PROFILE: Celebrating Jedidah Wakonyo Waruhiu, Kenya’s ICJ Jurist of the Year

PROFILE: Celebrating Jedidah Wakonyo Waruhiu, Kenya’s ICJ Jurist of the Year

By Patience Nyange

Jedidah Wakonyo Waruhiu was recently declared the 2020 Jurist of the Year.

The Jurist of the Year Award is held annually and seeks to give recognition, acknowledgement and encouragement to jurists who have consistently, fearlessly and impartially promoted the rule of law and human rights in Kenya during the year.

On receiving this year’s award, Commissioner Waruhiu said:  “As a young law student, I was taught to take the law to the Community by Kituo cha Sheria. I build on those baby steps to land at ICJ Kenya in 1995 promising disruption to the status quo and service to humanity. I have not wavered.”

She added: “I dedicate this award to all the unsung heroes and sheroes of the year 2020 who continue to risk their lives and families, to go out of their way and beyond the call of duty to protect these rights. Those in the health fraternity. The human rights defenders. Our spiritual leaders.”

Commissioner Waruhiu is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and has been a human rights defender for over 25 years with a particular focus on access to justice in respect to penal, security, refugee and paralegals.

She joined the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) in 2016. As part of my orientation at KNCHR, she took me through a crash course; Human Rights 101.

Nearly five years later, I still remember our conversation and one thing struck me: her humility and accommodative nature. We would later share many intimate moments during fieldwork.

She is a soft-spoken silent disruptor of the status quo whose amiable nature and patience inspires many young women. She is not the kind of person to take anyone for granted.

Any little assistance given to her is well appreciated. In an email she wrote to me a week ago, she said: “We have worked closely at KNCHR which was our meeting point in a cordial, sacrificial and supportive role. Patience, it is because of the support and technical comms advisory you gave to me including PR mentorship that my public service work with KNCHR was achievable and impactful to many marginalised people across the country. I am proud to know and continue working with you.”

I bet you know of many bosses who don’t acknowledge receipt of emails. Three days later you are left wondering: “Did my email get lost in the cloud?””

The deliberate art of appreciating people, everyone, regardless of how small their contribution is, is an art I learnt from her.

How do other people describe her? I sought answers. All these resonate too well with the advocate that I was privileged to work with.

They describe her as humble, insightful, committed, selfless, intelligent, hardworking, mentor, courageous, meticulous, patient and a good speaker. Others call her Mama Paralegal while the intersex community call her ‘Mama Yetu’.

For the first time, I heard people describe her as a spider, meaning one who builds tight webs around people she meets and interacts with!

I have an example to share: I recently cleared my studies from Cardiff University as a Chevening scholar. It was not until I landed at KNCHR in 2016, that I first heard of the Chevening program.

Mrs. Waruhiu is also a Chevening scholar who studied International Human Rights at the University of NottinghamFlag of United Kingdom from 2002 to 2003.

In one of those random conversations along the KNCHR corridors, Commissioner Jedidah introduced me to Chevening, and as they say, the rest is history.

Thank you for giving me a chance of a lifetime and guiding me through it all.

Patience Nyange is a Chevening Scholar with a Masters Degree in International Public Relations and Global Communication Management from Cardiff University. Prior to joining Cardiff University, Patience served as an Assistant Director at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).