Her lengthy name – Annie Gathiru Patricia Kameri Mbote may be deemed to have been a precursor of how long her CV would ultimately become. Simply referred to as Professor Kameri Mbote, she is a woman of many firsts.
First woman dean at the Faculty of Law, University of Nairobi, the first woman in Kenya to receive a Higher Doctorate degree, first woman Professor of Law in Kenya and if all goes her way, she may well become the first Woman ever to become Chief Justice in the Republic of Kenya.
She is currently 57 years having been born to a Mr. Venanzio Kameri and Helen Njeri on 19th March 1964. She was raised in the Murang’a countryside with 8 siblings – 2 other girls and 6 boys.
Her parents appear to have valued education for all their children at a time when the rest in the region had little regard to girl education.
She began her education at Mugoiri Primary School in Murang’a County but later transferred to St. Michael’s Primary School – a boarding school in Kirinyaga County.
She sat the Certificate of Primary Education examinations in 1976 and proceeded to Loreto High School, Limuru for both her O and A level studies, completing them in 1982.
It was in form 3 that she developed an interest in law following a presentation by a guest speaker, one Ms. Muteshi perhaps Jacinta Muteshi who gave a career talk in law and whom Prof. Mbote has since published together with.
She was admitted to the University of Nairobi in 1984, to undertake a bachelor’s degree in law (L.L.B) which she completed in 1987 and proceeded thereafter to the Kenya School of Law where she obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in law.
Immediately thereafter, she proceeded to the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom and obtained a Master’s Degree (L.L.M) in Law and Development in the year 1989 and was then admitted to the Roll of Advocates in Kenya in the same year.
From 1994 to 1995, she underwent training in gender and the law which led to a Postgraduate Diploma in Women’s Law at the University of Zimbabwe. Kameri-Mbote obtained a Master’s Degree in Juridical Sciences (JSM) in 1996 and earned a doctorate from Stanford University in 1999 specializing in property rights and environmental law.
She thereafter embarked on lecturing at the Faculty of Law at the University of Nairobi where she taught various subjects. She became the first female professor of law in Kenya in 2011. She is also the first female dean at the University of Nairobi, School of Law for the period between 2012 and 2016.
In 2017, the University of Oslo awarded her an honorary degree in law because of her significant contribution in studying the cross-section of women’s, environmental law, and law and development and her immense research in these areas.
In 2019, she was recognized as the first woman in East and Central Africa to undertake a higher Doctorate Laws with her thesis entitled “Contending Norms in a Plural Legal System: The Limits of Formal Law.”
It was during her tenure as dean that the School of Law when there was exponential increase in the number of doctoral degrees completed. Two satellite campuses in Kisumu and Mombasa were established for law studies during her tenure.
In 2019, she applied for the position of the Vice Chancellor for the University of Nairobi, she was interviewed and emerged as the third of nine candidates.
She has published extensively in the areas of gender, environment and natural resources, property (land and intellectual property), and science and technology.
She has served as Chair of the Department of Private Law and Acting Dean at the School of Law, University of Nairobi. She has also served as the Director of Research and Policy Outreach and Acting Executive Director at the African Centre for Technology Studies, Nairobi.
She has also been identified as a renowned thinker in the global environment and sustainable development field by the World Conservation Union (IUCN); as a renowned and innovative thinker and researcher by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) on land rights and served as a Policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
She was conferred the rank of Senior Counsel in 2012 and was in the year 2015, honored with the award of “Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS)”
She was appointed as a member of the Committee of Eminent Persons by President Kibaki in February 2006 to advise the government on the way forward for the stalled constitution review process.
Little is in the public domain about her husband John Mbote.
She also serves on various national and international boards such as: the Global Council of the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP); the International Development Law Organization (IDLO); the Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB); Lewa Wildlife Conservancy; Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE-Uganda); and the Kenya Land Conservation Trust.
She is the Chair of the Advisory Board of Strathmore Law School (Strathmore University, Nairobi) whose preparation, planning, initiation and launch she executed between 2009 and March 2012.
She has served on the following boards: the Kenya Copyright Board; the Pell Centre for International Relations, Salve Regina University, Rhode Island; the Arts & 3 Humanities Research Board (AHRB) Research Centre for Law, Gender & Sexuality, University of Kent; and the Seeds and Plant Varieties Tribunal.
Kameri-Mbote is a member of the Kenya National Academy of Sciences; the International Commission on Environmental Law (ICEL); and the UNEP Expert Group on Environment & Security.
She also serves on the editorial boards of the following journals:, Journal of Law, Environment and Development (LEAD); the Global Environmental Politics (GEP); Journal of Human Rights and the Environment; and the East African Journal of Peace and Human Rights.
She has also taught international environmental law at the University of Kansas; Trade, Environment and Law at the University of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa; and teaches Women, Access to Resources and the Law at the University of Zimbabwe.
She serves as an external examiner to the Faculties of Law at the following Universities: London; Makerere; Witwatersrand; Dar es Salaam; Australian National University and Westminster.
She has consulted for many international and national agencies including the UK Department for International Development, the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and the Government of Kenya.
Prof. Kameri Mbote seems to be super qualified for the highest office in the judicial system. She is the most learned in this field not only among the applicants but amongst all persons in the legal profession..
The only other person in Kenya with a Higher Doctorate in law is Professor Justice J. B. Ojwang who recently retired from the judiciary.
Knowing that the Chief Justice’s position is both administrative and judicial, she has demonstrated her prowess in administration having successfully steered the University Of Nairobi School of Law as dean and previously as Chairperson of the private law department.
She also took unpaid leave from the University of Nairobi between the years 2009 – 2012 to plan, initiate, launch and implement Strathmore Law School proving that she can not only raise already existing entities to higher levels but can also create institutions from scratch.
Political will of the executive arm may be the largest determinant of the outcome of the interviews and without it, an aspirant will make no headway. Prof.
Kameri Mbote was appointed to be a member of the committee of eminent persons to advice on the stalled constitutional process in the year 2006 showing the respect she garnered from the government of Mwai Kibaki.
The Uhuru Kenyatta government has also shown reverence to her and she was awarded the Elder Burning Spear (EBS) in the year 2015.
She was also the one who was appointed to read the Building Bridges Initiatives (BBI) Report at Bomas of Kenya during its launch and as such must be having the blessings of the head of the executive – namely President Uhuru Kenyatta and the head of the opposition Hon. Raila Odinga.
Just like the former Chief Justice Maraga, she had on the 21st June, 2013 been sworn in as one of the seven members of a tribunal appointed to investigate the conduct of of the infamous Justice Joseph Mutava.
She comes out as highly respected across the board and none of the key political players appears to be harbouring any issues with her.
Though having high academic qualifications, the good professor lacks litigation or court room experience. She is not known to have represented anybody in court as an advocate.
She has only sat at the Seeds and Plant Varieties Tribunal which is a relatively unknown tribunal with little activity if any. One then wonders how she will write judgments for the first time at the apex court. This is one of the few weaknesses in her application.
She may nonetheless argue that other top academicians exhibited excellence despite having no litigation experience. Professor Ojwang for instance at the High Court and at the Supreme Court is a perfect example.
Dr. Justice Smokin Wanjala is another academician who has excelled in his judgments as a Supreme Court Judge despite having little litigation experience.
Her gender is a setback considering that the serving deputy – Hon. Justice Philomena Mwilu is a woman. It does not seem appealing that an entity such as the judiciary should be headed by 2 people of the same gender.
However, there is no law that bars it. Rule 14(1) of the First Schedule to the Judicial Service Commission Act only requires the Commissioners in voting to “…nominate the most qualified applicant taking into account gender, regional, ethnic and other diversities of the people of Kenya.”
The other arms of government are all headed by men who are all deputized by fellow men save for the Senate where the Deputy is a woman – Professor Margaret Kamar.
There would therefore be nothing wrong if the opposite was the case and a woman heads the judiciary and is deputized by a fellow woman. The need to increase the women in the Supreme Court would also justify her appointment.
On ethnicity, the Professor being a Kikuyu is prejudiced by the presence of another Kikuyu in the Supreme Court bench – Hon. Justice Njoki Ndung’u. Though the Commission is under a duty to ensure that there is ethnic diversity.
It would amount to discrimination on grounds of ethnicity (contrary to Article 27 of the Constitution) to solely deny the good professor the position on the basis of her ethnicity alone.
Section 7 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act, 2008 imposes an obligation on all public establishments to seek diversity of the people of Kenya in employment of their staff and that not more than one third of the staff may be from one ethnic community.
It would appear that having 2 Kikuyus on the bench would not breach the 2/3 ethnic diversity rule.
The most prominent opposition against Prof. Mbote’s candidature has come from a faction of the LSK led by its President Nelson Havi who accuses her of misconduct in “stealing” a concept conceived by a fellow lecturer Professor Migai Aketch and obtaining funding for it from the Ford Foundation without acknowledging the author.
She is also accused of persecuting the said Professor Migai Aketch through a stage managed disciplinary proceedings where Professor Aketch was accused of unusually failing students.
Another accusation by Havi is that she schemed alongside Lady Justice Koome to lock out Prof. Ojienda from the race for the male representative of the LSK to the Judicial Service Commission.
It is not clear whether the JSC shall take into consideration Havi’s opposition considering that another faction of the LSK disowned Havi’s Memorandum terming it as not reflecting the position of the LSK.
One thing for sure is that Prof. Kameri Mbote is a top contender for the position of Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya and on merit alone, she may just take the position but if issues of age, gender, ethnicity and regional balance are taken into account it may just slip from her hands.
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