Kenyan Frontrunner in Upcoming Poll Taps Woman Justice as Running Mate

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | NAIROBI (IDN) — The former prime minister and a frontrunner in the August 9 presidential election, Raila Odinga, has tapped Martha Wangari Karua, a former justice and constitutional affairs minister, as his running mate—making her the first woman in Kenya to run on a major political party’s presidential ticket.

It is believed she can pull in a decisive number of votes among her Kikuyu people, the country’s largest ethnic group.

In her acceptance speech, Karua called her selection “a moment for the women of Kenya”, and a change that generations of women have fought for.

As a founder of organizations such as the League of Kenyan Women Voters and the Federation of Women Lawyers, Karua actively lobbied for the increased representation of women in political positions.

A lawyer by training and a social justice advocate with over 30 years rooted in law, she was a critic of the autocratic Daniel Arap Moi regime when he sought to make Kenya a one party state.

Karua entered mainstream politics in the early 1990s, becoming a member of parliament. If elected, she said her priority would be to stamp out corruption, which is estimated to cost the government a third of its budget every year, about 800 billion shillings ($6.83 billion).

The funds lost each year would be enough to fund her coalition’s plan to offer direct monthly support to two million of Kenya’s poorest people.

Kenyans call her “Iron Lady”—a moniker she rejects as a sexist trope directed at tough women leaders.

“Strong leadership in women is seen as an exception and not the norm because I haven’t heard of an ‘iron man’,” the 64-year-old former justice minister told Reuters in an interview.

Currently, four candidates—whittled down from 55—are angling to succeed incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta who is constitutionally barred from continuing in office after serving two five-year terms.

The two main challengers are opposition leader Raila Odinga, 77, for whom Kenyatta has publicly declared his support, and William Ruto, 55, the president’s deputy.

A former political prisoner, Odinga’s centre-left campaign agenda is focused on tackling corruption and fixing the loopholes which he says are denying Kenyans basic services. He has also promised national reconciliation to unite the country, judiciary reforms and social welfare for poor households.

In Odinga’s last three campaigns for office in 2007, 2013, and 2017, he challenged the outcomes, saying his victories were stolen. Deadly clashes followed the 2007 and 2017 votes.

Ruto, 55, has been deputy president since 2013. He founded a “youth front” (YK92) which propelled his political career during President Daniel Arap Moi’s era. His running mate is first-time lawmaker Rigathi Gachagua, described by Ruto as “a fantastic grassroots mobilizer who rose from the hardship of the aftermath of our freedom struggle to the pinnacle of professional business and political success”.

Kenya is East Africa’s most well-off and stable nation and a close Western ally that hosts the regional headquarters of international firms like Alphabet Inc.

But public debt has more than tripled by $61.32 billion since Kenyatta assumed office in 2013, pushing against the nation’s debt ceiling.

“Our intention is to renegotiate the debt and make them long term so that we are able to meet our obligations,” Karua said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 June 2022]

Photo: Presidential candidate Raila Odinga (R) and his running mate Martha Karua (L, Front). Credit: Fred Mutune/Xinhua

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