From women’s rights activist to Supreme Court Chief Justice

Martha Koome, appointed as Kenya’s first female chief justice in May 2021, has handed down the most important judgment in her brief career as the country’s most senior judge by upholding Deputy President William Ruto’s victory over Raila Odinga in the presidential election on August 9.

She delivered her verdict calmly and understatedly, but her words were powerful – there was no “conspiracy” against Mr Odinga, and his legal team had failed to present a watertight case proving the result was rigged in favour of Mr Ruto.

The 62-year-old was appointed chief justice by outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta in May of last year after finishing first among ten candidates interviewed in front of a live television audience by Kenya’s Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

“This lady is like a breath of fresh air. She answers questions in the manner in which they were posed, but she adds her own professional stamp to them “At the time, one person commented on her performance.

During her interview, she discussed her difficult upbringing in Meru, rural eastern Kenya, in a polygamous family – she was born in 1960, three years before colonial rule ended.

“In the truest sense, I am a villager. My parents were peasant farmers, and we were a family of 18 children born to two mothers. So it was a struggle for all of us, especially the girls, to overcome the odds.”

And she overcame even greater odds to become chief justice, as she was not the favorite, with pundits betting on Fred Ngatia to win because he had represented Mr Kenyatta in the 2017 election dispute.

Chief Justice Koome was a runner-up for the UN’s Kenya Person of the Year Award in 2020 “for her advocacy of children’s rights in the justice system.”

She has also served on the African Union’s Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

She has an impressive career spanning three decades after graduating in law from the University of Nairobi in 1986 – and has earned various other degrees over the years. She is married with three children.

She began as a legal associate in 1988 before becoming the managing partner of her own law firm in 1993. During her private practice, she became well-known for defending human rights and representing political detainees during President Daniel arap Moi’s regime.

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