Why campaign against Karua borders on no-go zone
The holder of the position of the running mate has traditionally been perceived to be the attack dog for a campaign team.
The running mate does the heavy lifting in leading attacks against the opponent, to allow the head of the ticket to cultivate the image of a reconciler and a statesman.
It is the running mate’s job to say the most unsavoury things about the opponent that the candidate cannot say, or if the candidate were to say would otherwise soil his or her image. The opposing side has to find a way of taming the attacks.
In appointing Martha Karua to the running mate position, the Amizio La Umoja team has presented the Kenya Kwanza coalition with a nightmare scenario.
Karua is intelligent, articulate, a known quantity with hardly any skeletons in the closet and, on top of that, she is female.
Technically, there is little dirt to be thrown at her, but again, even if she had a good supply of dirt, the opponents would need to find somebody who can throw that dirt and make it stick, and such a person should not be a man.
Her opposite number on the Kenya Kwanza side is ill-placed to play that role – largely because he is a man, and it is not the decent thing for a man to attack a woman.
In terms of name recognition, the Kenya Kwanza running mate does not play in the same league as Karua. A one-term parliamentarian, his contribution to legislation is forgettable. Some may say that the contest is between the heads of the ticket, but the running mates matter.
A Kenya Kwanza attack against Karua, by a group of men in suits, will create a picture in the mind of the public of a mean group of people with no respect for the womenfolk.
A group of men who take pleasure in attacking a woman cannot be trusted with children either, and society in general. It does not matter; any attack would not come with victory. In a fight, a man would hardly go out to celebrate that he has floored a lady.
To make it worse, the band of sisters will rally among themselves lest any of them be seen as mean and spoiling for one of the club members. And they make up more than half the voting population. Women in the opposite camp will either keep quiet, stay out of the political fight, or simply pass an opportunity to attack or if need be defend a sister.
But the lady, if she chooses to, can lob multiple attacks against you with the public not only cheering but systematically believing the attacks. The lady will inflict so much damage, and do it with pleasure. Karua, long admired for her bravery can give as much as she gets.
Fluent in all the languages that matter she has been known to be defiant. As a lawyer she defended people the government wanted to persecute, she once walked out of the then feared President Daniel Arap Moi, and she did not spare the late President Mwai Kibaki either.
So, if her opponents are held back by public expectation and the fear of public backlash, the media, on the other hand, will be held back from critical analysis. A close look at her and the media too will face the accusation of being mean.
They will be reminded of how media is a male bastion and now going after the only woman that has dared hit the proverbial glass ceiling is part of the old order.
There will be accusations that the media does not scrutinise male candidates as much, whether that is true or false, and the media will be forced to beat a quick retreat.
This is a challenge that Donald Trump’s presidency had to deal with in the US with Kamala Harris and it will be interesting observing how our own situation will play out. How to campaign against a woman is always a tricky balance.
— The writer is the dean, School of Communication, Daystar University