PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Patricia Kameri-Mbote, PhD
First Woman Law Professor (Kenya)
By Brenda Wangila
Annie Patricia Kameri-Mbote was born on 19th March 1964. She was born in a family of nine and grew up in the countryside. The family consisted of three girls and six boys, and her parents treated boys and girls equally. There was no differentiation in the performance of house chores further evidenced by her parent’s decision to send her to school, just as her brothers. Her father, Venanzio Kameri, and mother Helen Njeri strongly believed in the power of education. Her father was keen to observe Patricia’s determination in the quest for education together with helping in the performance of chores such as fetching water and firewood, making food for the family, working on the farm, and going to school at the same time. She narrates that she developed an interest in law while in the third year of secondary school following a presentation by a guest speaker, Ms. Muteshi who gave a career talk in law. She was particularly moved by the presentation, poise, and mastery of the subject that the guest speaker exuded and it appealed to her. Later on during her pupilage, she would choose the unchartered path of academia and not the practice of law which she considered elitist.
Kameri-Mbote’s early education began at Mugoiri Primary School in Murang’a County. She was later transferred to a boarding school at St. Michael’s Primary School in Kirinyaga County, Kenya for her upper primary studies and sat the Certificate of Primary Education examinations in 1976. She later proceeded to Loreto High School, Limuru in Kiambu County for her Ordinary and Advanced level studies, completing them in 1982. In 1984, she began her L.L.B undergraduate studies at the then Faculty of Law, University of Nairobi which she completed in 1987, and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Law, Second Class (Upper Division Honors). She furthered her studies in the United Kingdom at the University of Warwick obtaining a Master’s Degree (L.L.M) in Law and Development in 1989. In the same year, she was admitted to the Roll of Advocates following successful completion of her course at the Kenya School of Law in 1988, obtaining a Postgraduate Diploma in Law. It was during her pupilage as part of the Kenya School of Law training that she nurtured her interest in academia by spending more time at the law firm’s library reading and researching.
From 1994 to 1995, on study leave to Zimbabwe, she underwent training in gender and the law which led to a Postgraduate Diploma in Women’s Law at the University of Zimbabwe. She proceeded to Stanford University for doctoral research on a Fulbright junior staff development scholarship. 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. Kameri-Mbote is described as a “woman of many firsts.” She is on record as 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 2019, she was recognized as the first woman in East and Central Africa to come up with a higher Doctorate of Doctor of Laws in her thesis which is yet to be published titled “Contending Norms in a Plural Legal System: The Limits of Formal Law.”
Her professional achievements during her tenure as the first female dean at the School of Law include breaking the record in terms of the number of doctoral degrees that were developed. This was followed by the recruitment of young academics at the school of law. She oversaw the revision of the school’s law curriculum to incorporate other subjects. Further, she oversaw the refurbishment and modernization of the facilities which led to the accreditation of the two satellite campuses in Kisumu and Mombasa.
As a professor of law, she has published extensively in the areas of gender, environment and natural resources, property (land and intellectual property), and science and technology. 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. She has and continues to give talks as a guest professor in universities around the world in the above areas. Harvard Law School International Women’s Day in 2019 recognized her as one of the honorees who is inspiring change globally.
The contributions made by Professor Kameri to law and the legal profession are in the field of legal academia by becoming the first female professor in law in Kenya and the first woman Dean at the School of Law, University of Nairobi. In the legal profession, Professor Kameri has conferred the rank of Senior Counsel in 2012 as per the Advocates Act under section 17 which states that “the President may grant a letter of conferment to any person of irreproachable professional conduct who has rendered exemplary service in the legal and public service in Kenya conferring upon him the rank and dignity of Senior Counsel.” She made a further contribution with her appointment as the first female dean at the University of Nairobi’s school of law.
Her experience in agitating for equal employment benefits for female staff to be at par with the male staff is phenomenal in opening doorways for women in academia and equality at the workplace. Her achievements in the profession rebut the predominant notion of viewing academia as a field for men only. Kameri-Mbote is also an active researcher with several publications and policy papers. Her research interests lie in the areas of Environmental Law, Gender, Law Science and Technology, International Law, and Property law which she terms as a “labor of love.” She published over fifteen books, written four theses, over twenty journal articles, and more than twenty book chapters challenging thinking in various areas of the law. Having chosen to immerse herself in academia, Kameri-Mbote has scaled the academic heights in law.
Kameri-Mbote was appointed as a member of the Committee of Eminent Persons by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Kenya in February 2006. The task of the Committee was to advise the government on the way forward for the stalled constitution review process. In 2015, she was honored with the “Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS)” pursuant to section 4 (b) of the National Honours Act No. 11 of 2013 which covers persons who have “made an exemplary contribution to the country or a county in the economic, social, scientific, academic, public administration, governance, sports, journalism, business, security or other fields.” She has mentored several students in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, the United Kingdom as well as the United States. She has imparted knowledge to many young, eager legal minds throughout her career as a lecturer at the University of Nairobi since 1994. In 2019, she applied for the position of Vice Chancellor for the University of Nairobi, she was interviewed and emerged as the third of nine candidates.
Her immense contribution, in collaboration with other women, to Kenya’s 2010 constitution- making process is notable. The constitutional review process ensured that the lived experiences of women in Kenya are captured in the supreme law of the land. In 2019, she was part of the discussion on possible constitutional changes through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). One mantra Kameri-Mbote lives by was made by Woodrow Wilson that “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enrich the world.” With this in mind, it is my considered view that Kameri-Mbote, as a pioneer in the field of academia has, and continues to enrich the world through her academic work.