Martha Karua.

Azimio’s second in command Martha Karua.

| File | Nation Media Group

Karua: Is Wetang'ula the Speaker of National Assembly or Speaker of Kenya Kwanza regime?

Azimio’s second in command MARTHA KARUA says President William Ruto’s regime remains illegitimate, and hell-bent on sending Kenyans down the poverty line through its draconian policies. She speaks to Nation.Africa on the Finance bill, Azimio’s choice of Maandamano to force dialogue and the oppositions future.


You're very active on Twitter, especially when it comes to issues of governance, international issues and more recently the Finance Bill. What drives that consistency for you, and do you tweet yourself or do you have someone else do it for you?

Twitter is my space. My other social forums, like Facebook, I have administrators. Very occasionally, like during the campaign, tweets would be posted for me, but it would be indicated. And as I say on my profile, I look at the world through a social justice lens. That's what drives my posts.

During the vote on the Finance Bill, Azimio La Umoja lost when it came to the number of votes. What do you think about how this process happened?

I am disappointed that we are going back to the days when the majority of parliamentarians become voting machines. When they do not vote as representatives of their people. For a Bill that the majority of Kenyans are against and Parliament knows it because the public participation was overwhelming with people saying they do not want the Bill. The issues that people raised were not addressed in the amendments and it's not about Azimio losing, it's about Kenyans losing an institution called Parliament.

As much as it was not about Azimio losing the vote, what was noticeable was that 90 MPs from Azimio La Umoja were missing during the vote. Was that not a disappointment for Kenyans?

It is a disappointment. MPs have to prioritise, whichever side of the divide they come from. If there is an important debate going on. I would expect an MP to turn down even a trip out of the country. In fact, I used to cut my trips short and come back, not just for Parliament but for meetings with my constituents. Legislating is the first duty of an MP. So being away during a crucial vote is something they will have to explain to their constituents. But there is a third vote and reading. Let's see how they redeem themselves.

But there is also the question of the Speaker. Is the Speaker the Speaker of the National Assembly or the Speaker of the Kenya Kwanza regime? Why would the Speaker, on such an important issue, announce that there will be a vote next week and then suddenly do a U-turn? Was it because there were no more people to speak, or was it a mechanical response to the call for a response? These are all issues that need to be considered. How is the National Assembly being run, is there fairness and transparency in the way it's being run?

How would you answer these questions?

I would say it is badly run. Undemocratically. Last week, we saw the Speaker throwing out Azimio MPs for a long period of time, knowing full well that the Finance Bill was coming. Even though what they were doing may have necessitated it, how about two days. Why do you give some people two days or two weeks when an important bill is coming? These are all ways of manipulating the debate. But whatever the circumstances, every elected member has a duty to be there and to represent the views of their constituents, because remember, this is not a vote where you can say my conscience, the views of the people have to matter because it is they who will bear the burden of taxation.

The way I have seen the executive of this Kenya Kwanza, we call it an illegitimate regime. The way we see them behaving and the statements we have heard, "Oh we are watching you... trying to bully parliament into submission and unfortunately parliament has submitted without responding to the people. Who elected you, the executive or the people? Who do you represent?

These proposals did not take into account the government's obligations to meet the basic needs of vulnerable Kenyans. We have not seen an increase in social protection and right now we know that even those who are getting the money later are those who registered 5 years ago. Anyone else who has reached the age of 70 is out. The way they are dealing with people with disabilities and other vulnerabilities is arbitrary with no criteria. This Finance Bill is showing us a contempt card.

You are very critical of the Finance Bill as you mentioned and you have said in the past that it is targeting the ordinary Mwananchi in favour of the more affluent in society, yet should it sail through it will affect those who are more salaried who are considered to be the more affluent in society. Do you see a contradiction in your sentiments?

Well I don't know what you mean when you say the salaried people, if you take the fuel duty from 8 percent to 16 percent is that for the salaried people? Some of the hard hits are the things that are going to drive up the cost of living. The person who has no income and is making a living without a formal job and sometimes getting a day job is the person who will be hit the hardest by the bill. The VAT was mainly for people earning above a certain level, now it has been reduced. Tell me, a kiosk person who sells chapatis and mandazis for more than Sh1,400 a day, what is his profit? It may not even be more than Sh300. A packet of unga, the rent of the place where they live, what will that do to a small businessman? What about the obligation to report? These informal businesses do not have people to keep the cash register. They [Kenya Kwanza] are trying to make everyone a tax defaulter, but good taxation should take into account the convenience of the person being taxed.

When you think that in the nine months of this Kenya Kwanza regime, they have brought NHIF to its knees. It may have had governance issues before, but within nine months, NHIF is dead. If there is any intention at all to expand access to healthcare as they had stated in their manifesto, then you would bail out NHIF, not for any other reason but because many Kenyans got access to healthcare through NHIF. Today, even government hospitals are not accepting NHIF. How many people will stay at home with their pain and die? How many children and old people will die as a result? This is a punitive and heartless piece of legislation.

Kenya's Kwanza government says the reason it is increasing taxes is to generate more money internally. By 2022, Kenya will have reached its borrowing limit. Now Azimio often highlights the problems, but what are the solutions? Was there any other way than to raise revenue internally?

First of all, the Kenyan Kwanza regime is a master of doublespeak. Remember that President William Ruto was a Deputy President and therefore in the presidency and he never missed a single cabinet meeting, we are told. So he was in on the borrowing. And even in the first regime when they were borrowing, he was on very good terms with his boss. These are debts that he and Uhuru Kenyatta took on. And in the nine months he has been in office, he has borrowed more than Uhuru did during his time at the helm. In my view, we are losing more money during William Ruto's regime. With Sh2.7 billion, which was enough for the whole of Uhuru's last year, what has he done with it to make more money available? What did he do to fight corruption? In fact, he has increased corruption. Firstly by appointing people without integrity who are suspects in cases of economic crimes and other serious cases in court and these cases were withdrawn by the DPP at his behest because why didn't the DPP withdraw during Uhuru's reign? If everything that went to court was wrong, why can't we start releasing the petty criminals? Look how he is increasing the number of permanent secretaries by doubling them and doubling the CASs.

William Ruto

President William Ruto and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua in a group photo with the newly sworn-in Chief Administrative Secretaries at State House, Nairobi on March 23, 2023. 

Photo credit: File | PCS

These are the problems, what are the solutions?

Cut unnecessary expenditure. Don't tell people to tighten their belts when you're overburdening them. Those are the people at the bottom of the radar, so you can afford a luxurious life for your cronies. So for us in Azimio, it is about redoing the budget, putting the money where it is most needed in education, health, critical services like water and agriculture, and devolving those funds to the counties. Like this housing fund, is this really the most urgent need at the moment? I think not. Not for a hungry people whose children do not go to school. We do not have a revenue problem, we have a problem of fiscal indiscipline. So bring back discipline and also fight corruption.

Azimio's defeat in Parliament during the vote on the Finance Bill exposed its numerical weaknesses. Will Azimio have any real influence in parliament in the future?

Let us first address your statement about Azimio's numerical weakness, when a regime illegally induces MPs to cross the floor without standing for election, the media should be at the forefront of pointing this out, not saying that Azimio has a weakness. To this day, Azimio has the majority in parliament. Even those who claim to have withdrawn have not gone through the legal process. If you go to the registrar of political parties, Azimio is still the majority party, but we have lost the institution of parliament. Azimio is saying we are watching and we are going to take action and we are not going to rely on parliament. I will not go beyond that at this stage, but watch this space.

As a former parliamentarian who has been involved in a number of monumental debates such as the Rome Statute, what's your view on the quality of debate we are seeing in the House at the moment, most recently with the Finance Bill?

The institution has deteriorated and the quality of debate is low. And this is a parliament with more powers than in our time. In our time we only saw the budget on Budget Day, but after 2010 it is the parliament that has the power of taxation and that the executive produces a budget that is responsive to the people. If you look at other parliaments like the US, you can see that Congress has a lot of power and can hold the executive to account. In Kenya, after 2010, the parliament has not exercised its power.

The last time Azimio held protests, the turnout was quite low in terms of numbers. Do you think the impact of the protests has fizzled out in terms of whether you think Kenyans will be willing to take to the streets again?

First of all, there were no low numbers, there were high numbers, I would have expected you to say that there was a lot of heavy-handedness with the police rioting in the streets with tear gas and a lot of brutal force, but everywhere we went we were met with a lot of crowds...

Azimio Demos

An opposition supporter chants slogans as he faces Kenya Police Officers during clashes at the informal settlement of Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya on March 27, 2023.

Photo credit: Luis Tato | AFP

So can you compare the turnout of the first and the last protests on the same scale?

Oh yes. The crowds at the pipeline area were huge. This regime, which is so afraid of the people who elected them, should allow people their right to demonstrate and picket, then they will see a sea of humanity, whether they interrupt or not. It is a matter of time. And the people of Kenya now better understand that sovereignty belongs to them. So watch this space. There is no regime that has ever defeated the will of the people.

Raila Odinga maandamano monday protests

Opposition leader Raila Odinga. 

Photo credit: Yayuyoshi Chiba | AFP

When the protests started, the cost of living was on the list of demands, along with the opening of the IEBC servers and other demands, but it seemed that when the IEBC issue was put on the agenda of the joint committee, the other issues took a back seat. Was the integrity of the protests really about the cost of living or was it a chance for Azimio to flex its opposition muscles?

The demands remained the same and the cost of living was not negotiable. It's subject to the actions of the Ruto regime, because what is there to discuss? They have shown the contempt card. With IEBC, the demand was to open the server first because any reforms without opening the server are cosmetic. We have had reforms after 2007, after 2013 and 2017, but they have never fully addressed the issue of electoral fraud. We say open the servers first. In all of these, we have been shown the contempt card and Azimio has withdrawn from the negotiations, so you should watch out for the next step.

What is the next step?

Stay calm. Azimio will make it known through their leadership.

What will be achieved by opening the servers?

The truth about the last election will be known. We still believe that we won, that the election was rigged. There are people who ask, but did you go to court? Yes, we did and the court gave its verdict, but we invite you to read our constitution. Article 35 empowers citizens, and we are citizens of this republic, to demand for documents held by authorities like the IEBC so that we can see for ourselves what those records are and find the leaks in the electoral boat. The Electoral Act Article 81(86) of the Constitution says among other things that the election must be transparent, accountable and verifiable. Without the records we cannot verify.

But as you just said, the highest court in the land has declared that Kenya Kwanza won the elections. So let us say the servers are opened and there is a leak in the electoral boat as you call it, what does that achieve?

May I ask if you have heard both in Kenya and in other jurisdictions that people who have been convicted of crimes, have served their sentences and new evidence is presented in court and such a person is set free? So you can talk about the Supreme Court, which is made up of human beings who make mistakes like everybody else, whether accidentally or knowingly. So new evidence has come to Azimio's attention through the whistleblower, which we would now like to verify through the records with IEBC.  2022 was not the last election, although the way the Ruto regime is going, they may want it to be the last because they are trying to amass numbers to mess with the constitution. And since his members are neighbours who have already tampered with their constitutions, we can see where they are heading. But we assure them that Kenyans will resist, it will not happen in Kenya.

Do you think that in a way the protests are holding Kenyans hostage in terms of moving forward?

William Ruto is the one who is holding this country hostage by failing to abide by the constitution and the law, this regime has failed to abide by the rule of law and constitutionalism. Right from the appointment, by not respecting and allowing people to exercise their legitimate right to demonstrate, and even the contempt with which they have treated public participation on the Finance Bill, clearly indicates that this is a dictatorship. There is no democracy, the republic as we know it is being dismantled and before you know it we could reach a point of what you call no return.

Do you recognise William Ruto as president?

No. This is an illegitimate regime.

President Dr William Ruto takes the oath of office at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani

President Dr William Ruto takes the oath of office at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani in Nairobi, on September 13, 2022. He has all the arsenal required to end corruption in the country. Additionally, he is brave, intelligent and energetic. He only needs to win the war on ‘the fight against the fight’ and be assured of victory in the anti-corruption effort.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

When it comes to the issue of association with Maina Njenga, do you see a problem with you representing him, especially because there have been issues in the past where he has been accused of being a Mungiki leader?

William Ruto was once accused of stealing money belonging to the Kenya Pipeline. A case that has never been resolved because he was acquitted when witnesses failed to appear in court because some of the people he appointed to positions and some left the country. He has also been indicted by the ICC for his crimes, a case that has also never been resolved. What is wrong with Maina Njenga then, he also contested the last elections just like William Ruto, he may not have contested for President but he contested for Senator under Jubilee which is part of Azimio. So we see the current trumped up charges against him as political persecution.

Why do you see it as political persecution?

Maina Njenga accompanied Azimio leader Raila Odinga to the funeral of the late Mukami Kimathi. That is where his problems started because he mobilised people to accompany our leader.

Former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga. 

Former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga. 

Photo credit: File | Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

But wasn't he part of the crackdown that your former co-leader actually led against the Mungiki sect in 2002?

Does it mean that if you commit an offence or are associated with an offence, you carry that label for life? And even then he was never convicted, they were just hounded. If this country accepts him as a candidate, then we will accept him as a candidate. From now on he is a leader. And if somebody wants to talk about his past, why don't we also talk about William Ruto and his deputy who was recently charged with defrauding several counties. It may have been an allegation because it wasn't proven, but when you withdraw a case before it goes to court, we are forever left with question marks. Look at his cabinet, some of whom also have serious court cases. So are these the people who can point the finger at Maina Njenga? Excuse us.

How are you after the chaos of the elections? Being on the campaign trail, waiting for the results and the aftermath after the elections?

I don't see it as chaos. That is the electoral process, but there was electoral fraud. If you look at me, you should be able to see that I am doing well. For me, leadership is not a matter of life and death. It was a service I offered to Kenyans and I offer that service in formal employment and outside of it. I am still offering leadership, so I am still occupying my space.

Do you think the courts in Kenya are free and fair?

Yes and no. I think we have very good judicial officers who burn the midnight oil and make excellent decisions. We also have judicial officers who, for their own reasons, forget that their power is given by Kenyans for Kenyans, yet they miscarry justice.

If the BBI Bill comes back and the whole process starts again, would you support it this time?

No. Not until certain things are corrected. And you remember when I accepted my position as Azimio's running mate, I pointed out to their call to lead in constitutional reforms that it has to be done in accordance with the law. So it depends on what is proposed, how it is proposed and the process. There were some things that were OK and could come back, but there are others that should not have been there and need to be discussed.  And even when my boss, Honourable Raila, appointed me, it was not because I was not against BBI, he knew that. But he respects diversity of opinion.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya presidential candidate Raila Odinga with his running mate Martha KaruaRaila Odinga

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya presidential candidate Raila Odinga with his running mate Martha Karua during their final rally at Kasarani stadium on August 6.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

What would you do differently if you could do it all over again in terms of the elections?

There are things we would adjust in terms of monitoring the vote, but in terms of campaigning, I would do exactly as I did. And I think we did very well. We changed the campaign to be issue based and I'm very proud of our participation, as a team, not just as individuals.

What are Azimio's plans for 2027?

2027 is based on finding out what went wrong in 2022. And I say this to Kenyans without batting an eyelid. If we don't deal with 2022, forget 2027.

What about your personal plans, the presidency perhaps?

My immediate short and medium term is to find out what went wrong in 2022. From there we will map out.

What is your final message to Kenyans?

Don't ever forget that sovereignty belongs to you and me and if we watch this Kenya Kwanza regime destroy our republic as we know it and reverse the gains of our constitution and run this state as a company as they have told us, then we have only ourselves to blame. Let all people of goodwill come together and let us address our sovereignty and address the problems we have in this country together.