Missing ‘my’ Martha

I recall a fiery and courageous Martha Karua who was deep in the trenches of Kenya’s second liberation. In the dark, depressing and dangerous days of Daniel arap Moi’s dictatorship, Martha unfailingly stood, not with might and minority, but with what was right and with a largely silent and cowed majority, for very few then had an ounce of her courage and gumption. That she took the destiny of her name into her own hands, transiting  from Martha Njoka to Martha Karua was also reason to cheer.

Uncowed and unbowed, our Martha took head-on that terrible system that had crippled, maimed, and even killed so many innocents. Starting with her days as Martha Njoka, she, along with fellow lawyers Beatrice Nduta (what ever happened to her?), Martha Koome, Betty Murungi, James Orengo, Paul Muite, Gitobu Imanyara, John Khaminwa, Gibson Kamau Kuria, and others, were the voices of the voiceless. They represented not only clients who couldn’t pay, but clients who were extremely ‘expensive currency’, in that lawyers that dared represent them were automatically enemies of the dictatorial Moi State. It was not uncommon for lawyers of politically incorrect clients to be dragged off into detention alongside their ‘State-unsavoury’ clients, as Gitobu and Khaminwa can testify, or to be hounded and harassed in other ways by the police-state that Moi had created.

Do you remember Martha regally striding out under the full glare of the cameras in protest of a Moi-behaving-badly when he visited her constituency and did not have the decency or common courtesy to acknowledge her presence by letting her address the gathering since she was (proudly, all puns intended!) wearing opposition colours and was therefore in the wrong team? Never one to sidle quietly away, she stood and walked out as Kenya’s then ‘Most High’ rose to speak, and let it be known in no uncertain terms exactly why she walked out on Moi, and what she thought of his crude behaviour. Hear, hear! That was our vintage Martha at full throttle! Truly the people’s champion! We cheered when she put that playground bully from our past in his place!

From what I’ve heard of those who had the privilege of knowing her in her younger days, combatting injustice and anti-people systems is not something that Martha learnt in adulthood, nor adopted for political gain: she was born that way, and knew no other way. She scathingly and rightly tongue-lashed the opposition members of parliament that walked out of the 1997 Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) talks that led to the minimal constitutional reforms which broke off a chink on the armour Moi had crafted to cocoon his unpopular presidency from a hostile popular vote: these reforms were the route by which the much-needed regime change finally came to Kenya (the expected revolution was however largely stillborn, but a story for another day).

For all these reasons, and so many others space does not allow, Martha would have had my vote for President. She was 100 percent ‘us’ — we millions of ordinary Kenyans who are not born into money, privilege or political dynasties. The ultimate self-made ‘Power’ Wanjiku well-versed in law, exceedingly articulate to boot, and totally fearless in taking on the powers that be, not some of the time, but ALL of the time when there was need, while others now enjoying the trappings of power and privileges that the likes of Martha fought for grovelled at Moi’s feet and outdid themselves singing praises to their unpopular kingmaker. Bravo Martha!

Why ‘would have had’ and not ‘has’ my vote? Because after the 2002 elections, Martha metamorphosed. In the early years of the new regime, as Minister for Water Development, she defended budgetary allocations to Central Kenya, retorting that Central Kenya residents too paid taxes. I was just a little alarmed , but I cheered then since she had a point there: in retrospect, I should have been greatly alarmed. Later in 2006 when Mwai Kibaki stuffed the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) with his appointees in flagrant disregard of the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that was the IPPG that had ironically secured him the presidency, an agreement which even Moi had respected, Martha stridently defended him, on a point of law, pouring withering scorn on, and trashing, the agreement. She held that there was nothing to discuss or negotiate:  the Daily Nation on January 26 2006 reported: ‘Kibaki’s decision over ECK final, says Karua’. True that. But this was definitely not ‘my’ Martha. ‘My’ Martha could never say “The President exercised his mandate with caution and care and the nominations are therefore final,” as reported, but this ‘new’ Martha did. ‘My’ Martha could never have been reported to have said “The President is allowed by law to name commissioners without consulting any political party” but this ‘new’ Martha did.

In mid-2006, Martha continued cruising on her new trajectory, and was reported in the media thus ‘Justice minister rules out minimum reforms ahead of 2007 polls.’ On this uneven ground (anyone recall the phrase ‘level playing field’ that made such big play in the 80s and 90s when everything was tilted to favour the incumbent President and party?) was the poll played out in December 2007, and the whole world now knows the tragic consequences of the election presided over by that lopsided commission, paid in blood and tears, people’s lives, livelihoods and dignity. And as if that was not all, the media reported Martha as one of those that had adopted an extremist and uncompromising hardline position  during the peace talks presided by Kofi Annan, even as this was literally at the cost of the most precious things on earth — people’s lives and livelihoods. One does not come into peace talks with clenched fists, bared teeth and closed positions when the country is burning.

In early 2008, the Martha metamorphosis from standing with right to standing with might was finally complete. Sadly, Martha was no longer one of us but one of them — the class of oppressors of the people and suppressors of the rule of law, determined to hang on to power, and the privileges they derive from it, at any and all costs. She now totally served, and was apparently blindly beholden to, ‘the system’ she had elected to become a part of, no matter its grievous ills and harm to the people and national fabric and institutions.

As fate would have it, the very system she served chewed her and spat her out, treating her with disregard and disdain, resulting in her resignation from government in April 2009 during Kibaki’s disputed second term that she had worked so very hard to secure, barely a year into the coalition government midwifed by the National Accord of February 2008. Neither could she be said to have left with head high: by then, Martha had sullied and heavily compromised her hitherto impeccable pro-people credentials: from media reports, it appears that she resigned for being personally spited, for purely Martha not pro-people reasons, whatever spin may be put on it thereafter. She herself is reported to have said at the time of resigning as Kibaki’s Minister for Justice that her position was no longer tenable and her reform agenda was being undermined, “Judges are being appointed without my knowledge and a lot more.” What was this ‘a lot more’? We heard no mention from her at the time of the corruption, sleazy deals and anti-people positions and conspiracies during the watch of the government she had served so faithfully as a deep insider, and so vociferously defended.

We are not looking for angels to lead Kenya, and we are no angels ourselves, myself included. But for me, I lost ‘my’ Martha when she crossed the Rubicon stridently defending a political position for personal political gain (mediated by her master of the time, Kibaki) at the expense of people’s lives.

I will not buy into the school of thought that Kenyans of integrity don’t exist. Our new ‘people-chosen’ Chief Justice, Willy Mutunga, is living proof. Note, he was not the hand-picked Chosen One of the President, but thank heavens the people, and not the President, had their way. Yes, I know there were still those opposed to him, and those who think that his earstud, his faith, his marital status,  you name it, are not right, but all these matters are truly personal and private and have nothing whatsoever to do with the question of the integrity we require of our public servants. And still on Kenyans of integrity, what of John Githongo?

Kenya is heading into an election, and it’s time for us to scrutinise and interrogate those presenting themselves as candidates for this position, especially given that we have lost a precious decade of reforms since 2002. Martha is a candidate seeking our hire as President. A Twitter interaction earlier this month (May 2012, and prior to the widely reported Twitter debate) makes for interesting — and very illuminating — reading, and I leave you to make your own judgement on this interaction (link below). To her credit, Martha responded to the original inquiry from another Tweep, which is more than some candidates did. Presidential candidates must be prepared to face up to public scrutiny and answer for both present and past deeds and misdeeds, and not just wow us with their plans for the future. Martha dismisses the Tweep that questions her purely on a matter of principle as not counting for her credibility test since she has countless others that support her, saying “An individual do [sic] not determine my credibility and not on a false premise Kenyans collectively will do fairly!” This shows utter contempt and incredible arrogance unworthy of one vying to lead a nation. By this haughty dismissal, is Martha advocating for blind and unquestioning docile sheep and praise-singing sycophants as her ‘followers’ and the people she wants to lead and purport to serve? Sorry Lady. I will not sign up for that. ‘My’ Martha taught me much much better than that and I cherish her teachings dearly.

Martin Tairo’s legitimate and courteous questions were about her as an individual and her own role — not that of her party, nor her President nor her side of government, but she and she alone. She totally sidestepped the key questions on ECK commissioner appointments, and instead wanted to know what Martin’s agenda was (subtext Kenyan parlance: whose agent are you? You’ve been ‘sent’ by my detractors), and why he was repeating questions raised earlier. Well, what if the questions were not answered?…

I dearly miss ‘my’ Martha. I really do. She was self-made and nobody’s handmaiden, a master of herself,  and puppet of no one. She who stood with right and not with might. She who put her own personal safety, and that of her loved ones and those close to or associated with her, in peril in those dark and dangerous Moi days, in her relentless quest for a better Kenya. That Martha is missing.

Questions I still ponder over:

  1. What made Martha change so drastically? Was it due to an expectation of a measure of quid pro quo from Kibaki and his clique as ‘the Anointed One’ when she would make her stab for the presidency in the future?
  2. She may have been born Wangari, but she was in and of herself a personification of our dear Wanjiku. How could she be a supporter of the infamous ‘Government/Wako Draft’ Constitution that Wanjiku rejected at the 2005 referendum, when Martha had been part and parcel of the struggle for a new Wanjiku Constitution for so long?
  3. How could she participate in, aid and abet, in the burning of the very bridge that was the main means by which Kanu’s back was finally broken in 2002 and Kenya had its first (and only) free and fair election since the reinstatement of plural politics in the early 199os?
  4. Where was Martha’s empathy as a mother and a woman for the suffering mothers and women in the heat and aftermath 2007–2008 post-election violence that would have softened any hardline position?
  5. I know they say politics makes for strange bedfellows, and the Kenyan ‘couples’, ‘triples’ and ‘multiples’ must be the oddest of all mixes, but still, why, oh why, did Martha not only take into her political party but also campaign for, the likes of Sonko and Kabogo?
  6. Can one seeking to be the Top Servant of the people dismiss one of the people she is aspiring to serve (emphasis on ‘serve’ not lording it over them) as merely an individual and therefore of no consequence in determining her credibility? Perhaps Martha needs to compare notes with suspended Deputy Chief Justice, Nancy Baraza, on the power of one, when Nancy was reported as having mistreated a security guard at Village Market — a matter leading to her suspension. And while Martha is at it, she could also learn a thing or two from Nancy on acknowledging, owning up to, and apologising for past mistakes and sliding to the wrong side of history, and not haughtily attempting to brush these mistakes aside, or wish them away. We now live in the Information Age where access and retrieval of past events is easy as pie, even if Kenyans are notorious for extremely short memories.
  7. An effective leader exercises temperance, not temper, especially in the public arena, and Twitter is one such podium. While in a Martha presidency we may be finally freed from a people−presidential space polluted by choice ‘power phrases’ such as Muthaiga siyo Korogocho, Nairobi siyo gishagi, and the more venal mavi ya kuku, bure kabisa and kumbafu, what new epithets might be added to our common lexicon, and transmitted directly into blogosphere via a verified presidential account?

Even as I ponder over these questions, in my history book, the role that Martha played in the struggle for the second liberation will always be written in glowing golden letters that will never fade, and it is a role that we must never forget. However, history is not for hiding and cannot and should not be selective. This golden chapter is not an automatic ticket to State House, skipping the slurry-and-no-silver ‘inconvenient’ chapters in between. All chapters count.

Relevant links

  1. My duel with Martha on Twitter by Martin Tairo, and  Martha Karua loses temper on Twitter combat over her credentials
  2. Unwelcome evidence (PDF): A September 2008 report on the 2007 presidential election by Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice (KPTJ)
  3. Will merchants of impunity let Mutunga do his job? by Makau Mutua in Daily Nation

About Njeri Okono

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9 Responses to Missing ‘my’ Martha

  1. Pingback: Four questions for March 4 | Njeri Okono

  2. Rafik Mwaniki says:

    What an interesting read! I’m sorry you have lost “your” Martha… My Martha is still alive and kicking… ODM was not a recognized party when they were renewing the terms of the ECK Commissioners. They had no seats in Parliament. She asked the advice of the Government Legal Adviser on how to proceed and the result was “consult with the peoples representatives from each of the areas”. That was the next best thing. Unless of course you mean that only ODM could be “trusted” to speak the peoples choice. The result was the team lead by Kivuitu, whom ODM insisted must retain leadership, threatening to boycott the elections if he didn’t.
    So how come we are blaming Martha for the blood on Raila’s hands? Do you remember UK conceding defeat @ Serena Hotel in 2002, to the chagrin and disdain of KANU stalwarts (ready to cause mayhem in the Rift as they later did). How come RAO did not follow the law? Why must he be president by all means? At whatever cost? And who was to announce the winner? Since when do contestants referee their own match? Oh! Actually, I do remember doing that… in primary school.
    And please ask Orengo why he did not stand up and say what the real tally @ KICC that night was?
    Ah we can talk until the cows come home to rest. I guess you are trying to justify your felling let down. I offer no solution nor sympathy. Use your eyes and ears and vote for Kenya with your heart.

    • Njeri Okono says:

      History will record that Martha stood and fought when others turned tail and fled. This is fact. But she – like any other of our aspiring presidents – is not entirely above reproach, and it would be doing injustice to ourselves as Kenyans if we fail to ask her pertinent questions.

      I’d appreciate it if you would refer me to any reports or documentation of Martha’s consultations “with the peoples representatives from each of the areas”. I’d be keen to learn who these people’s representatives were, from what areas they were drawn, and what their mandate was.

      That said, my blogpost was actually on Martha, and not on ODM, Raila, KANU, Kivuitu, Orengo or Uhuru. I completely agree with you on “Use your eyes and ears and vote for Kenya with your heart”. It is for this reason that I have questions about Martha, just like I do for other pretenders to the presidency (but that would be the subject of another blogpost), since this is the time to interrogate and scrutinise presidential candidates.

      Martha’s statements still continues to baffle me. Take for example her responses to Martin Tairo’s questions which I have raised in this blogpost, and contrast this with a post on her Facebook page just four days ago on Sep 18 2012 that runs completely counter, where she said “As we seek to restore a value system in our society, the Value of RESPECT or HESHIMA is my commitment to you dear Kenyan. Respect for you as my boss whom am elected to serve, respect for your welfare, respect for your opinion, respect for your rights as guaranteed under our Constitution, respect for the rule of law that makes us all equal and most importantly, I guarantee that I will respect you enough not to take you for granted as has been the case with past leadership including my competitors. I will respect you enough to do what you’ll elect me to do, to serve you as I have always done dear Kenyans, not enrich myself, my family or my friends.”

      To my mind, the servant commitment in that post does not square out with her responses to Martin on Twitter. Contrast Martha’s responses with those of another aspiring President, Peter Kenneth, to one voter as reported here.

      And in taking your good advice to vote with my eyes, ears and heart, I’ll also lean to this blogpost aptly titled ‘The Kenya we lost’, which has very cogent questions not only for leadership aspirants, but most importantly, for us as voting Kenyans.

  3. Solely on the point about her time in office,(I am also completely disappointed with her association with ‘my’ MP Kabogo and Sonko), what do you make of the argument that in office she was loyal and willing to toe the line for the greater good of governance, since they say you cant govern a country if you have to keep feuding with your ministers?

    • Njeri Okono says:

      First, my apologies for the late reply: I was rather hoping voices other than mine would come in here to broaden the views.
      My take on the argument is that whereas collective responsibility is crucial to avoid anarchy in cabinet and decision-making, it is not intended and MUST NEVER be an excuse for individual irresponsibility couched under the cover of the collective, neither can collective responsibility become absolution for individual responsibility. Let’s take the example of the referendum on the Constitution: when the flawed government-tampered draft Constitution was presented to the people by the government (and rejected by the people, thank heavens), there were those in Cabinet who vociferously opposed it in public, stood with the people (the majority at least) and they paid the full political price in the pecking order of the day by being flung out of Cabinet by a miffed Kibaki, thereby losing their ministerial positions. Despite being a lawyer with a long record in fighting for human rights and therefore undoubtedly well-versed in her own right in the rights and wrongs of the ‘Government Draft’, Martha was of course not in this number that stood up against the flawed document, and this is an undeniable fact. The point I’d like to make is that collective responsibility is only up to a point, and real leaders must stand out from the collective herd when the herd is headed to the ditches, darkness and doldrums: they don’t blindly follow the lead bull or matriarch without using their own heads. So, leaning once more to the same example of the ‘Government Draft Constitution’, I’m not persuaded that Martha’s toeing of the line as the ‘Kibaki Mark I’ government went rogue on the Supreme Pact with People (ie, the Constitution) was for the greater good of governance — a position that the outcome of the referendum indeed vindicated. I will not speculate on what her motivations were since only she can answer that, but greater good is definitely precluded. I draw on this example because of the prime position of the Constitution in good governance, and where Martha stood (in the gallery of rogues) at a defining moment in Kenya’s history – probably the most defining moment in independent Kenya’s history to date. To date, and even when politely asked (like Martin Tairo did on Twitter), Martha is yet to explain (let alone apologise for) why she stood where she did on this matter, as on other anti-people positions during her tenure in the government she so faithfully served: positions that were in direct contradiction of good governance and pro-people principles she had so firmly stood for, nay championed and fought for, before. Clearly, she doesn’t consider that she owes anybody any answers or explanations on this, yet she does, particularly for her tenure while in public office. As Martin observes in his comment below, “…despite Martha Karua’s persistence that we move forward, she needs to come clear and explain her past. The least she can do maybe to own up, apologize and move forward on a clean slate.” Enough said!

  4. Paul says:

    Looing at the issues raised here,i can not avoid to laugh and enjoy how Kenyans can get creative.. there is nothing tangible fact concerning Martha in ANY EVIL/TRI,BALISM OR GRAFT.
    Its rather obvious that people will try to malign her ,now that she is offering the best CHANCE TO BREAK FROM THE YOKE OF TRIBALISM AND IMPUNITY.
    Infact the only person who has not been consistent is RAILA the man we watched with alot of admiration when NARCH took over,little did we know that he had actually joined KANU for SELFISH … it was too late late when he realized he was not going to be the flag bearer.. togher with Pretenders like joseph kamotho, Kalonzo,saitoti,etc.. i feel nauseated when i mention some names.,Then he jumps to NAC and shouts RAILA TOSHA trying to own Kibakis campaign … Here is a politician who looses one side and cunningly jumps to another bandwagon uninvited and immediately wants to take the drivers seat.
    And when he finally got in government the man could not stay for long.. without causing trouble.
    Anyway i forgive him the above because no man is perfect.. and the ultimate goal for most politicians is to get power.
    Fast track to 2007 RAILA AMOLO ODINGA leads the ODM team in propagating anti kikuyu campaign agenda … hate speech and hatred agenda were the topics of the day..
    And they were successful … many people died everywhere… the result of planting the hate seed.
    Kura zimeibiwa..?what a joke … so that gives someone the right to kill his neighbors children??
    IN any case,both sides rigged the votes,it was all about big and small thief..same difference!!
    ODM supporters reign singing no Raila no peace .. and he won again …
    RAILA The pro-democracy ,anti tribalism ,anti nepotism and best of best anti corruption…. changed like day turns to darkness
    I dont need to go to all the details.. every Kenyan now knows very well that RAILA and Kibaki are just the same.. ma tribalist,corrupt to the neck(maize,education,kazi kwa vijana etc
    Raila has another one big problem.. he is always seeking street support… he will say this today,then tomorow take an about turn.Someone who cannot stand by his own words..
    This election must give us change.. it is very very obvious that RAILA will not be the change Kenyans have been yearning for..
    Now i look left and i see another non-starter called musalia mudavadi., i hear nowadays he likes comparing himself with Lio Messi… someone should advise him to first loose weight, just like all most other obese politicians .
    Now ,musalia was in oblivion…. untill RAO picked him from the ground and put him in pentagon.
    But that is besides the point,Musalia Mudavadi is the best student of MOI… infact currently he is nothing but an alternative a project of status quo,just incase Ocampo comes knocking… Those who know Nick Wanjohi will tell you that he is one of the kitchen cabinet.. and thats where MM has found best home to camp… i assume even the funds will be coming from that side.
    All KANU boys shud NEVER RULE THIS COUNTRY let the last one be KIBAKI (we have learnt albeit the hard way that he was/is just a pretender)Ngai KIBAKI completely turned a deaf ear to serious graft… makes me cry with lots of pain.. the way we shouted and cheered him in.. He will surely pay one day.. a very big disappointment.
    MM oversaw the worst economic crimes .. that rocked central bank and treasury in the 90s
    And dont you try to insinuate that he stopped Goldenburg scandal…. i will refer you to do more research..Infact the state lost more funds to the tunes of 10fold when mm joined treasury.. all the details are in public..
    A man who never raised a word when such acts of economic crimes were being committed under his nose.. Now this man wants to be president…. Lord have mercy!!
    Uhuru wa Kenyatta is another big pretender.. apart from the fact he is a son of Mzee… what else can i say about him.. ohh yes and one of Ocampo 4 .. surely??
    Imagine being born in such wealth,i mean i expect to hear big achievements,masters degree,harvad or oxford,… and it doesnt have to in education…excellence in many other aspects of life.
    My fellow kikuyus shud wake up big time…a person who owns nyanza provence in terms of land size.. when majority of Kenyans have nowhere to call home.. he never even saw it fit to give small piece to IDPS .. those are our leaders.. The most interesting thing is that most of these big ranches thousands of hectares were actually STOLEN FROM KENYANS..
    Let us face it.. uhuru nothing.zero kabisa,intellectual ,skills zero,just a big baby amezoea being pampered …,tell such a leader that you going hungry or you broke… asi!!??He connot comprehend what you talking about.
    UK offers nothing but a continuation… infact he is the best bet for continuation of Kibaki regime. I dont want to go into details of his non performance track record but i only want to say this…if at all UK participated in arranging how innocent Kenyans were to be massacred ,he should forever never see the throne of leadership..Let him clear himself with ICC 1ST.
    Is Kalonzo still running …. he better save himself another embarrassment of loosing .. here is a another of the proverbial warthog … nothing more to say!!
    Peter kenneth who enriched himself from Kenya re-insurance and many other government parastatals and continues to enrich himself through dubious and hyper-inflated government contracts.. you know… dont be fooled friends.. these are all BIRDS OF THE SAME FEATHER.

    I will rock with MARTHA KARUA because she is the ONLY CANDIDATE that believes in what resonates with mature leadership guided by the RULE OF LAW.
    All these allegations are just but the kicks of a dying horse..

    • Paul, i started reading your comment but could not get beyond the second paragraph. Why? You got emotional and missed the point. Your assumption here is that those giving constructive critiques to Martha Karua, those who are asking the tough questions, have been sent by her detractors or they are supporters of her opponents. You are DEAD wrong. Most of them are her admirers out to get to know her, understand her and make informed decisions. Your ranting and raving and dragging in of other politicians names is not helpful. This article has only dwelt on Martha and if you feel you have any defense to make, limit it to Martha.

  5. Jaimy says:


  6. Its human nature to always dwell on the negatives and at times forget the positives. Thats why despite Martha Karua’s persistence that we move forward, she needs to come clear and explain her past. The least she can do maybe to own up, apologize and move forward on a clean slate.

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