Is Karua State House material?

Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua addressing the media at the party’s headquarters in Nairobi on August 10.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • In the Legislature, of 350 MPs, only 23 were competitively elected in an all-gender contest.
  • I admire the Iron Lady in spite of the criticisms that have been levelled against her
  • Ms Karua also comes from the cultural bedrock of Kenya’s patriarchy

There isn’t a more existential contest in Kenya than the quest for the presidency. That’s why with two years to go in the tenure of Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta, presidential candidates are literally being birthed every day. Many feel called, but only a tiny number are chosen as real contenders. But, as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play.

In the field of play, however, there’s a dearth of credible candidates of the female gender. Former minister Martha Karua, colloquially better known as the Iron Lady, is one of the few women with the chops to contest for the highest office in the land. Is Ms. Karua, the leader of NARC-Kenya, serious presidential material? Can she hack it?

Kenya is a cruel country for women. Although there are more females than males, the former chafe under the hetero-patriarchy of the latter. Look at the numbers. Out of 47 governors, only two are women. In the Legislature, of 350 MPs, only 23 were competitively elected in an all-gender contest. Forty-seven seats were designated for women representatives.

Without the 47, the National Assembly would be bursting with testosterone. Even so, the numbers fall woefully short of the constitutionally mandatory two-thirds gender rule. As currently constituted, the National Assembly is an unconstitutional illegality, and should’ve been dissolved like yesterday. This is Kenya where constitutional predicates are mere suggestions. The upper echelons of the corporate and public sectors are even worse.

Political barriers

The pathetic numbers of women in power suggest gargantuan cultural, social, and political barriers for women. Admittedly, Kenya isn’t an outlier among the community of nations. But there are many states – including in Africa – that have done far much better.

At least three have produced female presidents. Lesson – women can rise to the top without the end of civilisation as we know it. This isn’t rocket science. It’s a matter of deliberately dismantling misogyny and rule by mostly incompetent and corrupt men.

Which begs the question – even if Ms Karua runs, does she have a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected to State House? Alternatively, would her candidacy end in a quixotic futility? Is she doomed ab initio?

Let me confess. I admire the Iron Lady in spite of the criticisms that have been levelled against her. Some of the attacks on her are purely sexist and contemptible. For instance, I puke every time I hear knuckleheaded commenters say she should smile more. Others say she’s steel tough, like a castrator of men.

These anti-women epithets and slurs would never be levelled against a male politician, even those who’ve done worse, including murder. This tells you there’s one standard for men, as in boys will be boys, and another for women. Where a man gets away with murder, rape, and pillage – and is re-elected to high office – a woman is banished to the hills forever.

I know Ms Karua has been criticised for what many see as her role in the defending the stolen 2007 election in which PNU’s Mwai Kibaki took it from ODM’s Raila Odinga. The country turned into dystopian killing fields and almost collapsed. Her critics charge that had she not defended Mr Kibaki’s electoral heist so fiercely, the country may have been spared the ensuing near-genocidal violence.

There’s some merit in this argument. But her critics forget that it’s Mr Kibaki – not Ms Karua – who was the real culprit. They seem to have forgiven Mr Kibaki while calling for her head. It’s a double standard because she’s a woman.

However, the balance of Ms Karua’s public life has been positive. She’s been a progressive and a formidable feminist in a very tough male-dominated society. I salute her. Ms Karua also comes from the cultural bedrock of Kenya’s patriarchy. The Kikuyu are deeply patriarchal and misogynistic.

Remember how Prof Wangari Maathai, the environmentalist global icon, was denigrated and mistreated not only by the Moi-Kanu kleptocracy, but also by her people in Nyeri. Some called for her circumcision.

Nobel Peace Prize

She won the Nobel Peace Prize and yet President Kibaki refused to elevate her above an assistant minister. Ms Karua confronts these same prejudices. For example, Mr Kibaki should’ve named her, not Mr Kenyatta, deputy premier. In a fight, you want her in the foxhole with you.

In politics, there are only two other women as tough as Ms Karua. Those are Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu and Kirinyaga’s Anne Waiguru. Men don’t want to go mano-a-mano with these lionesses. If you do, you may come out battered, without an eye, or squinting.

 Like the female ostrich, they may pluck your eyes out. Women leaders need this toughness to survive and succeed in Kenya’s misogynistic political terrain. I applaud them. They are role models for younger women and have the toughness required make it in Kenyan politics. That’s why Ms Karua shouldn’t agree to deputise a corrupt man as a running mate. Run, Martha, run!