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Battle for LSK top seat enters homestretch amid state infiltration, ethnicity claims

 The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) presidential candidate Faith Odhiambo, during the LSK debate on February 21, 2024, at Riara University in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

At the Law Society of Kenya's head office along Gitanga Road in Nairobi, a plaque of former chairpersons and presidents greets the eyes as you enter the corridor. 

Humphrey Slade, who served between 1949 and 1950 when LSK was formed by Section 3 of the Law Society of Kenya Ordinance, 1949 sits at the top of the list.

Born on May 4, 1905, the British-born lawyer served as a member of the Legislative Council and later the inaugural speaker of the National Assembly between 1967 and 1970.

He died on August 13, 1983.

It is on that plaque that Faith Odhiambo, Harriet Mboche, Kipkoech Bernhard Ngetich (KBN), Peter Wanyama and Carolyne Kamende want their name eternally etched.

For the female aspirants, it will be a race to enter the annals of history as the second female LSK boss after former Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, who served between 2001 and 2003.

However, the winner of the race will be the 51st person to lead LSK.

In recent times, LSK successions have been fueled by waves around the dispute over the construction of an arbitration centre and calming the storm during Nelson Havi’s time.

Isaac Okero trounced James Mwamu and Allen Gichuhi in 2016 following a wave of Okoa LSK, a lobby that was opposed to the project.

The centre had split the society to the extent its members are battling it out in court. 

During Havi’s time, the outgoing president Eric Theuri beat Kipkoech in what members said was a push to ‘calm the storm’.  

The society was akin to the Tower of babel, with a council that was split into two.

It is now alleged that the current storm in the LSK is the result of a quest for the independence of the bar.

Fears of the State infiltrating the LSK and the ‘difficult’ relationship between judges and magistrates, on one hand, and the bar, on the other, are said to be the key issues splitting advocates.

Senior lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi is said to be the poster boy of the bleak relationship between the bar and the bench.

Claims of ethnic mobilisation and involvement of the government and opposition in the LSK election have been central to the contest.

During an LSK debate held at Riara University, Mboche claimed that the State had sponsored their candidates.

“On the ballot there will be the question of the independence of the bar. The state has been categorical in indicating that they have sponsored candidates,” said Mboce.

On the other hand, Kipkoech said that during the Thursday election, the ballots will have, among others, ‘visitors to the State House.’’

A thanksgiving and blessings ceremony invite by the Kikuyu Council of Elders to Gema Watho Association (Gema Law Association), which is a lobby for advocates from the central region, has burst the bubble, with claims that the meeting held on Friday was meant to rally behind a single candidate.

Gusii Advocates Forum (GAF) also held their dance and dinner on February 17.

At the same time, Okil Welfare Association had their dinner on February 12.

 Havi, who was LSK’s sixth president under the 2010 Constitution, took to his X account to voice his rejection of the meetings.

“This oathing and ethnic mobilisation in LSK elections is an all-time low never witnessed before in the history of the noble profession. Ahmednasir won with five Somali Advocates whilst Nzamba and Mutua won with 20 Kamba advocates,” claimed Havi.

He alleged that money, food and ethnicity are influencing voting in the society.

At the same time, it is a battle for the soul of LSK between alleged outsiders and insiders.

On one hand, Odhiambo is the outgoing deputy president while Ms Mboche is a council member, representing Nairobi.

In the meantime, Kipkoech and Kamende served during Havi’s time.

In the campaign, Odhiambo is riding on promises to protect the rule of law, fight corruption in the Judiciary and land registry, empower LSK branches and safeguard the welfare of lawyers.

She is also pledging to ensure lawyers get decent employment.

“I am assuring you that the council works as one and the Law Society of Kenya surmounts all challenges as one,” says Odhiambo

Kipkoech on the other, is banking on promises to promote devolution, mentorship and welfare, cohesion, inclusivity, good governance, equality, advancement in practice and strategic planning.

“KBN is tried and tested. KBN ni tisho (threat). I want to assure you that if you elect me, within no time, we ensure that the advocates benevolent fund which is largely obsolete is transformative and moves towards the direction of a medical cover and last respect. 

In the meantime, Mboche says that she is an institution builder and wants advocates to vote her for a bold and firm society. The University of Nairobi don also runs on a promise of ensuring members welfare is taken care of and devolution strengthening.

She argues LSK is dealing with a problem of encroachment from advocates practicing from other countries and masqueraders.

“Welfare issues can only be achieved if we have a firm and bold Law Society of Kenya. Hands off the bar,” said Mboche.

Wanyama is staking his chances on being the outsider.  He refers to himself as a tiger that is needed to end lawyers’ miseries.

“I don’t teach in any university. I have not been in any council. We are staring at a major crisis that requires strategic leadership. Advocates are being paid less than housemaids. The legal profession is dying and you will not see the symptoms until they hit you,” said Wanyama.

Kamende is riding on her legacy as a VP. She is also campaigning on promises of member-oriented services, sustainability, rule of law and constitutionalism, protecting the bar, an all-inclusive bar and experience.

“I take pride in establishing structures that will survive me even after my term was over. I established the endowment fund that will survive me after I leave LSK. I am a practitioner who has practiced law for 19 years and I understand the roles of the LSK President,” says Kamende.

Meanwhile, the Judicial Service Commission LSK male representative has attracted, among others, Theuri and Omwanza Ombati.

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