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Alice Wahome's political mixed bag and ghosts from legal practice

 Kandara Member of parliament Alice Wahome. [File, Standard]

Fortune favours the bold is a maxim Alice Muthoni Wahome, the two-term legislator for Kandara, has embraced after election losses in 2002 and 2007.

Her 2007 election loss exerted a particularly heavy burden on Wahome, since her petition challenging the result in the High Court was never determined because the judges appointed to hear it - Joseph Nyamu and Philomena Mwilu - were appointed to the Court of Appeal before concluding the case.

The judgment, covering only the costs of the suit, was delivered nearly a decade later on April 24, 2017. The delay, as well as the finding by the Court of Appeal - of which Mwilu was a member - that the appointment of the first Supreme Court judges was not unconstitutional for not adhering to the gender inclusion principle - would remain a source of rancour for Wahome, who sought to block Mwilu's appointment as the country's Deputy Chief Justice.

Wahome had over time drawn strength from her membership of the women's movement, serving as the vice chairperson of Fida Kenya and a council member of the Law Society of Kenya, but all the time, her sights were set on national leadership.

After battling against sexualised propaganda - in which her rivals distributed condoms with her name - to win election as the first woman MP for Kandara in 2013, Wahome openly courted controversy -- once creating a scene on the Kenol-Murang'a road demanding the removal of a police roadblock during a crackdown on un-roadworthy vehicles in 2016.

In 2017, a Murang'a court issued a warrant for her arrest after she failed to honour summons for the seventh time in connection with obstructing the police on the Kenol-Murang'a road.

She was caught on camera roughing up an election official in the 2017 fresh presidential election for alleged tampering with poll results, but no charges were brought against her.

The 2017 election was particularly satisfying for Wahome because, after breaking the mould to be the first elected woman MP in Murang'a County, she was joined in Parliament by Ruth Mwaniki of Kigumo and Mary Wamaua of Maragua.

During her first term in Parliament, Wahome served in the Departmental Committee on Administration and National Security, as well as on the Constitution Implementation Oversight and the Procedure and House Rules committees.

On her return in 2017, she was vice chair of the Departmental Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs as also sat on the Committee on Delegated Legislation. She would be stripped of committee leadership in the purge on rebels opposing President Uhuru Kenyatta, and her bodyguards were withdrawn without explanation in 2020. She obtained a court order to restore her security.

The outspoken MP was a member of the 'Big Five' - together with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, Trade CS nominee Moses Kuria, Naivasha MP Jayne Kihara, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro - who led the rebellion against former President Kenyatta's rapprochement with his erstwhile competitor Raila Odinga.

She would emerge in the subsequent months as a vocal advocate for William Ruto's presidential candidacy and that of the United Democratic Alliance, and was among five finalists considered for running mate on the party's ticket.

Besides her robust political activity, Wahome continues to run the law firm she founded after a three-year stint as State Counsel at the Attorney General's office. Last year, on September 23, she won a major victory after obtaining a High Court decision that found the inclusion of Nairobi Metropolitan Services boss Mohammed Badi in Uhuru's Cabinet to be unconstitutional.

Yet, it is from Wahome legal practice that some of the most significant challenges to her nomination as Cabinet Secretary for Water and Sanitation are likely to emerge. At least one dissatisfied client unsuccessfully sued her for not releasing the proceeds of the sale of land.

More significantly, were it not for a 2019 High Court order suspending the arrest and prosecution of four lawyers, Wahome would be hard put to explain what happened to Sh284 million belonging to the family of Mbiyu Koinange.

Wahome, alongside lawyers Beatrice Kariuki, Justry Nyaberi and Evans Monari opened a joint account at Eco Bank on the understanding that the Sh284 million would only be released on the court's authority.

On May 7, 2020 while making the final determination in the Koinange case, Justice Aggrey Muchelule wrote: "The money is no longer available at Eco Bank. The advocates ... withdrew the money, shared some of it to some of the beneficiaries and applied the balance to cover their fees and fees of other advocates, and other creditors." No order was made authorising the withdrawal.

"I wonder on what basis Eco Bank released the money to the advocates. Did the bank see any order of the court authorising the release? I am sure if there was any order of the court authorising the withdrawal, it would have been produced," writes Justice Muchelule.

The decision that saved the four lawyers from arrest and prosecution agreed with them that the matter ought to have been handled by the Law Society of Kenya in the first instance.

Wahome, 63, attended Siakago High School and Bishop Gatimu Girls High School before joining the University of Nairobi for a degree in law. She subsequently studied for the professional advocates course at the Kenya School of Law, graduating with a diploma in 1985.

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