Koome appointment as new CJ refreshing
That the Judicial Service Commission has nominated a woman for appointment as Chief Justice for the first time in Kenya’s history, is too important a development to pass unremarked given that it is a historic breaking of a glass ceiling in public service.
Lady Justice Martha Koome comes to office with unique credentials — first as an indefatigable campaigner for human, women and children’s rights — but also as a past leader of the Federation of the Women Lawyers of Kenya (Fida-Kenya), an organisation that was instrumental in the restoration of democracy, human and women rights during the Kanu autocracy.
This was in addition to championing far-reaching reforms in family law.
Koome joins an elite club of women CJ both in Africa and globally, her nomination coming less than two years after Sudan picked Nemat Abdullah Khair for a similar position.
Just a year earlier, Ethiopia had picked a woman CJ, meaning that Kenya is in good company although it gets to the finish line behind the Seychelles and Zambia, which broke this gender barrier in 2015.
More importantly, Koome comes to office at a time the Judiciary is facing major challenges, first being the souring of relations with the Executive and the perception that the other arms of government are not too keen on having an independent Judiciary.
As such, she will not so much be judged as a woman but as a CJ who came to office when the Judiciary was at a crossroads and the collective soul of the citizenry was crying for redemption.
A true woman of the soil, a campaigner for family justice and an authentic personality, Koome faces the Herculean task of restoring the faith of Kenyans, first in the Judiciary as an institution perceived to be opaque and unresponsive to ordinary citizens, but also in public institutions generally.
The rule of law is at the heart of democracy and the social contract between the people and the government as enshrined in the Constitution and subsidiary laws.
How Lady Justice Koome enforces this contract and navigates the fine balance between aspirations of the people and the demands of realpolitik of governance will be a defining legacy of her tenure as president of one of the three arms of government.
How she will balance the dicey gender appointees at the helm of the Judiciary will also be judged by the public.