Why Martha Karua is a game-changer

Martha Karua

Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua addresses wananchi at Karatina town in Nyeri County on May 20, 2022.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Regardless of what happens on August 9, the choice of Ms Martha Karua as the Azimio la Umoja second in command was very smart. When you compare the ostensible reasons why the Kenya Kwanza coalition settled on Mr Geoffrey Rigathi Gachagua for the same position – numbers – and the reasons that Azimio picked Ms Karua, it is clear that the latter was using a different set of parameters in which integrity was paramount. What remains to be seen is whether real-politik will triumph over common sense when voters go to the booth.

Neither of these two combatants is a political weakling; both have proved to be astute and ruthless operators and they should prove to be worthy adversaries. But that is as far as comparisons go. In other respects, they are as different as day and night, and I use that trite metaphor advisedly, for where one is transparent, the other’s past is cloaked in opacity. And whereas Ms Karua has been a public figure since 1992 when she was first elected as Gichugu MP, Mr Gachagua only came into the limelight when he started associating with Deputy President William Ruto publicly five years ago.

This, of course, means that Mr Gachagua is a relative newbie in high politics and Kenyans do not know much about him. However, he has rectified this lapse by taking to the microphone and playing with gusto the role of DP Ruto’s top loyalist. A little bit more problematic is that no one seems to know the source of his enormous wealth.

Fascinating pair

Ordinarily, this should not matter much for it is not a crime to be wealthy, but the fact that questions also linger over the source of his boss’s wealth means that this will be a fascinating pair of “hustlers” to watch in future.

 Ms Karua scores highly in government experience, having been minister for six years during President Mwai Kibaki’s administration. She is a woman of strong principles. For instance, as minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, she abruptly quit in 2009 when she felt some of her colleagues in government were undermining her work. She was also, allegedly, disillusioned by the fact that the government had lost the political will to fight corruption. This is highly unusual for the average Kenyan politician to whom integrity is an alien concept.

Let me confess that I do not know these two individuals personally and therefore have to rely on information that is in the public domain.

Cub reporter

 As a cub reporter, I did once, a long time ago, interview the then Ms Martha Njoka when she was a leading light in the struggle against Moi’s dictatorship. Unfortunately, though she and colleagues spent a lot of time in the trenches trying to dislodge him from power, President Moi was not to budge until he officially retired in 2002.

My second encounter with Ms Karua was when she was running for president in 2012. It was a very curt telephone conversation during which she authorised me to publish her article in the opinion pages of this paper. I obliged, though I can’t recall what she wrote.

As for Mr Gachagua, I have never met him though I did go to school with his elder brother, the late governor Nderitu Gachagua. The point I am making here is that I don’t know enough about the two to judge their suitability for high office. When it comes to entrenched political establishment, Mr Gachagua is a rank outsider. Whereas this is not necessarily a bad thing, it would have been nicer to know what the man really stands for before he ascends to this important office. Ceaseless vituperation on the campaign trail is not exactly statecraft.

Having said all that, it is quite in order to dissect what values these two politicians bring to the highly contested quest for the presidency. A great deal has been written on the effect their elevation will have on the looming election, most of it speculation, and it all revolves around their impact on the central Kenya vote. On that front, Mr Gachagua has the upper hand. As they say, Mt Kenya has become deeply “rutonated” and his elevation can only add to the numbers. But even he must now know that the numbers of the silent majority in Kiambu, Murang’a and Tharaka Nithi counties may go down for the same reason.

Also, because Kirinyaga voters must be delighted with the choice of Ms Karua, they may shift their allegiance from Kenya Kwanza to Azimio where their daughter will be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

At the moment, Ms Karua does not have the numbers, but she does have a weapon even more potent in her armoury--the gender card.

The old canard that women do not elect fellow women may be stood on its head this time for a simple reason: no woman has ever been nominated for such high office before, and this alone accords her great substance. The “opposition” strategists must have taken this into consideration, hence the vehemence with which the Kenya Kwanza crew greeted her new status.

Mr Ngwiri is a consultant editor;  [email protected]