Is Raila-Karua a plausible State House ticket?

Raila Odinga and Martha Karua

ODM leader Raila Odinga (left) and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua during a political rally.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Ms Karua was a fierce opponent of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) through the Linda Katiba group.
  • She's been a multiparty campaigner, MP, Cabinet minister, political party leader and presidential candidate. 

On November 30, the Daily Nation highlighted three Mt Kenya leaders who reportedly Raila Odinga has zeroed in as possible running mates. The trio are solid politicians with enviable track records: Murang'a politico Peter Kenneth, Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui and Kirinyaga gubernatorial aspirant Martha Karua. 

Of the three, Kenneth is deemed closest to Raila and has been part of his entourage for some time. Kinyanjui has also in recent months risen in the estimation of Raila circles regarding the running-mate stakes. 

However, it is Karua who presents the most interesting prospect. As a woman, her selection would bring a transformative ticket. Yet for me her choice is improbable. In fact, she herself has on several occasions pooh-poohed the likelihood.

For starters, a link-up with the two would be problematic because she was a fierce opponent of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) through the Linda Katiba group. For this same reason it is unlikely President Uhuru Kenyatta would be happy to embrace her.

On September 20, there was considerable buzz when Karua was picked by a group of fellow Mt Kenya politicians to lead unity talks in the region. Meeting in Naivasha under the name of Mt Kenya Unity Forum (MKUF), the group wanted to frame a common position to negotiate from with the different 2022 presidential aspirants. The media quickly seized on the event to headline Karua as the Mt Kenya "spokesperson". That was premature. 

The truth of the matter is, MKUF is just one of several initiatives being pursued from the Mountain with the objective of forging a united front ahead of next year's election. A week after the Naivasha meeting, another group called Mt Kenya Foundation (MKF), which is seen to enjoy State patronage, was hosting Raila at the Safari Park hotel in Nairobi. MKF brings together business moguls, top bureaucrats, elected and non-elected politicians and professionals from Mt Kenya. The MKF also later met with the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) principals at the same venue. 

Political longevity

In terms of political clout, MKUF can't hold a candle to MKF. That was evident from the guest lists at their respective functions. MKUF is an offshoot of earlier meetings held between Karua and two other politicians fronting small regional parties, Mwangi Kiunjuri and Moses Kuria. They were joined in Naivasha by a loose coalition of restless journeymen, like Nakuru's Koigi Wamwere and Kiambu's William Kabogo, looking for somewhere to perch. 

Another group that is pushing the Mt Kenya unity agenda is the Kikuyu Council of Elders. They were in Nyeri on November 26 where they crowned Raila their choice of President in 2022. 

Karua was a natural pick as MKUF spokesperson. She occupies a neutral space vis-à-vis Kieleweke and Tangatanga politics. She also has had more longevity and political experience than her fellow congregants in MKUF. She's been a multiparty campaigner, MP, Cabinet minister, political party leader and presidential candidate. 

At the outset, MKUF said it would scout for a presidential candidate who best fitted Mt Kenya's interests. How this search is going is anybody's guess. According to the Forum, resource allocation and representation commensurate with the region's population would get the highest consideration.

But this is where Karua's position becomes contradictory together with her early fellow travellers Kiunjuri and Kuria. They opposed BBI yet it was promising more resources and elective seats for the Mountain. 

I am not aware of any substantive engagement MKUF has had with Raila or DP William Ruto, the two presidential frontrunners. Recently they have opened a dialogue with OKA principals Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka, Moses Wetang'ula and Gideon Moi. I am yet to hear where this venture is headed to in the absence of any serious follow-up. Sometimes politicians will keep talking just for the sake of appearances.

Meanwhile, Karua has continued her association with National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana and super-technocrat Mukhisa Kituyi, who fancy themselves in the presidential race. 

Complicated relationship

Karua has a reputation for being difficult to work with. However, she replies that that is a misconception arising from the fact that she's a strong person who sticks to her principles. She resigned from Mwai Kibaki’s Cabinet in 2006 where she was Justice minister.

There's a line, though, where principle can look like obstinacy. Will she work with others? Is she too rigid? Will she read the political tea leaves better than she has in the past? If it comes to sacrificing her political party, Narc-Kenya, over any political unity push, nobody should expect any compromise from her whatsoever. However, she has granted that the party will not be fielding a presidential candidate next year. 

Karua's relationship with Raila spanning many years has been rather complicated. They were comrades during the multiparty campaign of the late 80s and early 90s. When Narc disintegrated they drifted apart. They have kept a careful distance from each other ever since.

However regarding Raila's competitor, she has never minced words. She famously said on a TV show some years back that given a choice between Raila and Ruto, she'd prefer Raila "any day". She was adamant Ruto, with his controversies, was not somebody she would want ever to work with. 

Karua's entry only muddies the waters. Already Uhuru and Raila are believed to be busy crafting their own succession plan using quasi-official groups like MKF. Will she team up with them? I highly doubt. I'm inclined to expect a clash. Karua's relationship with Uhuru since the coalition government has been – at best – uncomfortable. Reportedly she even turned down his promised offer of a Cabinet post after she lost the 2017 Kirinyaga gubernatorial election. 

If Raila's pick has to be from the Mountain, why not a truly transformational one: James Mwangi of Equity Bank? Anyway Mwangi, 59, was recently quoted saying he would serve out as CEO until 2032. 

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