Martha Karua: Seasoned Politician Who Defied Uhuru, Kibaki, and Moi

An undated image of the NARC party leader, Martha Karua.
An undated image of the NARC party leader, Martha Karua.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance flag bearer Raila Odinga is set to name his running mate before the May 16 deadline and among the leaders poised to be a front runner is Narc Kenya party Leader Martha Wangari Karua.

Karua joined Azimio on March 23, defecting from the One Kenya Kenya Alliance (OKA), backing Odinga's presidential bid for the first time in his five attempts, and in the process marking a hallmark of a new working relationship.

The Senior Counsel has established herself as a seasoned politician spanning three decades filled with pro-democracy credentials and speaking truth to power - even when it meant facing off with Presidents. takes a look at her career and her encounters with Kenya's last three presidents.

Senior Counsel Martha Karua in court

Entry into Politics

Karua officially joined politics in 1992, when she was elected asMember of Parliament for Gichugu constituency under the Democratic Party (DP) following the repeal of Section 2A of the constitution that saw Kenya become a multi-party state.

She had resigned from Ford Asili, poking holes at the party's nomination process. Alongside Charity Ngilu, Mary Wanjiru, Pheobe Asiyo, and Agnes Ndetei, she was among the first female MPs to be elected after the second liberation.  

Karua vs Moi

Karua's tiff with Moi began prior to politics, she practised law and came to the limelight after she strongly opposed a move by the late President Daniel Moi to dissolve the Law Society of Kenya.

"My entry in politics was as a young lawyer resisting the advances of Moi to adjourn LSK," she stated in an interview.

She poked the bear's eye when she provided legal counsel to detainees of the Moi regime who were pushing for multi-partyism. She represented Koigi Wa Mwere and former MP Mwirigi Kariuki who had been charged with treason
As an opposition MP, Karua also became one of the fiercest defenders of then Opposition leader Mwai Kibaki - the height of which was walking out of a presidential function where Kibaki was attacked without Karua getting a chance to respond.  

"The president, whenever he went to any function, he never recognised the opposition, which led to my walkout from his function in Kirinyaga. He denied me a chance to address the people and also to rebut the unpalatable things those people were saying about the opposition and Kibaki," Karua explained in an interview.

In 1998, she rejected an appointment to become the Shadow Minister for Culture and Social Services, citing a conflict of interest since she was the National Secretary of Constitutional affairs

Karua vs Kibaki

While Karua was loyal to Kibaki and the course to remove Moi from power, she defied her then party leader for the first time in 2001. She chose to stay in parliament, flouting a directive from the then DP leader to stage a mass walkout from parliament.

The Kibaki-led team was protesting the Constitution Review Bill. Karua stayed back, explaining that it would have been prudent for the lawmakers to officially oppose it in parliament such that it would be on record.

The lawyer was part of the team that formed Narc, which formed government in 2002, and was consequently appointed the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs. Her relationship with Kibaki, however, was on the rocks after the formation of the grand coalition government in 2008.

She walked out on a second sitting president on April 6, 2009, when she resigned from cabinet, citing constant interference from the office of the President, specifically in judicial reforms.

"I do not believe that as the executive, by raiding the judiciary, we would strengthen it. Reforms have to be systematic and have to all areas that are necessary because changing one personality for another will not be the ultimate solution," she stated.

In 2012, she clashed with Kibaki, accusing him and Raila of trying to expand their term in office. This was after the two differed over the date of the General Election. 

"Kibaki and Raila have been unable to uproot corruption from within their ranks. The voters of Kenya have to be good enough to send both home - one by law and the other by the ballot," She stated

Karua vs Uhuru

The lawyer and President Uhuru Kenyatta worked together for the first time in the 2007 General Election and later under the grand coalition government. However, the two were soon on opposite sides over the International Criminal Court (ICC) where Uhuru had been charged. 

When then-Chepalungu-MP Isaac Ruto tabled a motion to have Kenya withdraw from ICC, Karua opposed the move asking parliament to consider the plight of victims of the PEV skirmishes.

The two clashed again in 2013 when Karua and Kenyatta both declared interest in the seat. Despite calls to have all leaders from Mount Kenya back the latter, the Iron lady insisted on running solo and took her presidential bid to the ballot.

The rivalry between the two escalated when the former Gichugu MP joined hands with Odinga, then in NASA, in the push for coalition amendments dubbed Okoa Kenya. The lawyer then opposed the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) that Uhuru backed.

She ran a parallel Linda Katiba campaign and was among those who appeared at the Supreme Court for the final appellate case. The bill was declared unconstitutional, null and void by the top court.

On February 8, she asked Uhuru to end the public spat with Deputy President William Ruto, stating that it undermined the unity of the country.

“By bringing their wars to the public arena, they both disrespect us as voters and as leaders. They must look for a way to have minimum conditions for working together and if they find it unattainable then the government should resign and we get new leadership,” she remarked. 

An image of Karua and Uhuru
President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) shaking hands with NARC Kenya party leader Martha Karua at a past event.
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