Raila deputy race: Martha Karua’s past as human rights defender is a plus

Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua

Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Narc Kenya party leader Martha Karua has stood out as the female front runner for Azimio presidential flag bearer Raila Odinga’s running mate, owing to recent endorsements by various women caucuses.

Popularly referred to as the “iron lady”, Ms Karua’s entry into the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition party bandwagon on March 23, elevated her to the level where she now stands out as a possible option for deputy presidential candidate for Mr Odinga.

Born on September 22, 1957 in Gichugu, Kirinyaga County, Ms Karua’s candidature for Mr Odinga’s deputy which has been approved by her Narc Kenya party addresses the crucial gender card in the former Prime Minister’s fold.

With the leading presidential aspirants – Mr Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto focusing their attention on Mt Kenya for running mates, the gender equation only serves to Ms Karua’s advantage, probably putting her ahead of other hopefuls; Peter Kenneth, Kalonzo Musyoka and 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.

Personal interest

“We are convinced that we will be able to forge forward in the interest of the people of Kenya, putting always the interest of Kenya ahead of any other partisan or personal interest,” Ms Karua said on her resolve to work with the ODM leader.

A lawyer by profession, Ms Karua graduated from the University of Nairobi in 1980 before joining the Kenya School of Law where she graduated in 1981 after attaining the statutory postgraduate law course that is a prerequisite to admission to the Kenyan roll of advocates and licensing to practice law in Kenya.

Karua joins Azimio movement

She has 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 where she 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 the Minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs which she served until April 6, 2009 when she resigned from government.

She is celebrated for being behind the implementation of the Water Act 2002, which has since then accelerated the pace of water reforms and service provision in Kenya as well as the fight for democracy, second liberation and constitutional change.

Political risk analyst Mr Dismas Mokua argues that Ms Karua has wide experience on governance issues and would hit the ground running should she be 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 very instrumental and should she be deputy president, she will hit the ground running right from day one,” Mr Mokua says.

He says Ms Karua’s anti-corruption record also speaks for itself, adding that despite serving in various capacities in the past, she has not been tainted and would add value 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.

“However, her abrasive style of politics and fairly complicated public relationship skills is her undoing,” adds Mr Mokua.

The analyst argues that: “whereas 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.”

Political instability

“For Martha, she is likely to guarantee political instability in any formation she goes to. There is history to back this up, when President Moi was addressing a political rally, she walked out on him and also went ahead to resign from the Kibaki administration.

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

 “She is a 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 a fairly complicated people relationship skill.”

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 hold of 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. Karua is the best bet because her candidature also addresses the gender question since Kenya has never had a female in that position,” she told Nation.Africa.

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

“We hope if she clinches that position under Mr Odinga, she will help address the Kikuyu-Luo deficit by bridging the gap over past historical questions.” 

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

The party acknowledges her role in the delivery of the country’s 2010 constitution, terming 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.

“She is a proven champion for equality and non-discrimination; a believer in equality before the law and equality of opportunity,” Says Narc Kenya youth league Chairman Ngugi Ndegwa.

Rule of law

The party’s deputy youth league chair Diana Ngao says: “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.

“Hon Karua believes that the power of good institutions is ensuring service delivery to the people,” she adds.

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 Ms Susan Njenga argues that it’s only Ms Karua whose candidature as Mr Odinga’s running mate will “excite Mt Kenya region.”

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

With the campaigns taking the anti-corruption dimension, Ms Karua is the only formidable candidate to dismantle the perceived corrupt opponents, she adds.

Ms Karua starts on a vantage point, having been endorsed by the Azimio women caucus led by Narc Leader Charity Ngilu.

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

Prof Gitile Naituli of Multimedia University argues that should Mr Odinga settle on 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 being president,” he said.

Mr Odinga has already formed a seven-member advisory panel to help in search for the most suitable candidate to be his running mate.

The team consists of clerics and politicians drawn from some of the 26 Azimio member parties.

The team includes; Bishop Peter Njenga, Rtd Archbishop Zaccheus Okoth, Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua, Narc Kenya Secretary General Michael Orwa, former Cabinet Minister Dr Noah Wekesa, Organizing Secretary Of Council Of Imams And Preachers Of Kenya (CIPK) Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa and Beatrice Askul Moe from Turkana County.

Azimio Secretary General Junet Mohamed who unveiled the names last Wednesday said the panel shall reach its decision through consensus and shall elect its chairperson while the coalition party’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Elizabeth Meyo will serve as its secretary.

He said the panel was appointed by Mr Odinga in consultation with the council - the coalition party's top decision making organ, as per its resolutions made last on April 21 and will have to present the suitable name to him by May 10.

Mr Odinga has already hinted at plans to offer Ms Karua a bigger 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 talks that the Narc-Kenya leader was touted for a running mate slot.

Political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi also intimated 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, who is one of the strategists for Azimio 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 remain 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 interest of the nation above theirs.

“People who can fulfil 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,” she says.

When she joined Mr Odinga on March 23; the Narc Kenya leader 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.”