Karua’s sudden return onto the national stage
Until the beginning of the year, Martha Karua was largely considered a peripheral figure in the State House power fight.
The Narc-Kenya leader was perceived as no longer fit for the rigorous national politics but county contests she had relegated herself to the last two electoral cycles.
After losing in Kirinyaga governor contest to Anne Waiguru in 2017, she focused more on challenging her rival’s victory in court, ending up unsuccessful and forgotten in the national power circles.
This year has, however, come with good tidings and presently, Karua is one of those being prodded to be the country’s next deputy president.
It is a remarkable change of fortunes for Karua, often considered the country’s iron lady, who is now being heavily promoted as a running mate for Azimio-One Kenya Alliance presidential candidate Raila Odinga.
Karua has been drifting away from power since 2009 when she resigned as Justice and Constitutional Affairs Cabinet Minister in the Grand Coalition Government, led by the late President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, citing inability to continue working in an administration that no longer valued her stay.
That decision punctured her stature among power brokers within Kibaki’s circles, who took her decision as ultimate betrayal even though she had stood firmly in support of the former President following his controversial re-election two years before. Coalition government had been crafted to end the deadly 2007 post-election violence.
She further dented her hopes of political recovery, when in 2013, she vied for president against Uhuru Kenyatta, who they had competed for attention in Kibaki’s administration but who enjoyed greater backing in the Central region.
She, however, emerged fifth and went into political hibernation only to emerge with a contest for Kirinyaga governorship in 2017. She lost to Waiguru but lodged an unsuccessful spirited fight in the courts in an attempt to overturn her victory.
After losing, she went underground and it was not until she emerged from oblivion to challenge the constitutional amendments via the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) in court in 2020 that she started to regain national attention once again.
Ironically, BBI was the brainchild of President Uhuru and Raila, who are now considering her for a senior role in the political equation they are crafting for August 9 elections.
That Karua, who is fond of donning free flowing kitenge dresses, is now sitting pretty in the Azimio powerhouse was demonstrated when she was picked as Azimio Council member.
She is also part of a delegation that has accompanied Raila for a one-week official visit. During the inaugural Azimio Council meeting last week, she got special attention from Uhuru who took time to exchange pleasantries with her.
Social media influencers associated with the State have also embarked on an overdrive to popularise her online, and suggestions are that some powerful forces in Government playing a role in President Uhuru’s succession are vouching for her.
Today, the former Justice minister, who had declared that she would make another stab in the Kirinyaga governor seat but doing little to boost the bid, appears to have bounced back to the national league with a bang and is among four figures being considered for Raila’s deputy.
Others are former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya and Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho.
The former Gichugu MP appears to have successfully edged out former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, who until recently was seen as the heir-apparent for the coveted seat.
Even Deputy President William Ruto’s camp tried to entice Karua by dangling the running mate post to boost their chances.
Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, who together with Karua were members of the defunct Mt Kenya Unity Forum, had asked Ruto or Raila, arguing she has integrity, stamina and a “sterling record as a crusader for both multi-partism and human rights.”
Observers argue mending fences with the President, her boldness and lack of appetite for power and continued agitation for gender parity and emerging dynamics in politics have thrust Karua to the top of those being considered as running mates.
History Prof Macharia Munene says: “While the final verdict depends on one’s compatibility with Raila, Karua is a very strong woman who stands up to her principles. There is an assumption that if given the post, she will not allow whoever it is to mess things up. People feel in Karua’s hands, they will be well protected.”
Unlike Karua, there are others like Kalonzo who are fighting to have the position, but it is “not written anywhere that he should be the one.”
Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu rattled Kalonzo when she launched the Pro-Karua debate.
“We are saying it is possible for the Azimio leadership to consider a woman to be the running mate of our presidential candidate......If you talk about those who have been ahead of us, then Martha Karua stands out,” Ngilu said.
However, Jubilee party deputy Secretary General Joshua Kutuny thinks, while Karua’s entry helps in boosting the image and perception of the coalition because of her experience and integrity, Azimio must be very careful not to injure the existing political arrangements between Raila and Kalonzo, which he says would be catastrophic.
“From where we are, the numbers that we are going to get from Mt Kenya are because of Uhuru’s influence and not anyone else. With the coming of Karua, which is a good thing, we need be the cautious not to antagonise the already existing arrangements because it would cause a huge backlash whereby Kalonzo’s supporters may decide to vote for Ruto as a result of disgruntlement,” Kutuny says, adding that Kalonzo’s numbers cannot be ignored.
Kalonzo, through his surrogates among them Kitui Central MP Dan Maanzo warned that in the event the former Vice President does not get the running mate post, they would rally Ukambani people not to vote for Raila.
Former Mukurei-ini MP Kabando Wa Kabando says political coalitions have been scrambling for her because of her steadfastness, consistency and bold personality based on her explicit reformist credentials.