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Why Karua walked out of Cabinet

BUSINESS
By | April 7th 2009
By | April 7th 2009
BUSINESS

By David Ochami and Karanja Njoroge

Shock, disbelief and panic set in in Government last night following Justice Minister Martha Karua’s dramatic resignation.

And The Standard can reveal hat Karua defied numerous pleas — including from President Kibaki’s

emissaries and her party members — to talk her out of the bold move.

Karua, a stalwart defender of President Kibaki and the Constitution during the 2007 flawed presidential

elections, shocked both friend and foe, rattling to the core the foundations of the Grand Coalition Government formed over a year ago.

Sources within Karua’s Narc-Kenya party hinted that more surprises could be on the way today — in

the name of more resignations from Assistant ministers allied to her.

"Today, I have tendered my resignation as Minister for Justice, Constitutional Affairs and National Cohesion because I feel my position as minister is untenable following recent decisions in the ministry," was Karua’s terse statement.

And she wasted no time to warn that as a Backbencher, she would be a forceful reformist and critic of what was wrong with Government.

She would also not relent on her presidential ambition, saying the political class had ignored the plight of the people and were busy pursuing selfish interests.

The shock news could not have come at a worse time for President Kibaki, who is attending a regional conference in Lusaka, Zambia.

Indeed, matters seemed to deteriorate fast when Prime Minister Raila Odinga — for the second day running — directly criticised President Kibaki’s handling of Government affairs.

Last evening, reliable sources intimated to The Standard that Karua had turned down a request to meet Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka.

Efforts to talk her out of her decision started with a consultative meeting among President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) top brass on Sunday afternoon where it was decided that Kalonzo and Health Minister Beth Mugo should meet Karua. Some, however, said Kalonzo may not be able to convince her and that there was need for the President to personally talk to her.

Mugo did manage to speak to the former minister, who however would not change her mind.

Contemplating quitting

Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua speculated that Karua might have taken the cue from Kibaki’s comment a fortnight ago urging those not content to serve in Government to quit or face the sack.

It would be interesting to watch Narc-Kenya Assistant Ministers Danson Mungatana, Asman Kamama, Njeru Githae and Katoo Ole Metito, who sources said were contemplating taking a similar action in solidarity with their party leader.

However, former Naivasha MP Jayne Kihara has indicated that Karua’s move was a personal decision and the party’s pullout from the governing coalition was not discussed.

Narc-Kenya top brass confirmed spending two hours at the party headquarters on Monday to plead with Karua to "sleep over her decision," but to no avail.

"It is true we tried to plead with her to hold on and sleep over the issue but she was adamant," Kihara, who is also Narc-Kenya’s Secretary for Gender Affairs, told The Standard.

"She asked us not to destroy her by insisting she continues to serve in a position where she has no say," Kihara said.

Thereafter, the party let her exercise her democratic right.

Shortly after 1pm, Karua walked out of her last meeting with ministry staff and curtly announced to waiting journalists that her patience with the lack of reform had run out.

And the choice of judges by President Kibaki appeared to run into fresh trouble on Monday, with the Law Society of Kenya indicating it was investigating one for past professional misconduct.

Karua’s break with the Kibaki regime came to a head after months of intrigue with the President’s inner circle.

She suggested that a clique in Government had systematically frustrated her work and subverted effective change for personal or group gain, and urged all "reform forces" to unite to bring urgent change in Kenya.

Karua — who played a major role in rebutting accusations against President Kibaki’s administration — quits at a time when President Kibaki faces growing opposition from the PM and his ODM party.

"We have reached a stage in our country where all the reform forces must unite to achieve change," Karua — who has supported Kibaki since joining politics in 1992 — said.

She would not divulge the contents of her resignation letter, which she has sent to President Kibaki.

Big loss

Raila hailed Karua’s decision to quit Government as her "democratic right" and concurred "her hands were tied." Speaking in Mombasa, Raila went ahead to claim that President Kibaki was making decisions without consulting ODM (See separate story on page 10).

PNU’s chief whip George Thuo said Karua’s departure was a big loss: "She will be missed and I hope she reconsiders her decision."

Speaking in Sondu, Nyanza, Agriculture minister William Ruto used a metaphor to imply Karua could be a victim of her own shenanigans.

"Ukichimbia ndugu yako kaburi, ujue wewe pia utaingia huko ndani (Be wary about preparing a grave for your brother for you could end up in it)," he said in an apparent reference to Karua’s support of the censure motion against him.

Last week Karua said she had been kept in the dark over the appointment of seven judges.

At the press conference, Karua explained: "Many people in my party wanted me to postpone my decision."

She pleaded for "patience and understanding from my constituents in Gichugu and Narc-Kenya."

Former Gatundu North MP Patrick Muiruri said Karua had "already made her mind to resign" when she met the party executive while close ally Mungatana said the party had decided to "let her make a free choice" after apparently failing to convince her to reconsider a decision she is believed to have been nursing for months.

Progressive forces

In explaining her actions, Karua said: "We have reached a stage in our country where all the reform forces must unite to achieve change… It is time Kenyans spoke with one voice to leverage change."

She alleged that anti-reform forces had tried to subvert her programme for change and reduced her to a spectator in the ministry.

"This is about feeling obstructed in my work," Karua declared and disclosed she would ally herself with progressive forces "in and out of Parliament" to fight for pro-people change.

"We are playing a game on the citizens," she said while warning against taking Kenyans for a ride.

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