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Martha Karua: Will she maintain the same loyalty to Raila as she did for Kibaki?

Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua [David Njaaga,Standard]

In Martha Karua, Raila Odinga has someone who can defend him to the bitter end.

This statement, however, assumes quite a bit. For starters, it assumes that Ms Karua will transfer the loyalty she had for former President Kibaki to Mr Odinga. The statement also supposes that the Narc Kenya leader will offer her commitment – with which she defended Mr Kibaki against allegations of rigging the 2007 election, and through which she would earn the monikers “the only man” in Kibaki’s Cabinet.

Ms Karua is hardly the politician she was 15 years ago. In between fighting for Mr Kibaki’s controversial victory in December 2007 and endorsing Mr Odinga’s presidential bid, Ms Karua has served as President Kibaki’s Constitutional Affairs minister and resigned, vied to be president (2013), sought the Kirinyaga governorship (2017) and has been part of a team of activists who sank the push to amend the Constitution through the Building Bridges Initiative process.

She finds herself as one of those being fronted to be Mr Odinga’s running mate in the August 9 General Election.

Ms Karua is in the Azimio Umoja One Kenya Coalition delegation to the US on Friday.

Leading the push to make Ms Karua Kenya’s first female deputy president are women leaders within the coalition. Their argument is that Ms Karua has enough experience to be president, let alone the DP.

The bulk of this experience emanates from her two-decade tenure as the Member of Parliament for Gichugu and her experience on the national stage. Politically bred in the opposition of the late 1990s, the 64-year-old lawyer was first elected through Mr Kibaki’s Democratic Party in 1992.

She transitioned from the legal profession where she had served as a magistrate and a lawyer (Her clients included political and human rights activists such as Koigi wa Wamwere).

Ms Karua would leave Parliament’s backbenches a decade later when Narc won the election, in 2002 when she was appointed President Kibaki’s first Minister for Water and Irrigation. Following a reshuffle in the wake of the flopped 2005 constitutional amendment push, Ms Karua was moved to the Justice and Constitutional Affairs docket, a position she held until 2009, resigning over alleged frustrations in discharging her mandate. Ms Karua’s move was a first in a country where Cabinet ministers “would rather die than resign”, even when facing queries over their integrity.

Her re-appointment to the ministry was a no-brainer, given her role in securing Mr Kibaki’s second term in 2007. In the heat of the disputed presidential contest, the Narc Kenya leader expressed her loyalty to Mr Kibaki at the national tallying centre in the Kenyatta International Convention Centre and a boardroom at the Serena Hotel.

In the former instance, Ms Karua would rubbish claims by ODM MPs – perhaps the only Kibaki-allied MP who stood up to Mr Odinga’s allies.

“If the party wants us to re-tally (the election results), let there be a re-tally(ing) of all the 210 constituencies. Mr Chairman, when you were announcing… where ODM had won, you did not hear anyone complaining; where President Kibaki is winning, people are heckling,” she said then.

Later, when she was part of former President Kibaki’s negotiators in the Koffi Annan-led post-election violence ceasefire talks, Ms Karua would earn the reputation of a tough negotiator among her peers.

“She (Karua) is a tough negotiator; she doesn’t blink,” Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, who led ODM’s side in the talks, described her in October last year.

This nature would, arguably, make Ms Karua a great fit to deputise Mr Odinga. Knowing that he has someone to count on would do the former prime minister good in the event that he succeeds President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Her nature, however, could also be the bane of her ambitions. She speaks her mind and is not a self-effacing leader as some presidential candidates would prefer a malleable deputy.

It has a lot to do with the relationship between President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto. For the better part of the Jubilee administration’s second term, Dr Ruto has openly defied and challenged his boss, which is uncharacteristic of the holder of an office designed to be the president’s principal assistant whose core mandate is to simply deputise the Head of State.

That Ms Karua comes from the Mt Kenya region, touted as the most suitable region to scout for a running mate, almost makes her ideal to be Mr Odinga’s deputy. This is chiefly because it offers the ODM leader potential access into a region that perennially votes against him.

If Mr Odinga chooses Ms Karua as her running mate, theirs would be an unlikely alliance, given that since 2007, they have been on opposing sides. But choosing the Narc Kenya leader ahead of Kalonzo Musyoka, who insists on his candidacy, may, however, be catastrophic for Mr Odinga’s bid.

It is not certain how the Wiper leader will react to being slighted, but given his insistence on being Mr Odinga’s running mate, the idea of Mr Musyoka leaving Azimio may not be far-fetched. His prior reluctance to support Mr Odinga could be an indication of the same.