into: the protection of the rule of law; the stability of the society; and the progress of the bar, practice and welfare.

This is to improve the welfare for our members, and to promote the rule of law, not only for the members of the LSK but also for the rest of the society.

What are your plans for Kenyan lawyers, especially female lawyers?

As the LSK, we will strive to make legal practice more accessible and to support and promote a lot of female lawyers who are setting up their own legal practice.

What should Kenyans expect of you as a woman leader?

In my leadership, I will support our branch and chapter leaders in the work they are doing and even our male counterparts.

I believe women leaders are able to achieve, and to work as well as, or even better than, male leaders. I will protect the rule of law for the betterment of this society.

Why is there urgency to mentor more women into leadership?

A lot of women should take up mentorship. I believe in women’s leadership. We have capable, competent women out here.

Some will shy off from running for competitive seats because of one or two challenges. Through mentorship, they can be pulled up and nurtured to grow into leadership.

A lot of female mentors, starting with my mother, have been able to shape who I am today.

Kindly share some tips with women aspirants on how to win elections

God was the tip for me (laughs). Be determined, work hard and don’t let the naysayers bring you down.

People will always have something to say. Let them say that you are overdetermined, overzealous, overworking, that you are achieving too much. The fact is that you are making a mark.