Lawyers go to the polls Thursday to elect president, JSC representative

LSK presidential candidates

From left: LSK presidential candidates Faith Odhiambo, Bernard Ngetich, Harriet Mboce, Carolyne Kamende and Peter Wanyama.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The race for the presidency has attracted the attention of Faith Odhiambo, Harriet Mboche, Kipkoech Bernhard Ngetich (KBN), Peter Wanyama and Carolyne Kamende.

More than 15,700 lawyers will go to the polls Thursday to elect their new president, council members and the male representative on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

An election so important that several lawyers admit that those to be elected must be prepared to fight to save the Judiciary from the "constant onslaught" of the executive.

This fact alone is a very serious consideration for voters who already feel that the state is trying to extend its iron fist to rule the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and the JSC, and has its preferred candidates for the upcoming elections.

"We are very serious about this election. The executive has already swallowed the legislature. For a long time it has been trying to take control of the judiciary but it has not succeeded. We know there are some candidates being pushed by the state, but we are keen on this round," a Nairobi-based lawyer told the Nation.

The race for the presidency has attracted the attention of Faith Odhiambo, Harriet Mboche, Kipkoech Bernhard Ngetich (KBN), Peter Wanyama and Carolyne Kamende.

They all want one simple thing: to have their names etched in the annals of history as leaders of the society whose main objective in this election is to promote the welfare of members of the Bar.

Whoever wins the seat will be the fifty-first head of the LSK.

Interestingly, Ms Odhiambo, the current vice-president, will be up against Carolyne Kamende, her immediate predecessor, who stood in for former LSK president Nelson Havi.

On the other hand, Ms Mboche has the advantage of representing the Nairobi branch of LSK, which has nearly 11,000 members.

It is also important to note that she was elected to her position and to the Society's General Council with a higher number of votes than those cast to make Eric Theuri the LSK President in 2022. 
For the three women, whoever wins the presidency will be the second woman ever to head the LSK after former Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, who headed the lawyers' umbrella organisation between 2001 and 2003.

Ms Kamende sat on the nine-member team that investigated suspended Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioners Juliana Cherera, Irene Masit, Francis Wanderi and Justus Nyang'aya. For some lawyers, their involvement in the matter 'betrayed' their loyalty and could come back to haunt them.

But Mr Havi's reign was a turbulent one. The Council and the Executive were always at loggerheads. So bad, in fact, that paying the office's bills became a problem because of a lack of clarity over who was signing for the society's coffers.

Unlike his predecessor, the current boss, Mr Theuri, is a relatively calm captain.

It was his calm demeanour that catapulted him to the presidency in 2022, where he beat Mr Kipkoech, with members saying he would definitely exorcise the demons of chaos at LSK. 

True to their vision, Mr Theuri enjoyed a relatively quiet presidency until the Kenya Kwanza administration was sworn in and he was forced to come to the fore, often chastising the Head of State, Dr William Ruto, whose aversion to the courts was an open secret to many.

As he departs, the question of the independence of the legal profession echoes more than ever in the minds of lawyers who are prepared to do whatever it takes to protect their practice and the judiciary from state capture. Mr Theuri will be on the ballot again this Thursday to fill the vacant position of LSK male representative on the JSC.

The fear that this election will strip them of their independence and infiltrate the LSK with state candidates has caused a split among lawyers.

There is also the influence of the Senior Counsel Bar in the race. 
The name of one Senior Counsel, Ahmednassir Abdullahi, has been on the lips of many lawyers, many of whom believe that he has two candidates, one at the LSK and another at the JSC. One of them was his student at one point, learning at his feet and becoming a good friend of the Senior Counsel.

Because of Abdullahi's close ties to the state, members strongly believe that his preferred candidates are state projects and are wary of them.

Another Senior Counsel, Tom Ojienda, has also been linked to one of the most vocal LSK presidential candidates.

During the LSK debate at Riara University, Ms Mboche did not shy away from the fact that the state was interfering in the forthcoming elections.

"The question of the independence of the legal profession will be on the ballot paper. The state has categorically stated that it has sponsored candidates," she said.

Mr Kipkoech also touched on the issue, saying there would be "visitors to State House" at the polls.

For Wanyama, his 16 years in the legal profession has linked him to several power players in the LSK's inner sanctum. Members of the society also say his deep pockets are a serious factor, as presidential campaigns often require hard cash combined with strategy.

Described as a flamboyant lawyer, he has never been shy about boasting of his achievements, telling all who will listen of his sprawling home in the village and his Lexus LX570 "among other expensive cars".

On the other hand, voters have also mobilised along ethnic lines, with campaigners holding several "strategic" meetings in the capital in the run-up to the elections.

They were so open that Mr Havi, the 49th president of the LSK, posted his disdain for the ethnic mobilisation on his official X account. He added that money was being used to influence the outcome of the vote. 
"It is unfortunate that ethnicity, money, food and alcohol are factors that influence decision making in LSK elections. I spoke about this four years ago and my message is still relevant today. Esteemed friends, elect your leaders on merit and not on personal or selfish interests," he said on 19 February.

Three days later, he added that "the oath-taking and ethnic mobilisation in the LSK elections is a new low in the history of the noble profession. Ahmednasir won with 5 Somali lawyers while Nzamba and Mutua won with 20 Kamba lawyers. Let us put an end to these medieval shenanigans.

The Nation understands that such meetings were held. One was organised by the Gusii Advocates Forum and was so heated that two sons of the soil want to fight it out in the JSC election. The two bulls in the race are Omwanza Ombati and Ishmael Nyaribo. One of the candidates was even chased out of the meeting.

"Advocates from our region feel that these two will split the votes and increase our chances of losing this seat. Many of us want one candidate and the stronger one is everyone's preferred choice," a lawyer privy to the meeting told the Nation.

Apart from Ombati, Nyaribo and LSK president Theuri, the other contender for the LSK male representative position on the JSC is Prof Michael Nyongesa Wabwile, a heavyweight in the academic realms of law and policy formulation.

The Okil Kamaloka Welfare Association met on 12 February to strategise and decide where to put their weight.

The Gema Watho Association from the central region also held a meeting two weeks ago to 'receive blessings' from the Kikuyu Council of Elders. They met to discuss how to unite behind a single candidate. 

While the mountain's main contender, Ms Mboche, is not well known to the general public, she is a force to be reckoned with in advocacy circles, and this strategy of perfect interpersonal relations could be the factor that gives her a shot at the LSK presidency.

"I heard about the Gema meeting, but I did not attend. I think the elections should be about issues, not other things. In my opinion, Njoki Mboche could be the surprise candidate to win the LSK presidency," said Kiroko Ndegwa, a lawyer based in Nairobi. 

Mr Kipkoech firmly believes that transparency and accountability, values he strongly supports, combined with a boldness to tackle challenges in any environment, are the secret to the prosperity of any society.

He also has a bone to pick with candidates who have been throwing money around and displaying extravagance at a time when most lawyers are feeling the economic pinch.

"We need to change the structures of the LSK, which are the same as they were after independence in 1963 and it served only 100 lawyers. We now have thousands of lawyers and we need to have structures that cater for our new demands and needs," he said.