By joining Raila, Karua's resolve faces tough test

Azimio running mate Martha Karua acknowledges greetings at Kagumo, Kirinyaga County yesterday. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Azimio la Umoja Deputy President nominee Martha Karua is not someone who needs to be convinced about her own ability. The trajectory of her political career underscores the position Ms Karua now holds - at the cusp of rising higher than any woman has risen in Kenyan politics.

The Narc Kenya leader was the spokesperson of Mt Kenya Unity Forum, an alliance of Mt Kenya region that also included Moses Kuria and Mwangi Kiunjuri. Then she joined One Kenya Alliance and later Azimio.

During an interview at her home in February, Karua did not want to speak about her chances of becoming ODM leader Raila Odinga’s running mate.

Admittedly, that conversation or the interviews that she and other contenders had to face before she was picked were a few months in the future.

But if she entertained the thought that the Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga could be considering having her on his ticket, Karua did not betray that when she talked to us.

When I asked her whether she felt the buzz around her being Raila’s running mate, and what she thought about her chances, she said that the Azimo presidential candidate was the best person to answer that question.

From Raila, it became apparent at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi on Monday that the answer was in the affirmative.

As he unveiled Karua as his running mate, the Azimio presidential candidate said in front of a cheering crowd that Kenya could no longer 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. 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,” he said.

Few other women have been at the centre of Kenya’s political struggle as long as Karua has, or played a more central role than the 64-year-old advocate. It is easy to see the Narc Kenya leader’s attraction to firsts, to be the one to make the way. In 1992, she became the youngest woman to be elected an MP in Central Kenya. She served as MP for 20 years, which is still one of the longest streaks for a female legislator.

She ran for president in 2013 against Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila, who were the favourites by a long shot. She was then looking to become the first woman president.

A former magistrate, she was elected Gichugu MP in the first democratic election in 1992 after the repeal of Section 2A which had made the county a de jure one-party state.

She played a significant role in the fight to reintroduce multi-party politics in Kenya by defending those arrested during that time, including Raila.

“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 Karua, then a young lawyer, led a team of 27 lawyers to defend me in my illegal detention,” said the Azimio presidential candidate. 

Karua believes that the relationship between President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto has cost Kenya and that the two need to apologise to the country.

She said in February that the President and DP should have found a way to make their relationship work for the sake of the people that elected them.

“When you go as a pair to run for office, whether as a governor or the president, respect for the people demands that you serve the people diligently and if you find that your relationship is completely unworkable, do consider the option of resigning and another government takes over. But if you don’t want to go then you must find a minimum way you can work together to serve,” the former minister said.

Best chance

The Narc Kenya leader also said there was not one without the other. For instance, corruption in government could not be blamed on the president and the deputy president spared. It is a testament to her credentials that despite being an outspoken critic of Raila and Uhuru, she was still seen as offering the Azimio ticket the best chance.

During Narc Kenya National Delegates Conference earlier in the year, Karua asked President Kenyatta to follow the example set by former Presidents Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki and exit power at the end of his term.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are the president or prime minister. What the Constitution is saying is you cannot be head of government for more than 10 years,” she said.

Irrespective of age, she said, a leader must leave office after their term is over. “You could even be 40,” said Karua, “but when the time comes, leave office and do something else.”

That remark came at the back of claims that Uhuru was planning to stay in office after the end of his constitutionally mandated two terms.

Karua said during an interview on Monday night that differences in politics did not have to be permanent. She was referring to her relationship with Raila with whom she has differed before.

“In politics, you may differ on principle and then come to work together again and the greatest example now is the handshake between Raila and the president,” she said. But the Narc Kenya leader, who has made a name for herself by being uncompromising about her stand, could be tested in the course of her new found relationship with Raila.

She resigned from the Cabinet in 2009, then serving as Minister for Justice after she disagreed with the late President Kibaki. She admits that when working together sometimes you will disagree.

“It means you can sit down and narrow whatever differences that may arise. It also means that when you differ, you differ with respect,” MKarua said.

The Narc Kenya leader, in aligning with Azimio, has essentially joined the proponents of the changes to the Constitution through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and her role as Cabinet Secretary for Justice would mean that she spearheads it, and Raila said as much, a process she opposed.

She was at the centre of the Linda Katiba Campaign and appeared in court as one of the lawyers who successfully put an end to the BBI.

“We objected to the process and the court settled the issues. It means tomorrow anything that is done will follow the process the court entrenched. So anything done will be done under the law. And, yes I will be supportive of that,” she said about new reforms to the law.