Martha Karua: As DP, I will not seek to outshine the President

Raila Odinga and Martha Karua

Azimio Presidential Candidate Raila Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua. 

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua is on the cusp of history and could be one leg into the office of deputy president, the first woman to hold it, were Azimio la Umoja boss Raila Odinga to win the August 9 presidential elections.

Born on September 22, 1957 in Gichugu, Kirinyaga County, Ms Karua became a magistrate at 24, before becoming Kenya’s youngest woman to be elected MP at 35.

She stayed on as legislator for two decades, winning four consecutive elections.

She served as Cabinet minister for six of the 20 years as MP, serving in different portfolios.

Ms Karua, who ran for president in 2013, believes she and Mr Odinga are Kenya’s best bet at a third liberation.

In this exclusive interview, Ms Karua tells of why her choice will excite women in Kenya, why it will help the 15 per cent undecided make a choice, and her long-standing relationship with Mr Odinga.

Congratulations on your nomination as the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition presidential running mate. What does it mean for you?

I am really grateful and I am also confident that this is not just for me, it is for the women and all of Kenya. For the women of Kenya, it is a journey that started many years ago. The men of Kenya, our brothers, our sons, our partners and fathers too. I have seen the excitement in the many faces of all. This is for us all.

Women have been seeking inclusion and the 2010 Constitution promised inclusion. The decision by the Azimio captain Rt Hon Raila Odinga is a momentous decision for Kenya. Now we must deliver the vote and the Azimio promise to the people of Kenya.

It is one of the greatest decisions we have had since independence. We have been having men Presidents and vice-presidents since independence. In the past 10 years, the Jubilee (party) ticket had two men. Women have run for the presidency but we have not yet got it. As such, my nomination is a positive on our side and it has made the dream of women being in the presidency close to reality.

What does your nomination as Azimio's presidential running mate mean to women in Kenya?

What my nomination has done is to show that the possibility of women being at the decision-making table in matters of national politics is a real possibility. I do believe that the take-off today will be unassailable. People are seeing the progress of an inclusive ticket and a ticket that is a sure bet to realise their dreams.

What will you bring to the Azimio coalition?

My nomination as the running mate adds on to the responsibility I have to deliver. So that we can have an opportunity, led by the captain of Azimio la Umoja One Kenya, to deliver and myself playing a supporting role and the entire team to deliver the vote in this election. This is also together with many Kenyans who have come to show support.

Once we deliver the vote, the other thing will be to deliver the promise of the Constitution to the people. Today, people are languishing in poverty, a high cost of living; social justice is a living issue and especially social and economic rights.

These are the promises in Azimio’ 10 points. Healthcare, jobs for all, the fight against corruption, because, again, you realise that all the promises we are making cannot be achieved without sealing the leakages where our money, our resources gets lost. The promise of fighting corruption – I view that responsibility to provide the willpower, pushing to minimise corruption in this country, and sealing the loopholes so we can deliver the promise to our people.

Karua: The Raila-Martha ticket is not just lip service

What, from your experience in the government, do you feel will be needed most in the role that you have been nominated for?

I think it is the totality of all that. It is a sum total of the life I have lived, of the experiences that I have undergone, of the very many encounters, the learnings. I think, for this, I promise I will give it my all. 

What is your relationship with Mr Odinga, whom you have at times differed with on some issues?

Let me say this, for the captain of Azimio, Raila Amolo Odinga, and myself, our relationship is cordial. Having fought in the trenches for the second liberation, having been in the opposition together, continually fighting for the 2010 Constitution while in government and myself outside government and continuing fighting for social justice even when out of government. Continuing to fight to see a prosperous Kenya that is inclusive for everybody irrespective of social standing or where you come from. We share that.

We also share a passion for gender equality. I gave an example today, that after bringing change, we, the women who were in Parliament – and those days, we were not so many, we were just six – three of us brought in motions to actualise the Beijing platform for action… Hon Charity Ngilu, Senator Beth Mugo and I brought the equality bill, but there was one man, just one man, who brought in the motion seeking to establish gender cohesion. That was none other than Rt Hon Raila Amolo Odinga. There was no election when he did that, he was not seeking votes, this was out of his heart.

When he nominated me today, he took a further step towards gender equality, not just lip service. I feel elated, and this for me and for Kenyans, and here is a candidate. I am here for all of you. This is because the Azimio manifesto is for everyone. I also remember we went down different paths during the 2007 elections but he (Raila Odinga) came to the coalition government and he came as my boss as the Prime Minister.

Karua: Our rivals have no proven track record of sacrifice

We also worked together in opposition when Narc Kenya worked with Cord. He has also fought for the rights of Kenyans his entire life and for social justice. He has focused on talking about the economy and social rights for Kenyans. When we come in with these ideals, it was easy for me to pick my side and advance our mission.

There are times you did not see eye to eye, yet here you are set to work together, how do you see that working out?

In politics, you may differ in principle but still work together. The current great example is the handshake – who knew President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga would ever work together? This, however, does not mean that we will always agree a hundred per cent; it simply means that we will understand each other and forge ahead together.

Corruption is a serious menace that ails our country. What do you plan to do to fight it?

I strongly believe that the fight against corruption requires political will. When the leaders show Kenyans that they are serious about fighting corruption, Kenyans will rise up to support the leaders. An example was in 2002, when citizens were demanding that the police return bribes they have taken. Kenyans are eager to push back against corruption. I know, just as I believe it, that when the captain of Azimio says he will fight corruption, he will. He requires our support and as his principal assistant, I will support him. I believe this time round, the goal of realising economic and social justice will heavily rely on political will to fight corruption. 

Supporters of Azimio La Umoja- One Kenya presidential flag bearer Raila Odinga celebrate at Langas Estate in Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu County after he named Martha Karua as the running mate on May 16, 2022.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

We have seen in the last 10 years where the President and his deputy began well in the first term but then fell out in the second. What are your thoughts on that? Could there be a problem in the Constitution regarding the roles of the DP?

I think there is a reason why all over the world, the role of the DP is left fully to be supportive. You cannot create two centres of power. There is the principal and the principal assistant. The Deputy President is the principal assistant. There is nothing wrong in our Constitution that describes that. I rather think that there is something wrong with the behaviour. The role of the Constitution is to minimise conflict. I don't think there's a problem with the Constitution as I see it.

Mt Kenya politics is proving a very difficult task, how will you galvanise the region’s votes for Azimio?

This is an ongoing job. I hit the ground running when I joined Azimio. Mt Kenya is not where it was. Azimio is gaining ground. Watch this space. What the people need is conversation from both sides. Hostile acts against Baba, like what happened in Kirinyaga, shows that our competitors are afraid. The tides in the mountain are changing.

What would you tell the 15 per cent of Kenyans who are still undecided on which side to pick?

I am telling them that this is the ticket for them. Join us. Let us walk this walk together. Our competition cannot show any proven track record where they can show they have sacrificed anything for Kenyans, that they have stood for Kenyans and I always give an example. When Rt Hon Raila Odinga had an opportunity in government as the minister for roads, he proved himself. The roads were in a very bad state. He not only built infrastructure but also designed mega projects such as the bypasses that are being realised today.

Raila Odinga and Martha Karua

ODM leader Raila Odinga (left) and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua during a political rally.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

Not only in Kenya, today he is the AU High Representative for Infrastructure. When you hear him talking about infrastructure in Africa, he is like a walking dictionary. You look at the competition, I have been asking, can someone tell me what one single thing, even in their village, that one has done to show that they can place the needs of Kenyans above theirs?

I am asking Kenyans, let us not make a mistake. This is the moment, we cannot afford to make a mistake, let us push our nation forward! By believing in the dream of the Azimio manifesto, we will chase the dream of Kenyans and the promise in our Constitution.

The actions of people can guide us to know who people are. To those not yet convinced, this is the ticket. I have a feeling that we are going to win and the reaction of Kenyans to today's announcement makes me feel we will win. Let us go for the dependable, tried and tested.