Lady Justice Martha Karambu Koome, 61, is poised to becoming the first female chief justice in Kenya. This comes after she topped a contest which involved nine others. The interview was conducted by the Kenyan Judicial Service Commission.
During the interview, she described how she grew up under tough conditions both in the country and at home. She was born in 1960, three years before the country attained its independence. She grew up in a polygamous family. Her parents were peasant farmers in Meru, in rural eastern Kenya. She described the living conditions as very limiting, especially for the girl child.
“I am a villager in the truest sense. My parents were peasant farmers and we were 18 children from two mothers. So, for all of us, especially girls – it was a struggle to overcome the odds,” she said to the BBC.
She was one of the underdogs in the contest for the top judicial post. The favoured to take the post was Fred Ngatia, who represented President Uhuru Kenyatta in the election dispute in 2017. Fred Ngatia did not manage to win the case, but he won the hearts of many Kenyans.
Justice Koome stood firm and confident during her four-hour interview, answering each question as it was asked. Her special role in the Bill of Rights and on Children and Gender Rights gave her strong ground. Last year, she was the runner-up for the UN Kenyan Person of the Year for her advocacy for rights of children in the justice system.
She is a law graduate from the University of Nairobi with other earned degrees and a career spanning more than 30 years. Koome worked at a law firm in 1988 before establishing her own firm in 1993. Her interest in human rights and women representation brought her to the limelight. She also represented political detainees during the rule of former president Daniel arap Moi. She saw the struggles women faced, which were mainly caused by gender-insensitive laws. During her interviews, she highlighted how such issues, including female genital mutilation (FGM), were being addressed under the new constitution.
Koome, who is a mother of three, is one of the founding members of The Federation of Women Lawyers, which represents survivors of gender-based violence. In 2003, she was appointed to be a high court judge by then-president Mwai Kibaki.
The president Uhuru Kenyatta is said to have accepted Justice Koome as the nominee and forwarded the name to the parliament for approval, which is also said to be pushing for the fast tracking of her vetting before the usual 28 days. Justice Koome strongly believes that she is a good team player.
Phoebie Shamiso Chigonde is a journalist passionate about gender equality, social development programmes and grassroots-based solution seeking initiatives. She has a passion for women and community development. Phoebie is also a radio personality at a regional commercial radio station, a platform that enables her to network with like-minded women, journalists and activists as she continues to document and tell the story of the ordinary woman from the lens of that very ordinary woman.