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Different routes that led to Martha Karua, Rigathi Gachagua picks as running mates

Deputy running mates Rigathi Gachagua (Kenya Kwanza Alliance) and Martha Karua (Azimio la Umoja) shake hands after their debate on July 19, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Deputy President William Ruto let it go down to the wire before settling on Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua as his running mate.

Ruto, in a classic political fashion, had chided his competitors for the difficulty and processes they were going through to pick a running mate for their presidential candidate Raila Odinga. He said it would be an easy decision for him. In the end, it wasn't.

But Ruto was right to assume that the choice of running mate would not be something he would wrack his brain over.

In the course of his campaigns in Mt Kenya, he had already decided that the running mate would come from the region. He had also decided that he or she would be a member of his party, United Democratic Alliance.

Those preconditions narrowed down the list. The question now was who to pick. In the end, Ruto realised he had a mountain to climb, politically and figuratively.

The contest boiled down to two individuals, Rigathi and Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki.

A day-long meeting at the DP's official Karen residence failed to resolve a standoff between the two competitors.

Ruto left the decision to members of his party from Mt Kenya. The DP favoured Gachagua, but he was in the minority. Among his supporters in Parliament, Kindiki was the overwhelming favourite.

Part of the wariness was brought on by the corruption case that Gachagua faces in court. His detractors said he would taint the Kenya Kwanza ticket given that Ruto's rivals have also previously alleged the DP to be corrupt.

Prof Kithure Kindiki addresses the media after he was dropped as a running mate for UDA. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

Martha Karua's journey to being picked as Raila's ticket mate was more drawn out than Gachagua's.

While Rigathi might have considered himself a prospective candidate from the early days, Karua's chances only became apparent towards the end.

In Azimio la Umoja, there were months of speculation and fierce behind-the-scenes lobbying for the coveted position. Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, having been Raila's ticket mate in 2013 and 2017, was the apparent favourite.

Also under consideration, and regarded more highly than Karua, were Peter Kenneth and Peter Munya. The tide began shifting in Karua's favour when, like Kenya Kwanza, Azimio leaned strongly towards Mt Kenya.

Before Raila chose her as his running mate, Karua was working hard at a political comeback.

Karua, 64, is the first woman to be selected as a running mate and if their coalition wins, she will be the first female deputy president.

She ran for president in 2013 and for governor in 2017. Both of those races ended in defeat and her career was on a knife’s edge–between challenging for Kirinyaga governor or a position in the national government.

She burst through the veil of relative obscurity and emerged at the centre of the political stage, first as part of Mt Kenya Unity Forum and the One Kenya Alliance until she eventually clinched Raila's ticket.

Both of these formations broke apart under the pressure of competing interests. 

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

But the former Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister and veteran of Kenya’s pro-democracy movements of the 1990s reinvigorated Raila's ticket in his fifth presidential bid.

Opinion polls to assess chances of the presidential candidates show an uptick in Raila's rating from May when he selected Karua.

Her selection served to mobilise and energise key voting blocs in Mt Kenya and women.

Overnight, Karua has been politically transformed.

It is a new identity for Karua who earned her reputation and made it up the political ladder for being tough and unyielding.

The positions that Karua has taken before, on some critical issues, have gone against Raila.

Nevertheless, Karua is using that to her advantage. She said that their past relations, differences in ideology and beliefs mean that she can stand up and advise against what she feels will not work.

Karua has sought to assure Raila’s constituency that she can be relied upon and that her dedication to the Azimio cause is unquestionable.

It has become a refrain of her campaign that she works to complement, not to control and assert herself.

Karua has shown that she is honoured and very proud to be chosen as Raila’s running mate. Her task will be to be helpful and supportive to the president and to take on tasks he assigns her, which includes serving as the Justice Cabinet secretary.

The two, Karua especially, have been keen to shake off any suggestions that they would have a difficult time working together.

Looming large and ominous is the sour turn that Uhuru and his deputy William Ruto’s relationship took, but Karua has insisted that her relationship with Raila is not a co-presidency.