Martha Karua: Iron lady. Spirited rights defender. Deputy president?

Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua

Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Narc-Kenya party leader Martha Karua has often been referred to as the Iron Lady, and now she could be just a step away from becoming Kenya’s first woman Deputy President, after Azimio la Umoja boss Raila Odinga names her as his running mate.

She contested the presidency in 2013 after various stints as Cabinet minister, giving her national stature. Her entry into the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party bandwagon on March 23 made her stand out as a possible candidate for Deputy President.

Born on September 22, 1957 in Gichugu, Kirinyaga County, Ms Karua was nominated by her party as Mr Odinga’s deputy, a choice that would address the crucial gender factor in the former Prime Minister’s fold.

With the leading presidential aspirants, Mr Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto, focusing on Mt Kenya for their running mates, the gender equation only works to Ms Karua’s advantage, probably putting her ahead of other hopefuls, including former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, Murang’a Woman Representative Sabina Chege and Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.

“I have been in the trenches with the Azimio presidential flag-bearer, comrade Raila Amollo Odinga. We’ve been in the trenches together and come a long way in the struggle and fight for the second liberation, Constitution and when we have had disagreements we have laid them on the table, overcome them in the interest of the people of Kenya,” Ms Karua said about her resolve to work with the ODM leader. 

“We are convinced that we will be able to forge forward in the interest of the people of Kenya, always putting the interest of Kenya ahead of any other partisan or personal interest.”

A lawyer by profession, Ms Karua graduated from the University of Nairobi in 1980 and the Kenya School of Law in 1981.

She worked as a magistrate before leaving to start her law firm and was instrumental in the treason trial of former Subukia MP Koigi Wamwere.

At the risk of being blacklisted by the Kanu regime, she defended several human rights activists.
Ms Karua would later plunge into politics and was elected MP for Gichugu constituency in 1992 and became the Democratic Party's legal affairs secretary in 1993.

She served as minister for Water Resources Management and Development in the late President Mwai Kibaki’s administration between 2003 and 2008 before she was appointed minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs, where she served until April 6, 2009, when she resigned from the government.

She is celebrated for championing the Water Act 2002, which accelerated the pace of water reforms and improved related services. She is also known for the fight for democracy, the second liberation and constitutional change.

Political risk analyst Dismas Mokua argues that Ms Karua has wide experience in governance and would hit the ground running if she is elected Deputy President.

“She is very strong when it comes to issues of governance and procedures. Her experience in the public sector – serving as MP, minister and advocate of repute – are instrumental and should she [become] Deputy President, she will hit the ground running right from day one,” Mr Mokua said.

He says Ms Karua’s anti-corruption record also speaks for itself, adding that despite serving in various capacities in the past, she was not tainted and would add credibility to Mr Odinga’s candidacy.

“In Karua, Raila can be assured of a staunch defender who can articulate government issues well to the public and international community,” Mr Mokua added.

“However, her abrasive style of politics and fairly complicated public relations skills are her undoing.”

He argues that “whereas the Raila-Karua ticket might excite the public because no female has ever held such a position, a running mate must be able to offer both economic and political stability to the ticket”.

“For Martha, she is likely to guarantee political instability in any formation she goes into. There is history to back this. When President Moi was addressing a political rally, she walked out … and also went ahead to resign from the Kibaki administration,” Mr Mokua said.

“If she becomes Raila’s running mate, the probability of offering that political instability will still be high.

“She is the kind of person to storm out of a Cabinet meeting or a person who can even refuse to show up for the swearing-in. She has fairly complicated people relations skills.”

Bishop Jane Kirima, of the Kirima Tent of Prayer in Kiambu, argues that Ms Karua is the only formidable candidate who can fight for the interests of the Mt Kenya community if she gets the Deputy President position.

“The President has told the Mt Kenya community that it is only in Azimio that their interests, majorly business welfare, will be catered for, hence the need to have a strong person as Mr Odinga’s running mate who can articulate our interests well,” she said. 

“Karua is the best bet because her candidature also addresses the gender question since Kenya has never had a female in that position.” 

Ms Kirima noted that Ms Karua is celebrated for defending Kibaki’s administration and “we hope she will extend that to Mr Odinga’s government. Her experience in government also gives her an advantage over the rest”.

Ms Karua’s party, Narc-Kenya, which has backed her bid for Mr Odinga’s running mate, argues that her stature fits the bill.

The party acknowledges her role in delivering the country’s 2010 Constitution, calling her its committed defender.

“Our Martha is a mother of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, and a committed defender of the promises of this Constitution,” said Narc-Kenya youth league chairman Ngugi Ndegwa.

“She is a proven champion for equality and non-discrimination; a believer in equality before the law and equality of opportunity.”

Diana Ngao, the party’s youth league deputy chair said: “As a believer in the rule of law and a proven defender of the human rights of all persons regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, religion, race or other markers of identity, Hon Karua represents our most humane aspirations as young people that even in enforcement of the law, the dignity of all must be upheld,” she said.

“Hon Karua believes that the power of good institutions is ensuring service delivery to the people.”
Mr Ndegwa noted that with Ms Karua as Mr Odinga’s running mate, the presidential candidate will benefit from an “energetic, dependable, honest and trusted ally on and off the campaign trail”.

Political observer Susan Njenga argues that only Ms Karua’s candidacy as Mr Odinga’s running mate will “excite Mt Kenya region”.

“She is a fairly good mobiliser with proper oratory skills and a good grasp of issues who will be instrumental in Raila’s campaigns,” Ms Njenga said.

With corruption one of the major issues in the election campaigns, Ms Karua is the only formidable candidate to dismantle the perceived corrupt opponents, she added.

Ms Karua has been endorsed by the Azimio women caucus led by Narc leader Charity Ngilu.

Ms Karua has also bagged the support of some women in Tharaka Nithi County, some leaders in her Kirinyaga backyard and business leaders and women professionals in Nairobi.

Prof Gitile Naituli of Multimedia University argues that if Mr Odinga picks Ms Karua as his running mate, this might complicate Dr Ruto’s choice.

“If Raila were to pick his running mate from Mt Kenya, Martha fits the bill. This is the only formidable candidate from the region who might unsettle Ruto’s camp because the others don’t have the potential of becoming President,” he said.

Mr Odinga has hinted that he would offer Ms Karua a major role in the Azimio coalition.

“We want to march together and she is going to get a number to play in our team. When the match starts, you will see her right in the field,” Mr Odinga announced when he welcomed Ms Karua to his fold on March 23, sparking talk that the Narc-Kenya leader was being touted as a possible running mate.

Political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi also said that Ms Karua would be the best choice for Mr Odinga’s running mate.

“Why does the thought of Martha Karua as Baba's running mate make me calm as a Kikuyu?” Mr Ngunyi posted.

On April 19, Mr Ngunyi, one of the Azimio strategists, suggested that Ms Karua had been anointed as Mr Odinga’s running mate.

“The verdict is out. It is Martha Karua as Raila’s running mate. I said it in June 2021 and what I saw then has not changed. She is the one,” he posted on Twitter.

Ms Karua believes Mr Odinga and Azimio are the best bet for the country’s leadership.

“I have said time and again and Narc-Kenya believes in this – that as we move forward we must look for leaders who have a demonstrated track record of being selfless or putting the interests of the nation above theirs,” she said.

“People who can fulfill promises. Because it is easy to make promises during campaigns but we know that without integrity in leadership, without safeguarding public resources, all those promises will amount to nothing.”

When she joined Mr Odinga on March 23, Mr Karua quipped: “While acknowledging that no side has only saints, all sides have people who may have looted in the past, people who do not believe in the rule of law and all sides have good people.

“I have been looking keenly and I have been able without much struggle to identify a critical mass of good people within the Azimio coalition that’s all needed to steer the nation in the right direction.”

Previous vice-presidents, now called Deputy Presidents, were Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Joseph Murumbi, Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki, Josephat Karanja, George Saitoti, Musalia Mudavadi, Kijana Wamalwa, Moody Awori, Kalonzo Musyoka and Dr Ruto.

If Mr Odinga wins the presidency and Ms Karua becomes his deputy, she will be the first woman to hold that position.
 

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