Moment when Martha Karua was the only ‘man’ standing

Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua during an interview with The Standard in Nairobi. February 5, 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Previously nicknamed the ‘Iron Lady’ of Kenya, Narc-Kenya party leader Martha Karua is the latest sensation regarding choice of Raila Odinga’s running mate in the August election.

Three factors have been mentioned to be in her favour. Foremost is that of the names floated as likely running-mate for Baba, it is Martha who can sparkle the much-needed excitement to recede Deputy President William Ruto wave in critical Mount Kenya.

Many agree the combination of President Uhuru Kenyatta hitting the ground to campaign for Baba in the mountain and a Karua name on the ballot is just the antidote needed to extinguish Ruto’s candle in the region and the shortest route to consign him to the opposition benches in August.

The second compelling factor is that Karua will attract countrywide women's vote which stands at 52 per cent. In the last few days, I have watched Karua preside over celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Maendeleo Ya Wanawake movement in Machakos and Eldoret. The great enthusiasm that she appears in the presidential ballot was clearly evident.

The beauty of it is that, unlike Kalonzo Musyoka who is giving Azimio a headache because of a regional bloc vote he shares with three Ukambani governors, Karua will appeal to nationwide women vote bloc unlimited by ethnic considerations.

Complement Baba

The third factor is that if Azimio wins and Karua is the deputy president, she is one best placed to complement Baba and steely enough to confront those bent on hijacking and ring-fencing State power for their selfish ends.

Enough on Karua as running-mate to Baba and my best wishes to her: Today’s story is on the drama during the stand-off at the KICC presidential vote tallying centre after 2007 General Election. The countdown to the elections was poisoned. Political demagogues had made inflammatory statements that ranged from talk of ‘uprooting undesired weeds’ to ‘42 against 1’. There was tension and some communities had fled their homes fearing for their safety after the outcome of the election.

The leading candidates were President Mwai Kibaki of Party of the National Unity (PNU) and Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). As results began to trickle in, Raila opened a clear lead with over a million vote margin, then followed three longest and most tragic days — December 29 to 31 — in the country’s recent history.

On Saturday, December 29, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) released results indicating the gap between Raila and Kibaki had reduced from over a million to about 38,000 votes.

The sudden narrowing of the margins sparked violence in ODM strongholds amid cries of foul play. Two things worsened the already poisoned atmosphere. ECK’s delay in releasing official results and the rival camps feeding media with their own ‘results’. There was an unusual delay in the arrival and release of results mainly from PNU strongholds. ECK chair Samuel Kivuitu stirred the pot all the worse with statements that were meant to be jokes but ended up tragic.

At one point he said he couldn’t tell whether the delay in the arrival of results from some constituencies was due to genuine logistical hitches or because the results were getting ‘cooked’. He said if such results were detected, ECK would throw them away together with returning officers who brought them. At another time, he said ECK commissioners weren’t ‘robots’ and would reject results that appeared inflated.

Whereas the ECK chair meant to assure the public the commission was alert to accept and release only credible results, his statements fueled suspicion the election was getting rigged. The situation was made worse in that ODM and PNU had their own ‘tallying’ centres and were feeding the media with parallel results.

At 4am on December 29, the ODM squad led by William Ruto, Henry Kosgey and Joe Nyagah stormed KICC and demanded ECK immediately release final results of the presidency. ECK officials refused to be intimidated and insisted they wouldn’t release results they didn’t have. Rebuffed by ECK, another team from ODM led by Musalia Mudavadi announced what they claimed to be a final presidential tally. They declared the ODM candidate the winner, and demanded he immediately be sworn in.

On receiving news of Ruto and the company storming KICC and Mudavadi reading out his own results, Karua, then Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs hurriedly left her house for KICC where she urged ECK officials not to agree to be bullied by Ruto team and only release results received from returning officers. She also called a press conference to say only ECK was legally mandated to tally and release election results. She told the media and indeed all Kenyans to ignore results from any other quarter.

Denounce violence

Meanwhile, ODM supporters were out on the streets in Nairobi, Kisumu, parts of the Rift Valley and Mombasa to protest alleged rigging. About ten deaths were reported, vehicles torched and businesses looted. The police swung into action as violence got worse and ominous cloud hang low over the country. Once again Karua addressed the media and wondered why ODM supporters couldn’t respect the law and let ECK do its work. She castigated ODM leadership for not coming out to denounce violence and ask their supporters not to break the law.

Ruto and his team returned in the afternoon to find Karua waiting for them in a combative mood. There was a heated argument and harsh exchange of words as rival teams engaged ECK officials. Karua vowed she would not leave KICC and that she wouldn’t sit back to allow ODM team to bully ECK into doing their bidding. Each side accused the other of inflating figures. Ruto paraded a returning officer from Molo Constituency who claimed the presidential results he recorded in Molo had been altered at the KICC. The allegation was investigated by ECK and found to be a lie.

With accusations flying left, right and centre, the 22 ECK commissioners ruled they would sit through the night and if need be the following day to scrutinise and verify results from all the 188 constituencies. It was heading to midnight and the ECK chair announced there would be no further results released before the conclusion of the validation of all results received.

Media and representatives of rival groups were asked to leave KICC to give ECK time to carry out the verification exercise. Returning in the morning, we found Karua in the same clothes she was in the previous day. She kept vigil to ensure the rival group didn’t bully ECK. Indeed, she was the only ‘man’ standing on the PNU side!

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