Raila’s strategy in picking Martha Karua

Raila Odinga and Martha Karua

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

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Azimio presidential flagbearer Raila Odinga’s pick of Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua as his running mate signalled a strategy to make gender and reforms a campaign issue for their joint ticket.

The choice of Ms Karua was also a statement that Mr Odinga was determined to fight for a substantial piece of the vote-rich Mt Kenya bloc, a region that has shunned him in his last four presidential runs and which is perceived to be solidly behind his main challenger, Deputy President William Ruto.

With women constituting nearly half of registered voters, and with none ever having risen to the second highest office in the land since independence, Ms Karua’s choice is expected to rally this key voter constituency.

Crucially, Ms Karua, in her acceptance speech yesterday, praised Mr Odinga as the only male leader who presented a pro-women motion in Parliament to legislate a gender commission in the 1990s in the wake of the Beijing conference.

In addition, given their long history in the pro-democracy struggle, their supporters yesterday signalled Mr Odinga and Ms Karua’s joint ticket will be packaged as a reformist crusade against rivals Ruto and Mathira MP Rigathe Gachagua, whom they have sought to cast as the repressive Kanu regime apologists.

Mr Odinga recalled his persecution by President Moi’s Kanu regime, saying, Ms Karua, then a budding lawyer, was among the few who stepped up to defend him in courts.

After days of keeping everyone guessing on his preferred choice, Mr Odinga named Ms Karua as his designated deputy at the doorsteps of Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) in front of a large crowd of supporters and dignitaries including cabinet secretaries.

Were the Raila-Karua ticket to win the August 9 presidential elections, Ms Karua, who first ran for President in 2013, will be Kenya’s first female Deputy President.

“The woman we offer as the proposed Deputy President is also known to have incredible credentials in the fight for our second liberation. In 1990, for instance, I was arrested and placed in detention without trial. At that time very few lawyers were prepared to represent me. But this woman, then a young lawyer, led a team of 27 lawyers to defend my illegal detention,” Mr Odinga said.

He added: “When I moved a motion in Parliament to set up a select committee on constitutional reforms and was deserted by my colleagues in the opposition, only she and the late George Moseti Anyona stood by me.”

He described Ms Karua as a fighter, amid applause from the ecstatic crowd at KICC. Mr Odinga has styled the August poll as the battle between progressive forces and reactionaries.

Ms Karua recalled her past with Mr Odinga, noting that their coming together was simply a dream that had been deferred. She pointed out that 2002—when Mwai Kibaki roared to an overwhelming victory against the establishment candidate, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta—was a powerful moment for the country.

“Today, we find ourselves in an almost similar moment. Like you here today, across the country and in the diaspora would agree, the Azimio team presents another chance to respond to a higher calling, albeit in a different environment as that of the year 2002,” she said.

Political analysts see Mr Odinga’s choice of Ms Karua as his deputy as not only gender-driven, but also meant to charm the Mt Kenya vote bloc. “This is a formidable candidate who will unsettle Ruto’s camp and charm voters in that region. She has the capacity to campaign and rally the region to Raila’s fold,” Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi Media University said.

Mt Kenya region has 10 counties—Meru (780,858), Tharaka Nithi (234,618), Embu (337,627), Nyeri (492,046), Kirinyaga (378,580) and Murang’a (628,416).

Others are Kiambu (1,293,309), Laikipia (265,842), Nakuru (1,050,367) and Nyandarua (362,357), bringing together 5,824,020 votes while Nairobi with 2,505,199 registered voters also has a huge chunk of Mt Kenya votes, making the region crucial in this election. Mr Odinga said it was time for the country to bridge the gender gap in leadership.

“After 60 years of independence, we cannot excuse the male domination of the executive. For the first time in the history of our republic and on the seventh multi-party election, history is calling us to close the gender gap in our country. History is calling on us to reciprocate the struggles and fidelity of our women. History is calling on us to produce our first woman Deputy President,” Mr Odinga said.

The 2019 census results put the total population of those enumerated at 47,564,296 with women as the majority. Men account for 23.548 million of the population while women hit 24.014 million, a difference of 466,660.

In terms of the voting population, women are nearly 48 per cent.

Yesterday, Maendeleo Ya Wanawake patron and former Karachuonyo MP Phoebe Asiyo lauded Ms Karua’s nomination, terming it a “great historical moment for Kenya.”

Ms Karua became a magistrate at 24, before becoming Kenya’s youngest woman to be elected MP at 35, and stayed on as legislator for 20 years winning four consecutive elections.

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

“To achieve my aspirations as President, on behalf of the millions of our people, the Constitution requires me to have a helper. For Moses to lead the Israelites to Canaan, he needed Joshua. When Moses could not go to battle, Joshua covered up for him. When the arms of Moses got tired in combat, Joshua swiftly moved into action to cover the gaps. For Moses to accomplish his mission, he needed a true and faithful Joshua by his side,” Mr Odinga said.

‘I need a team player’

He went on: “And for me to be a successful flagbearer for Azimio la Umoja, I need an effective Joshua by my side. One who will not become a turncoat in the middle of battle or abandon post for other exploits. I need a team player with fidelity to ‘Project Kenya’.”

Ms Karua termed her nomination as a collective honour that cannot be left for her to savour all alone.

“It’s a personal journey but also a national journey. It’s a culmination of a journey walked with many. It’s a journey for and with the people of Kenya. For and with the women and men of Kenya. For the girls and the boys of this great republic. It’s a story of those who have had the courage to try, have failed sometimes, and have continued even against the odds. It’s a journey of diligence and persistence,” she said.

Ms Karua promised to help Mr Odinga slay what she termed as the “indignity of corruption.’

She also recalled her fight for the new Constitution with Mr Odinga, who also named her as his Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, a reintroduction of the ministry last held by Mutula Kilonzo, who died nine years ago.

“When we pushed for a new Constitution to cement equity and non-discrimination, integrity, transparency and accountability in public leadership and development of this Country, they said no. Where we’ve pushed for increased national stature through international diplomacy, they’ve created fissures with our closest allies. The Azimio ticket represents the best of the promise to Kenya and Kenyan, our commitment to shared national prosperity,” she added.

The event at KICC was attended by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, his Information and Communication Technology counterpart Joe Mucheru, Agriculture’s Peter Munya and former Water CS Sicily Kariuki.

Other guests were Azimio deputy presidential candidates Charity Ngilu, Sabina Chege, Peter Kenneth, Stephen Tarus, Hassan Joho, Wycliffe Oparanya and Mr Munya as well as the selection panel led by Dr Noah Wekesa.

Makueni Governor Prof Kivutha Kibwana also attended the event.

Kanu Chairman Gideon Moi, who had seconded Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka for consideration as Mr Odinga’s running mate, showed up for the event but left in a huff to attend the Wiper leader’s declaration to run for President in Karen, Nairobi, but Kanu Secretary General Nick Salat, who was present at KICC reiterated the party’s commitment to back Mr Odinga for the top seat.