Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has appointed Court of Appeal Judge Martha Koome as the East African country’s first female chief justice and head of the judiciary.
The announcement was made by the president on Wednesday, hours after parliamentary approval.
“In exercise powers conferred by the constitution, I, Uhuru Kenyatta, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defense Forces appoint Martha Karambu Koome to be the chief justice of the republic of Kenya,” Kenyatta’s announcement said.
She replaces David Maraga, who made history by leading the Supreme Court when it annulled Kenyatta’s 2017 re-election victory citing “illegalities and irregularities” and ordering a fresh election.
Before that decision, it was unprecedented in Africa for an opposition party to succeed in getting a court decision to overturn a president’s election.
Kenyatta won the second election after the opposition boycotted participation, saying the electoral authority had not implemented adequate reforms to ensure free and fair polls.
Koome won the chief justice position over nine other candidates, including some of the country’s most prominent lawyers and academics.
The 61-year-old has had a distinguished career, with more than 33 years in private legal practice and as a member of the judiciary.
Her appointment has not been without controversy.
One of the candidates, lawyer Fred Ngatia, cast aspersions on how the commission members chose Koome, saying the process had been rigged.
Makau Mutua, a Kenyan law professor working in the US, is seeking orders to compel the judicial commission to release the results of each candidate in order to give the selection process legitimacy.
None of the sitting Supreme Court judges applied for the position of chief justice, raising speculation that they were afraid to take up the mantle due to the pressure that Maraga received following the annulment of Kenyatta’s re-election.
Maraga said he received death threats following the Supreme Court’s 4-2 decision against Kenyatta.
Koome, who studied law at the University of Nairobi and graduated from the Kenya School of Law in 1987, now faces the task of adjudicating any challenge to the next presidential election, scheduled for August 2022.