Who Is Martha Karua Part I
Hon. Martha Wangari Karua (HMK), born 22 September 1957, is a Member of Parliament for Gichugu Constituency and an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. HMK rose to national prominence following the disputed elections of 2007 when she became one of the most hardline advisers to President Mwai Kibaki and was rewarded for her efforts with re-appointment as Minister of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs, a position she held until resigning from it in April 2009, blaming her departure on Kibaki’s other hardcore inner-cabinet that had sought and succeeded in rendering her a lion without claws.
HMK was born in Kirinyaga District, Central Province of Kenya; she is the second born in a family of eight siblings, four girls and four boys. She studied law at the University of Nairobi from 1977 to 1980 and between 1980 and 1981 she was enrolled at the Kenya School of Law for the statutory post graduate law course that is a prerequisite to admission to the Kenyan roll of advocates and licensing to practice law in Kenya. HMK embarked on her professional career in 1981 as a magistrate and was promoted 3 years later to resident magistrate in charge of Makadara Law Courts for about 1 year and later Kibera Law Courts where she served for another year before exiting judicial service in 1987 to start her own firm, Martha Karua & Co. Advocates which she operated until 2002.
HMK was part of the opposition political movements that successfully agitated for the reintroduction of multi-party democracy in Kenya in the early 1990s. She joined Kenneth Matiba’s Ford-Asili party but lost the party nomination ticket to the wealthy and influential former Head of Public Service Geoffrey Kareithi. She was then offered a ticket and support by the Democratic Party of Kenya (DP) elders who wanted a clean break from the Kareithi – Nahashon Njuno rivalry. Karua won the 1992 general election to become the MP for Gichugu constituency and the first woman lawyer to be popularly elected to Parliament. She was also appointed as the party’s legal affairs secretary between 1992 and 1997.
In 2001, when the Constitutional Review Bill was laid before the House, the entire Opposition with the exception of Karua walked out of Parliament. The Bill had been rejected by the Opposition as well as Civil Society but HMK in her first display of stubborn inflexibility based on her convictions, took the view that as elected representatives, instead of walking out, it would be more prudent to remain in Parliament and put the objections on record which she did.
HMK later enjoyed the coattails of the political coalition NARC that won the 2003 General Election in Kenya with Kibaki at the helm, having been put there by his friend and now co-leader of Kenya, Raila Amolo Odinga (RAO) with his “Kibaki Tosha” electrifying speech. The NARC coalition not only ended KANU’s nearly four decades of stranglehold on leadership in Kenya’s politics by trouncing Daniel Arap Moi’s handpicked successor, Uhuru Kenyatta, it also put all future presidents on notice that you cannot impose your wishes on the country just because you are president; the people actually matter in deciding their destiny thus the Uhuru Project in this respect was the first and last, poorly as it was conceived or otherwise.
That is the way it should be but I digress.
Following the disputed elections of 2007 in which many, including international observers believed Kibaki had lost handsomely, the country erupted in what nearly became a civil war. With pressure mounting from within and from outside, Kibaki was quickly forced to face reality and seek a resolution of the crisis short of his remaining president as though he had won outright.
To this end, Kibaki appointed HMK as one of his negotiators with the RAO team under the direction of Kofi Annan. During the negotiations, HMK displayed some of the most unyielding and hardline stances the country had seen to date and probably forever.
Fortunately, however, the people’s prayers, Kofi Annan’s skill and dogged determination and Raila’s willingness to bend over backwards more than Kibaki did for the sake of peace, the parties agreed on a compromise that became the National Coalition government we currently have in Kenya.
As noted above, HMK was rewarded by Kibaki for her efforts by being re-appointed to the Cabinet albeit this time somewhat legally as Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs Minister in the grand coalition Cabinet announced by Kibaki on April 13, 2008.
Meanwhile, HMK was endorsed as the national chairperson of the NARC-Kenya political party on November 15, 2008 the old-fashioned way, namely, with virtually no competitive election during the party’s national delegates’ convention at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi where all officials including HMK were simply endorsed to their respective offices. So much for democracy but I digress again.
Not liking the medicine from the cabinet she once filled with her own dozes to be served by His Excellency President Emilio Mwai Kibaki, especially during the crisis, HMK resigned as Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs on April 6, 2009, citing frustrations in discharging her duties.
Not much else is remembered about what HMK did at Justice but in February 2009, she had a memorable and heated argument with the then Minister of Agriculture and now suspended Higher Education Minister William Ruto at a cabinet meeting as the President sat quietly, watching the sparring ministers, according to a source at the meeting who said. “The President did not say or do anything. He just sat there quietly watching as the ministers took on each other. It was chaotic, hot and eruptive.” The two ministers had been sparring in public over a period of time, with HMK demanding Mr Ruto’s resignation over a maize scandal. Ruto did not resign then but he was ultimately suspended from the cabinet following a resumption of a fraud case against him which has since been dismissed Kenyan style but not to disappoint, the legal system has other things pending against Ruto putting his return to the Cabinet at best in the unknown category.
HMK’s combativeness not just with Ruto at that time but throughout her political career has earned her choice references, including the “Iron Lady,” the “only man” in the PNU Cabinet and others less favorable not fit to repeat here but love her or hate her, she is certainly a woman to reckon.
In her private life, HMK gained attention after she and a Catholic priest, Fr. Dominic Wamugunda, were carjacked and robbed on December 6, 2003. She said in Parliament that she was under no obligation to provide any explanation for why she was in Wamugunda’s car or what she was doing at the time of the carjacking. Responding to those wondering why her security guards were not with her at the time the crime occurred, classic HMK retorted that when she did not feel she needed the guards, she did not use them and that was pretty much the end of that story.
HMK has now declared she is running for the presidency in 2012.
Roaring in Uhuru Kenyatta’s backyard, and as if to make this point, HMK and her party candidates beat Uhuru’s chosen candidates in two by-elections held on September 20, 2010 in Juja and Makadara where HMK’s candiates, William Kabogo and Gideon Mbuvi Kioko aka “Mike Sonko” picked the parliamentary seats respectfully much to the embarrassment of Uhuru and his party which had obviously underestimated her.
In Part II, I will continue my examination of HMK and her quest for the Presidency