Karua: In Justice Koome, the Judiciary has chosen transformational leadership

In Summary

• I watched the interviews with a lot of interest.

• The interviewees were all professional colleagues, with quite a number of them well known to me and a couple of them good friends.

Justice Martha Koome.
Justice Martha Koome.
Image: FILE

The recently concluded interviews for the position of Chief Justice elicited high public interest, bringing into people’s living rooms, the home  sprint of the race  to pick the first among equals as  head the judicial arm of government.  Indeed, many Kenyans who were following even began to anticipate the outcomes, including generating their own short lists and scores.  And they had reason to be so heavily invested.

The Chief Justice is the head of the judicial arm of government whose main duty is to resolve conflicts between citizens, and between the citizens on the one hand and the those placed in authority over them on the other hand. As one of the three arms of government, the judiciary also plays a very important role of  interpreting the Constitution and the Law.  

At a personal level, I watched the interviews with a lot of interest. The interviewees were all professional colleagues, with quite a number of them well known to me and a couple of them good friends. I was therefore filled with immense pleasure by the strong showing by the women candidates, who not only made it to the short list but  also performed extremely well in the interviews,  eliciting very positive comments  from Kenyans  of all walks of life.

It was therefore not entirely surprising for me when the Judicial Service Commission unanimously announced Justice Martha Koome as its nominee. It was a breath of fresh air that the JSC not only chose a qualified, competent and deserving candidate for the job, but that the candidate happened to be female. This is the very first time in our fifty- seven years as a Republic that a female candidate has been proposed to head one arm of government, in itself a great significance to a nation whose constitution entrenches  gender equality in its bill of rights. 

The significance of this decision cannot be gain said.  Many a time, competent women, fail to apply for top positions which they feel are already rigged in favor of men in our patriarchal set up. Having seen men dominate positions of power and decision making through out our lives, a majority, both women and men may subconsciously always expect the choice of  a male head. Some may even subconsciously feel a sense of entitlement.

It’s no wonder then, that as the interviews progressed, many were asking whether the Chief Justice can be a female, given the position of the Deputy Chief Justice is already held by the same gender. Never mind that no similar question, has to my knowledge been asked of the President and his Deputy, both males and in their second term of office or of the two speakers of the National Assembly and senate , who happen to be both males.  The same is replicated across a majority of county governments, government departments and parastatals  with all but a handful having males at their top echelons. This fact points to social cultural norms that have continued to impact negatively on  women’s rise to the top. 

The fact that women are under-represented at the top levels of leadership and decision making processes, makes the possibility or presence of two women at the top of any institution highly  noticeable. Some even questioned whether this is legally permissible. However, as more women occupy positions of leadership and decision making, both locally and internationally, such occurrences will become the new normal. I recall my teenage cousin in the nineties when I first ran for parliament, querying whether a woman could ran for Parliament. Today such a question is unlikely. With the increasing numbers of women in leadership and decision-making positions, such conscious and unconscious resistance will keep decreasing  and eventually fade away. 

 The nomination of Justice Koome for the office of Chief Justice of Kenya, being a first for a female, has widely been applauded but may nevertheless the less cause some discomfort in some who see it as unfamiliar ground.  But this is the transformation that the country needs, the embracing of leadership of either gender at all levels of decision making. This accords  with the constitutional requirement that the Judicial service commission be guided by ‘competitiveness and transparent processes of appointment of judicial officers and other  staff of the judiciary and the promotion of gender equality’. The same is echoed by the  values and principles of public service which include “affording adequate and equal opportunities for appointment, training and advancement at all levels of the public service of men and women, members of all ethnic groups, and  persons with disabilities.’  I believe the judicial service commission acquitted itself well on all these constitutional imperatives.

Having known Justice Koome as a professional colleague and friend for over three decades, I can vouch for her competence, integrity, passion, commitment and fidelity to the law. One of our unspoken code that has enabled our bond of friendship to endure the test of time, is probably the mutual respect for each other’s boundaries. Strict non interference with each other’s work. I therefore have no doubt that she will, if given a chance, ably lead the Judicial arm of government to greater heights .

In nominating Justice Koome, the JSC has helped shatter the glass ceiling for women across different professions.  Kenya deserves a Chief Justice with a track record of transformational leadership and that’s who Justice Koome is.  I wish the honourable Justice Martha Koome the  very best in the vetting process and journey ahead. 

Karua SC is the Narc Kenya Party Leader & Former Minister of Justice