Karua, ‘Lady Macbeth’ and inspirational greatness

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

Like a chequered iconoclast from a legendary war story, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga is a man known for huge rallies, political disguises of intention, wilful obfuscation to confuse opponents in the ensuing ambiguity, and rhetoric delivered in riddles (vitendawili)—often with a comical denouement but with the peculiar and extreme fluidity of fiction—passing a witty political message. He is known for his endless bags of tricks. And on May 16, 2022, he lived up to his billing when he unveiled Ms Martha Karua as his running mate.

Mr Odinga is usually a confident politician. However, arrayed against Deputy President William Ruto who seems to have a vice-like grip on Mt Kenya votes, Mr Odinga’s façade of nonchalance may have begun to crack.

 Dr Ruto, with his heedless, almost reckless daring and the soaring rhetoric of a combative communications czar, must be a formidable arch-rival. For several years now, Dr Ruto camped in Mt Kenya and he seemed to have locked the votes and walked away with the key. This feat has earned him great political mileage and it may have unsettled Mr Odinga.

He obviously believes that Dr Ruto is no bogeyman with exceptional powers and wants to bring him to a stop or at least chip away his votes in the Mt Kenya region. Mr Odinga hopes that the entry of Ms Karua will achieve this.

Mt Kenya region

As soon as Ms Karua was named Mr Odinga’s deputy, she stormed the Mt Kenya region like a thunderbolt of energy—crowds swelling, enthusiasm rising and striking a stunning note of inspiration. She is a tough, no-nonsense politico with a fiery stump speech catching sparks.

 She takes no prisoners. She is known as the “Iron Lady of Kenyan politics” but the literary equivalent (without the lethal ambition) is Lady Macbeth—the tough character appearing in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It would be unfair to claim Ms Karua mirrors Lady Macbeth in every way as Macbeth had many undesirable and deadly traits. However, there are a few good traits Ms Karua shares with Lady Macbeth (apart from the fact that they are both women of influence).

Macbeth takes initiative to accomplish her goals just like Ms Karua —a trailblazer who worked in the judiciary as a district magistrate and later rising to the rank of senior resident magistrate by the time she exited in 1987 to start her own law firm (Martha Karua & Co. Advocates). She was part of those who agitated for the reintroduction of multi-party democracy in Kenya in the early 1990s and she was among only a handful of women who were in the trenches for that tough fight.

Like Macbeth, she is a maverick. One legendary and defiant gesture for the books was when Ms Karua (then Gichugu Member of Parliament) walked out on then President Moi during a function at Kerugoya stadium after a disagreement.

Like Macbeth, she is bold. On May 19, while she was at a campaign stop in Tharaka-Nithi, after some youths heckled her, she dared her opponents to be brave enough to come out of the shadows for a face-to-face showdown instead of hiring youths to disrupt her rallies.

Presidential ticket

Whether the gamble to have Ms Karua in the presidential ticket will pay off for Mr Odinga is yet to be seen. However, probably even the most ardent detractors will concede after picking their jaws up off the floor, that it’s refreshing to have a woman of substance on a major presidential ticket (she obviously brings more than gender). It sends a great message especially to women and girls that anything is possible if one applies themselves to it.

Ms Karua was not born a lawyer, a lawmaker or a deputy presidential nominee but she became all that by applying herself to whatever she did with extraordinary energy and perseverance. In the Twelfth Night, Shakespeare wrote that, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”. So far, Ms Karua has already achieved greatness that is inspiring.

Whether one is Ms Karua, Lady Macbeth, Mr Odinga or Dr Ruto, it’s clear that to rise to the level of mastery in an area, one must be persistent to be great. Probably no one put this better than Robert Greene in his best-selling book, Mastery, when he writes that, “There are many paths to mastery, and if you are persistent you will certainly find one that suits you... To rise to the level of mastery requires many hours of dedicated focus and practice.”

We should remember that the politicians we admire are in their area of purpose and mastery, let us not, therefore, forget the areas we need to master to better our lives even as we cheer politicians on. Let us recall that elections are contests and, with contests, there are winners and losers. Let’s not take anything personal. We have a country to build. Elections will pass.