Kenya: CJ Koome Risks Walking Into Ruto Polls Trap

28 November 2021

Chief Justice Martha Koome's engagement with other actors in the 2022 election preparations is certainly well-intentioned. The CJ has previously expressed her concerns publicly about the apparent sloppiness in the preparations for the polls that ended up swamping the courts with hundreds of election petitions, adding to the case backlog.

She has cited the example of Ghana, where only seven election petitions arising from the recent polls were filed and challenged our Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to learn from its counterpart in the West African nation.

The Chief Justice's involvement in a multi-agency elections preparation technical committee is not different from her role at the National Council for the Administration of Justice, which she chairs.

The results of Kenya's past two presidential elections (2013 and 2017) were challenged in the Supreme Court.

A review of the legal issues from the 2017 election by the Carter Center found 388 petitions challenging the results of the down-ballot races - for governor, senator, woman rep, National Assembly member, MCA and party nominees - were filed by August 10, 2018.

With the courts clogged with such a large volume of petitions, any responsible CJ would want to be actively involved in finding solutions upstream.

List of grievances

Unfortunately, CJ Koome's role in the elections preparation technical committee is no longer tenable after Deputy President William Ruto's UDA party added it to their growing list of grievances.

It is not far-fetched to imagine that this is part of a well-orchestrated campaign to put pressure on her, question every decision she makes and project her as weak and gullible.

The first six months in office have seen her drawn into some very awkward situations, including having to publicly reprimand a former Chief Justice for trying to foment unrest in the Judiciary.

In her first two weeks in office, she unlocked a near two-year dispute between the Judiciary and the Executive over the appointment of additional judges. But her detractors have somehow succeeded in denying her any credit for that as well by amplifying President Uhuru Kenyatta's omission of six names from the list of 40!

The CJ could come off much worse if she walks into the political trap being set for her by the Ruto campaign. Judging from the barrage of grievances coming from the Deputy President's camp in recent weeks, a Supreme Court presidential election petition is most likely being drafted in some lawyer's office eight months before the first ballot is cast on August 9, 2022.

There have been some giveaways as to what the grounds for such a petition would be, including the letter to the IEBC alleging the involvement of Cabinet secretaries (read state officials) in political campaigns.

If CJ Koome walks into the trap with eyes wide shut, she could find herself the subject of the preliminary arguments demanding her recusal from hearing 'Ruto 1' in September 2022.

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