Azimio deputy flaunts loyalty, focus as assets
When the late President Mwai Kibaki constituted the first National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) Cabinet, he made two very transformative moves.
First, he downscaled the Cabinet slots from the previous government’s 28 to 21. Secondly, he included a record six women in his government – three Cabinet ministers and three assistants. Kibaki named Charity Ngilu the Minister for Health, Martha Karua (Water) and Jebii Kilimo (State in the Office of the Vice President).
Karua quickly became known as ‘Iron Lady’ due to her unflinching and unwavering defence of Kibaki’s administration, and when the going got really tough, she was referred to as “the only man in Kibaki’s Cabinet”.
A notable voice in the 90s agitation for political pluralism, Karua had been elected to Parliament in the 1992 General Election on a DP ticket.
She was also the party’s legal affairs secretary between 1992 and 1997. Later, she became part of the team that formed Narc, the coalition that would sweep Kanu out of power in 2002.
As Water minister, a position she held between 2003 and 2005, she is credited with the implementation of Water Act 2002.
Equally significant was her role in bringing Egypt to the negotiation table for talks on the waters of the River Nile, kick-starting the informal diplomatic process that eventually became the Nile Basin Initiative.
In 2005, she was named Minister for Justice, Constitutional Affairs and National Cohesion, replacing Kiraitu Murungi. In her new portfolio, she oversaw key legislations that put Kenya on the path to strengthening electoral and national reconciliation processes and a constitutional review.
It was during this time that the country implemented a clear framework and timeline that in the long run yielded the Constitution of Kenya 2010. In the peace talks that followed the 2007/08 post-election violence, Karua represented Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU).
Negotiations, which came to be known as the Serena Talks, created space for Karua to secure a place in history books.
In his memoir, My Life, My Purpose, former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa remembers Karua and Deputy President William Ruto as the strongest hardliners during the Kibaki-Raila peace negotiations.
According to Mkapa’s account, locking Karua and Ruto out of the mediation team helped to secure a power-sharing deal between Kibaki and Raila.
In the end, when the two sides reached a power-sharing agreement through a coalition government, Karua retained her Justice, Constitutional Affairs and National Cohesion portfolio.
In a move that took many by surprise, she resigned from her Cabinet position on April 6, 2009, citing frustrations in discharging her duties.
At the time of her resignation, President Kibaki was in Zambia attending a Heads of State and Government summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African countries.
About a month before this, Kibaki had read the riot act to members of his Cabinet thought to be rocking the ship from within.
In his stern message, the President asked any such minister to either quit or risk getting the sack. Raila, who had become Prime Minister in the Coalition Government, and Kibaki were reportedly reading from the same page on this matter – collective responsibility and unity of purpose were important in the implementation of the coalition government’s manifesto.
At the time, Karua had taken vocal and independent stances on a number of issues. She had, for example, criticised Chief Justice Evan Gicheru whom she accused of blocking reforms in the Judiciary.
A week prior to her resignation, five judges had been sworn in reportedly without her knowledge.
This did not sit well with Karua since legal matters were domiciled in the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional Affairs and National Cohesion. Come 2013, Karua made good her promise to run for the presidency on a Narc-Kenya ticket. She came sixth with 43,881 votes.
From the Kenya Year Book Editorial Board