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Will Martha Koome break jinx for women eyeing seat?

By Akisa Wandera | April 29th 2021
Judge Martha Koome at the Supreme Court building on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, when she turned up to be interviewed for the post of Chief Justice. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

The changes brought about by the 2010 Constitution have been immense in the political, social and judicial pillars. One of the key changes was the creation of the office of the Deputy Chief Justice.

This office has so far seen three occupants, all of whom have fought controversy. For the first two, it saw the end of their tenure, while the current holder of the office is fighting many battles against her, so much so that it had become all too apparent that she was not to be the natural replacement for Chief Justice David Maraga.

The controversy that has dogged all the three women who have risen to the second most powerful position of Deputy Chief Justice has over time created an impression that, indeed, the office could be jinxed, whether by default or design.

Kenya’s first Deputy Chief Justice was Nancy Baraza, whose tenure came to an abrupt end in 2012 when she unceremoniously resigned from the post after the Judicial Service Commission formed a sub-committee to investigate reports that she had assaulted a female security guard at Village Market shopping mall in December of 2011.

The committee found her unfit to hold office and recommended her removal. Then came Lady Justice Kalpana Rawal, sworn in in June 2013 as the second DCJ under Chief Justice Willy Mutunga. She served in the office until the end of 2015 when the High Court ruled that she should retire after having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70.

This opened a barrage of litigation as she fought to remain in office until the age of 74, arguing that she was appointed under the old constitution that stipulated the same.

The courts, however, did not rule in her favour, twice at the High Court and at the Court of Appeal, with the Supreme Court declining to hear the appeal she had filed. This paved the way for someone else to ascend to the seat.

The current DCJ is equally not new to controversy. In fact, she has had it rough compared to her predecessors. She has constantly been in a tight spot fighting a host of charges against her in the courts, ranging from abuse of office, failure to pay taxes and graft accusations. This not only cut off her chances of replacing CJ Maraga, it has also seen petitions to the JSC with claims that she was unfit to continue holding office.

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With all these cases in mind, the nomination of Justice Martha Koome to the position of CJ would appear to be the much-needed jinx breaker, not just for the office, but for women who were well in line to succeed their bosses to head this arm of government.

Will things be different under her tenure in the event she is appointed?

Justice Koome will make history as the first woman ever to occupy the CJ office, breaking the ceiling for all who have had their sights on the job. All eyes will then be on who will serve as her deputy regardless of gender, and whether for the first time ever it will be smooth sailing.


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