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Will Raila-Karua team continue the reformist agenda?

Tuesday May 24 2022
Raila Odinga and Martha Karua during a political rally.

Azimio la Umoja candidate Raila Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua during a political rally. FILE PHOTO | NMG

By TEE NGUGI

One small step for woman, one giant leap for womanhood. This line is, of course, adapted from the famous words by Neil Armstrong. As the American astronaut took the last step from the landing craft onto the lunar surface, he recognised that the small step represented a giant scientific accomplishment for all humankind. Thus his immortal words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

The nomination of Martha Karua to be Raila Odinga’s running mate in the Kenyan presidential race might just be the latest accomplishment in her inspirational career. But her elevation to that position represents a giant leap for Kenyan women. Jomo Kenyatta’s and Daniel Moi’s regimes featured few, if any, women. Mwai Kibaki, a far more liberal minded man and one less beholden to primitive patriarchal notions, appointed women to powerful cabinet positions.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has continued in that trajectory and has appointed women to head not only ministries, but to key positions in the police force and army.

Now, with Raila’s nomination of Karua as his running mate, Kenya will almost certainly have its first woman deputy president.

It’s a giant leap from a time, just a few decades ago, when women in Kenya were largely seen as belonging to the kitchen and bedroom. Young girls in towns and villages will now be able to see a woman deputy president and be inspired to overcome the cultural shackles around their necks.

William Shakespeare writes, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” Karua has earned that nomination by dint of her long years in the trenches fighting the Kanu dictatorship, her defence of the constitution, her steadfast opposition to tribal chauvinism, and her uncompromising stand against grand thievery and criminality in government. As a young lawyer, she was brave enough to defend political dissidents such as Raila.

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Then she joined others in advocacy for return to democracy. When Mwai Kibaki defeated Kanu, she was appointed minister for Constitutional Affairs and tasked with shepherding a new constitution.

In her years in Parliament, she distinguished herself as an eloquent and principled debater, always guided by ideals of fairness and equity. In and outside government or parliament, she has advocated for the rights of women and young girls.

Raila and Karua complement each other. They both, unlike their opponents, have a history of fighting for social democratic ideals. They both are vehemently opposed to corruption and the cartels in government that perpetrate it. They, unlike their opponents, campaigned tirelessly for the 2010 Constitution. Both are ardent fighters for women’s rights.

Will the Raila-Karua team continue the reform agenda of the Second Liberation? Will it be the team that will situate Kenya’s current reality within the history of struggle for equity and constitutional democracy?

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator

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