I’ve written before that Azimio’s flagbearer – the ODM’s Raila Odinga – has an uncanny knack for going where others haven’t gone before. He is a man of many historic, even epochal, firsts. But his choice of Senior Counsel Martha Karua as his nominee for Deputy President may turn out to be his most significant yet. With the stroke of a pen, or the pronouncement of three names – Martha Wangari Karua – Mr Odinga has totally transformed the history of Kenya. That choice will reverberate for millennia in the annals of history. It’s not possible to overestimate the impact of Mr Odinga’s choice for running mate. If you don’t know why yet, allow me to peel your eyes, and arouse your noggin.
The choice of Ms Karua to deputise Mr Odinga is transformational by itself. But the kicker doesn’t reside there alone. It is the full weight and incalculable significance of the entire ticket which is nuclear – atomic. There has never been, in the storied political history of Kenya, and the whole region, such a beautifully explosive political couple.
Loftiest of praises
Since Mr Odinga’s announcement, leading political figures in the larger East African region have lauded his choice with the loftiest of praises. This alone is unprecedented and underscores the breakthrough nature of the choice. It’s inspirational. As if one, the peoples of Kenya and East Africa have exploded in delirium and celebrations not seen before. That’s because it’s truly magnificent.
Let me tell you why. Mr Odinga is the most important democrat in Kenya, and the region. No one else comes even close. No one. The man’s political and personal resume speak of a soul and a spirit that visits the earth only once in many generations. He is a man who has made history, again and again. He’s been relentless in his pursuit of democracy, human rights, and of good government. He’s done these things at great personal cost to himself and family, especially his stoic wife, Ida Odinga. Among Kenyan men, he stands the tallest as a feminist. His choice of Ms Karua has cemented his credentials as a true believer in gender equity and equality.
Women and girls all over Kenya today see themselves in Ms Karua. The office of President is no longer just a dream for them, but a distinct probability. Ms Karua completes the Azimio ticket in a way never seen before. In Kenya, and the region, Ms Karua is of the first rank among women politicians. I daresay she’s the region’s most progressive woman leader. Her history reads like a poem to the most elegant reformer and champion of social justice. She’s resolute, courageous, and unimpeachable in her ethics and integrity. If you are in a tough fight, you want her in the foxhole with you. She doesn’t know the words surrender, or retreat. She’s an implacable fighter.
The Odinga-Karua duo is the most formidable team assembled this side of the Sahara. I don’t think Kenyans have fully digested what the duo’s ticket means for the future of this country. I know folks are obsessed with how the ticket will uproot UDA and DP William Ruto from the Mount Kenya region. I take that as a forgone conclusion. Ms Karua and Mr Odinga have already crumbled Mr Ruto’s support among Gema. I predict that come August 9, Mr Odinga will carry the Mountain with percentages north of 60 per cent. Regionally, I believe now there’s no doubt Ms Karua will succeed Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta as Gema “queenpin”. She’s the new sheriff in the Mountain. She’s the return of Mumbi.
The Odinga-Karua ticket has gender, regional and national import. Kenya is a deeply patriarchal country. We haven’t as a people always loved girls and women. Facts and statistics bear me out in virtually every sector of society, including the home. It’s not guaranteed that a woman in the inner sanctum of the state, including the very top, always positively impacts the lot of the female gender.
Balancing the scales
Ms Karua will be different as DP. Her entire history has been dedicated to balancing the scales of gender to give women and girls a fair shake. At Fida, the League of Women Voters, as MP, and as minister, she was an ardent champion of the equal rights of women and men.
Finally, Mr Odinga’s choice of Ms Karua has discombobulated UDA and Mr Ruto, whose choice of Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua appears now to be the biggest and costliest miscalculation of the decade. The contrast of the Azimio and UDA tickets couldn’t be starker. UDA’s team is a scandal-ridden pair. Mr Gachagua has never stood for anything, except his own interests. He’s facing multiple criminal charges. Mr Ruto is no better. He’s never sacrificed once for Kenya. His criminal scandals are a matter of public record. He bears one conviction for land grabbing. It’s a contest of reformers against scoundrels. I know what Kenyans will do on August 9. I can’t wait!
Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s chair of KHRC. @makaumutua