Martha Karua and the force of an idea whose time has come

Azimio la Umoja presidential running mate Martha Karua

Narc Kenya leader and Azimio la Umoja presidential running mate Martha Karua.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Martha Karua brings three crucial elements to the table as Azimio's Deputy President-designate. One, the gender card. For sure, she will energise the women who vote for Azimio nationally. Two, and in whatever way you look at it, she will bolster Raila Odinga’s vote basket in the Mt Kenya region. Third, and perhaps least appreciated, she will fortify reformist forces countrywide to rally behind Azimio.

The Raila-Karua ticket is potentially transformative. The battlelines are already drawn: Progressives versus Reactionaries. Reformers versus Wheeler-dealers. Patriots versus Cartels.

It’s like a repeat of Narc versus Kanu 20 years later. Sleaze has become a byword of service in government. Karua has none of that. She will fight it with indefatigable energy. Fearlessly. Raila's apportioning to her the Justice docket was indicative of that. And a warning to the wash-wash crooks.

The way she speaks in that schoolbook Kiswahili of hers can make an audience unfamiliar with her imagine she is soft. Perish the thought. She's tough as nails. The media does not call her "Iron Lady" for nothing. I am not sure where or how the moniker came to be. Either it was after she walked out of a President Daniel arap Moi rally in Kirinyaga in 2001 in protest during her Opposition days or it was because of her hardline defence of President Mwai Kibaki's government during the post-2007 election stalemate.

Inferior position

UDA like to spin a story of themselves as "self-made hustlers" who rise by beating the odds. Karua in her political career has beaten the greatest of odds – patriarchy. It's a phenomenon Karua has fought all her life. That fight against its structures is what makes her be. She will be accepted, or rejected, on account of that. She once, in the 90s, turned down a shadow cabinet appointment by Kibaki to the docket of Culture and Social Services because she felt it was pigeonholing her into an inferior position because of her gender.

Karua has driven Mt Kenya into a sobering reality check. Her candidature is changing the ordinary rules of politics as it is practised there. In 2013 and 2017, the region elected a name, a 'dynasty' if you will. This year they're voting an idea, embodied in a woman. An idea about possibilities and hope. About surmounting societal barriers. And shattering glass ceilings. Subliminally, what her region is craving for after surveying the current jokers who masquerade as Mt Kenya politicians is a real leader. Is she going to be the one?

I've heard people asking: why didn't she do well in 2013, when she ran for president, and 2017, when she went against Anne Waiguru for the Kirinyaga gubernatorial seat? Those asking that are missing the point. In both elections she was up against Uhuru Kenyatta's powerful Jubilee wave in Central Kenya. She was seen as a spoiler. If only the region knew better! Remember before then she was Gichugu MP for 20 years, a record for a woman in Central. Indeed, at the young age of 34, she was one of two women who became the first elected female MPs from Central in 1992. (The other was an Akorino mystic who disappeared after her first term).

Indisputably, Karua is a lioness of the venerated Second Liberation that unshackled Kenyans from Moi's tyranny. That's what initially drove Raila and her together. Their interactions have since undergone many phases, often stormy ones, but their shared affinity for social justice has remained. It is hard to pinpoint anybody with that pedigree in the rival Kenya Kwanza Alliance (KKA). If anything, its leading lights were active enablers of the Moi dictatorship. William Ruto, Rigathi Gachagua, Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetang’ula – the lot.

KKA scoff at the Raila-Karua ticket as one fixated on history, and bypassed by time. Wait a minute, Karua has replied: can the country be fixed without confronting corruption? True, corruption has been the bane of the Uhuruto regime from the very beginning. Amid the malfeasance, all we have seen is lots of chest-thumping and big talk, but no action. To imagine the one half of this Uhuruto pair that is campaigning to continue in office post-August will fight the vice is to suspend one's mental faculties. If anything, UDA is most noted for its deafening silence on corruption. The only time they talk about it is by way of whining that the anti-corruption war is being "politicised" using the Directorate of Criminal Investigation and the anti-corruption agency. You won't find any resolve to combat corruption from that group. None.

Rotten eggs

Karua is different. Nobody doubts her integrity and her will to fight corruption. She's headstrong. And she'll be unrelenting. She comes with no illusions, though. At the onset when she joined Azimio, she admitted both sides (with KKA) had rotten eggs. But on the preponderance of evidence she concluded the better angels were in Azimio.

The fact that she will readily resign if roadblocks are put in her way is a strength. She did it in 2009 under Kibaki. You tie her hands, she'll take a walk, her honour and principles intact, leaving you with egg on your face.

The comatose Jubilee badly needed an animating figure to rally around. They got one in Karua. They have rushed to own her, though her party technically is Narc-Kenya. KKA must be extra careful how they handle her on the campaign trail. Using foul or demeaning or sexist language on her will haemorrhage votes, particularly from women. Heckling doesn't intimidate her. Nor do insults. Truth is, she has a sharp tongue herself and has never tolerated bullies.

Karua will most definitely campaign for Raila fiercely and without any reservations, unlike what certain Jubilee weaklings are doing. That's just her style. The demonisation of Raila that is Tangatanga's calling card will be countered by Karua head-on, forcefully. Rest assured of that.


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