When Raila Odinga named you as his running mate on 16 May 2022, Kenya and the world lit up because all indications were that with the election being Odinga’s to lose, you were a heartbeat away from becoming Kenya’s first woman deputy president.
The excitement, palpable across the country, wasn’t simply because Odinga had named a woman as his running mate and that the ticket was headed for near-automatic victory, but rather the fervour and exhilaration was because that woman was you, Martha Karua.
There were those who supported Odinga for the presidency but weren’t necessarily overly and overtly enthusiastic for a number of reasons, among them being his dalliance with Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent whose ten year run wasn’t necessarily a bed of roses. Then there were those who were reluctantly lining up behind Odinga as a vote against William Ruto.
However, your entry into the fray meant that some of those whose support for the ticket had been lukewarm before your arrival now had a reason to reconsider and bring in more gusto, because the ticket had gotten better. To them, Raila Odinga on his own was good, but Raila Odinga and Martha Karua weren’t better but best. And even for those who were all out Odinga supporters, your arrival made the ticket more palatable, because you were completely up to the task, whether as a president’s principal assistant or as a president-in-waiting.
Then there was the question of the calibre of the ticket – you both had struggle credentials, you both served under the first post-Moi Cabinet for a duration which was viewed as a golden era of sorts in contemporary Kenya, a team which despite several mishaps, managed to steer the economy into a growth trajectory and unite the country behind a political program (before things went haywire). Further, you were both seen as politically mature and experienced, old hands who understood the workings of government and attracted respect from their peers.
These weren’t mere platitudes.
After ten years of the youthful Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, there was a sense among those who supported the Odinga-Karua ticket that it was time for something different – we won’t necessarily dwell on how different your government was supposed to be – with your role as deputy president being integral in effecting this difference in governance.
With Raila Odinga’s enigmatic and political deal-making tendencies (he brought to the ticket the Uhuru Kenyatta baggage), you seemed like one of the few, if not the only person who could keep him within the straight and narrow, especially because you weren’t just another team member but the deputy president. You would, in fact, be a positive influence to Odinga.
Prior to the electoral campaigns, yourself and a group of activists under the auspices of Linda Katiba had opposed Odinga’s and Uhuru Kenyatta’s attempt at unilaterally executing massive constitutional amendments under the Building Bridges Initiatives (BBI). That you could come fresh from that Linda Katiba-BBI tussle into supporting Odinga was an indication that your engagement in public affairs wasn’t personal or personality-based, but informed by your principles and love for country. The same can be said of your history supporting Mwai Kibaki for decades, until you resigned from his government, or that historic occasion when you walked out on President Daniel arap Moi when he visited your constituency in the early ‘90s.
All of this to say that there are those who may find fault with you for making certain choices in specific instances in public life, but overall, when a roll of some of Kenya’s most outstanding and steadfast leaders is put together, your name is bound to feature prominently.
Yet today you find yourself not in government as deputy president but outside government as Odinga’s number-two in leading a series of protests whose purpose has kept expanding, from electoral justice to cost of living to occasional calls for William Ruto to step down as president.
To you, a product of the second liberation, none of this is uncharted territory. But then there are growing concerns that with the protests being sporadic, only happening when Odinga says so despite the people getting a sense of ownership (even as Odinga and yourselves retain a semblance of control), the people’s demands may get conflated with your and Odinga’s political pursuits which may or may not necessarily capture the people’s aspirations.
Our appeal to you is that as the person who was meant to anchor the Odinga presidency as his principal assistant, you must now play the same role even as you navigate a different terrain, not for your or Odinga’s selfish interests but for the sake of the interests of the millions of Kenyans who either supported you or voted for William Ruto but who are now bearing the brunt of an extremely punitive economic reality, among other struggles and concerns.
With your continued steadfast presence in Azimio La Umoja One Kenya, Kenyans seek to have assurances that their interests are paramount in whatever you do or ask them to do on their own or in collaboration with you, so that the people’s hopes do not get dashed at the altar of political expediency as has happened time without number in this country.
Be the people’s insurance, but beyond that, encourage the consolidation of the people’s demands into a tangible program that does not rely on street protests, or on your or Odinga’s courage or presence. This way, you will provide a recovery roadmap for Kenya, which you can then safeguard as Odinga’s number two and as a leading political light in your own right.
Do not desert the people.
And in being in their midst, do show them the way, the right way.