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Uhuru's absence from Azimio campaign trail has reduced mudslinging

By Macharia Munene | May 22nd 2022 | 3 min read
Martha Karua on the campaign trail in Kiambu, May 2022. [George Njunge, Standard] 

Two significant things involving two leaders affect Kenya’s political wellbeing. First, President Uhuru Kenyatta, a co-founder of Jubilee and Azimio la Umoja, has retreated from direct involvement in Raila Odinga’s Azimio presidential campaign. Second, the Mountain zone appears to be under an Azimio political attack that is generating its own momentum. This is the Martha Karua explosion that seems fresh, bold, and dynamic.

Karua is the leader of NARC-Kenya Party that was founded in 2007 as President Mwai Kibaki’s potential ‘vehicle’ to the 2007 election because Charity Ngilu had virtually locked NARC in her political handbag. With the idea of NARC-Kenya as a Kibaki vehicle flopping, its initial rotating chair-ship eventually found a permanent occupant in Karua. There is uniqueness in Karua that defies common punditry.

She is a fierce competitor, even in losing courses, which stretch back to multi-party agitations in the late 1980s where her crusading comrades included Willy Mutunga, Raila Odinga and Wangari Maathai. She joined Kibaki’s Democratic Party, DP, and was critical in Patrick Kinyori led ‘Demo 2000’ that organised the 1997 presidential debates in which Kibaki defended his record and the 1965 Sessional Number 10 on African Socialism. She also distinguished herself as a strong defender of the Kibaki victory in the 2007 election.

Karua’s and Uhuru Kenyatta’s interests converged in the 2007 electoral fiasco, as defenders of the Mountain. While she stood out as the ‘only man’ in Kibaki’s government, Uhuru emerged as leader of the Mountain and landed at The Hague. The two confronted each other in the 2013 election in which Uhuru clinched the presidency with his ICC co-accused, William Ruto, as Deputy President. She rejected Uhuru’s and Raila’s BBI venture and seemed determined to provide an alternative to the Raila/Uhuru Azimio on one side and Ruto’s UDA campaigns. Along with her in the ‘alternative’ wings were Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi, Gideon Moi, and Moses Wetangula. They were all later enticed either into Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza and Raila/Uhuru Azimio.

The mode of enticement attracted attention and disorganised previous expectations. To attract the ‘alternatives’, both sides borrowed Uhuru’s practice of creating such constitutionally un-existing offices as ‘Prime Cabinet Secretary’ (PCS) Ruto, after dangling ‘PCS’ to ANC’s Musalia, felt ‘free’ to offer the deputy position to either Rigathi Gachagua or Kithure Kindiki; he chose Gachagua.

Martha Karua thrills in provocatively confronting Raila Odinga's critics in the Mountain. [File, Standard]

Thrill filled the Raila/Uhuru Azimio team which desperately tried to convince an equally desperate Kalonzo to accept ‘Chief Cabinet Secretary’ office. Kalonzo refused to watch Karua take the deputy slot because, when compared to Ruto, the prospects for Azimio winning are very high. In addition, the implied shortness of the Raila presidency had its own value. The drama was in settling for Karua, the ‘team player’, who looks better than the grumbling Kalonzo.     

With Ruto settling on Gachagua and Raila picking Karua, political mudslinging gained speed as each side looked for dirt to throw across the political fence. The respective departments of Dirty Tricks camps went into high gear to dig up allegations of brutality, crooked dealings, deceptions and acts of questionable morality. With no one being spared, prudence required that Uhuru rethink his visible position.  

Subsequently, three reasons explain Uhuru’s retreat from campaigns. First, continued effort to persuade Kalonzo made Uhuru and Azimio look desperate, and the question was why? Second, the retreat freed Raila to be his own man. It enabled Uhuru look presidential and reduce mudslinging. Third, he had faith in Karua’s ability to rough it out in tough settings. No longer tagging along Raila in safe places, Karua thrills in provocatively confronting Raila critics in the Mountain. She may not win many votes, but she inspires the youth and her being combative attracts the curious who love fighters. While it lasts, her novelty makes her growing crowds genuine. These factors account for the seeming Karua explosion.

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