Martha Karua on wielding strength of a woman - VIDEO


Narc Kenya party leader Martha Karua addressing her supporters in Imara Daima, Nairobi County on April 30, 2023. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

They who claim not to possess some sort of apprehension and caution before meeting Martha Karua for the first time are bare-faced liars. Because Martha does not take prisoners. She has been around the block; longest serving MP for Gichungu, advocate of the High Court, and Minister for Justice, she has even taken a stab at the presidency (2013) and vice presidency (2022), and relentlessly fought (fights) for women’s rights and the democratic process.

So, with a thick skin earned from the grubby trenches of politics, she comes to the table with her brass knuckles and a penchant for not suffering fools. And it will be a cold day in hell before Martha Karua blinks first.

Now, in her lair at the Narc Kenya offices in Nairobi, where she is the party leader, she sits at a desk stripped bare - no computer, no sheet of papers, no framed photos - nothing to indicate usage nor any clue of the personality of the owner, just her lonesome purse that sits quietly by her chair like a trained house pet.

“What’s the colour of the goat?” She asks as she is microphoned, a reference to what the agenda is. She is warm before the voice recorder comes on, and then arctic and intense when it comes on, transforming her into the Martha Karua you see on TV. You might fault her for many things, but never for being committed and passionate about rights and the rule of law.

Are you aware that people get quite anxious before they meet you?

I'm not aware but some people say so. But why would they be anxious? They're just meeting a human being like them.

When you go back to your childhood in Kimunye, what sort of images come to your mind?

A beautiful place, a happy place. Working around the house and the farm, playing with friends, and occasionally fetching water when the water in the taps would run dry. I'm the second born, so to begin with we were not many. By the time I was of age to know myself, we were four and then another four came.

What kind of parents were they?

Usual parents? What kind of question is that?

What do you remember of them then? Were they strict? What did they expect of you?

Loving, but also my father is a strict disciplinarian. But my mum was like the mum next door, strict but loving and kind.

My dad was a teacher, and so was my mum in her earlier years, but when I came to know myself, she was no longer teaching. She tells me she abandoned teaching after my birth.

What were your dreams back then? Do you remember what you wanted for yourself?

My dream started when I was about 10, when I accompanied my dad to court, and you know, in local terms, they used to call the magistrate a judge.

As we left the court, I remember telling my dad that I wanted to be a judge. He responded, "That's okay, my daughter, but you'll have to work hard in school." So, my dream was to finish school and start working like everybody else.

What is it about the judge that spoke to you?

I don't know. Maybe it was the attention he was getting from everybody else because he was the centre of attention. I liked the reverence with which people viewed him. As a child, I wished that for myself one day.

Who were some of your important early influences growing up?

My mum, dad, and grandmother - paternal grandmother. You know, She lived with us as is usual in those settings. She was a powerful influence on me. From her, I learned to stand my ground, to fight for my space.

The early influences are always the nurturers and then the people around, the neighbours, people in the community, and people you admire.

How was your experience as a magistrate between 1980 and 1987?

I was a magistrate from 1981 July to 1987, July.

How was that experience?

Enriching. I was on contract, two short contracts of three years each to be precise. I used part of my second gratuity to start my law firm.

What did you learn about justice?

That it is more about people's perspectives. There is the law and influences that make people do what they do. I learned about sentencing and how to handle accused people.

It all depends on where you're coming from. Like when dealing with petty offenders, especially traditional liquor brewers, I was sympathetic.

From a social justice lens, I saw them as victims of society because the political establishment must ensure they are in the economic mainstream.

These are people earning a living. Yet, the making of traditional liquor is criminalised. It [the law] is a colonial relic that has yet to be removed from our books.

In Uganda, they dealt with it differently. The colonial State criminalised the making of traditional brew while they continued to drink their traditional brews in bottles because theirs are bottled.

It doesn't make it any different. So what you can do is to help people, especially when they are doing it on an industrial scale, to do it in hygienic circumstances.

The State should step in to help those people convert this economic activity. These are people finding jobs for themselves.

They have nothing else to do. There is no other way of working out a living. In my sentencing of these offenders, I used to be lenient. I wouldn't jail mothers. Brewing traditional liquor isn't a big deal to me.

What do you think is the most underrated human right?

The right to life and dignity. That an officer, who your sweat is paying, can shoot you to death or maim you. He can treat you in any manner, like how they arrest people holding them by their trousers. The right to life and dignity are this country's most underrated human rights.

Martha Karua on wielding strength of a woman

Do you not sometimes fear for your life being in certain situations, you know, in the eye of the storm?

We all face risks to our lives, even when sleeping. You can die peacefully in your sleep. When you left your house today, you came through traffic, faced risks on the road, and you may not return in the evening. You could slip and fall and die in your house.

So, life is a risk, but I take calculated risks. I also do not want to be shackled by fear. If you fear everything, then you can't be able to operate as a human being. I want to fear breaking the law. I want to fear violating the rights of others.

I want to be bold to protect my rights and space and boldly express myself because God meant for us to be free and express ourselves. So, I will not be held back by fear of God-given rights.

When looking back, when were you most fearful?

I fear for my family, I fear for my friends, I fear for myself, from things you have no control over, such as illness and not being able to meet your basic needs or obligations to your loved ones, you know?

Also, living in an environment entirely hostile to you, like the one I'm living in now. It's an environment that is downright hostile to citizens. And we've lived through that before.

Do you enjoy politics, or is it a necessary evil?

It's not an evil; it's a fact of life. It's something we have to do. Politics is the art of living, really. As a citizen and taxpayer, you want to demand what is due to you. It's part of life - you can't avoid it.

Even if I chose not to run for office, I must remain an engaged citizen. I don't want to be a grumbler, complaining under the table. I want to say it loudly so the person who should hear it hears it. And so that others saying it quietly may find their voice to say it loudly. Because if we all did, things would change.

You have a strong personality, and I imagine one of your children might have picked the same. How do you mother a child who holds strong opinions?

Well, you clash. Sometimes you see yourself in them. As I grew up, I clashed with my dad, and we became good friends when I matured. Through that, I learned how to engage him.

I suppose it's the same thing that happened with my children. We would clash, and as they grew up and matured, we found ground. That doesn't mean you won't have occasional disagreements. That's what life is all about. I now see my grandchildren, and it's coming again.


Narc Kenya Party leader, Martha Karua during an interview at the Narc Kenya offices in Nairobi on September 14 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Who's the one person you'd like to sit down with, and what would you ask them? Somebody you're very curious about.

Maybe President Paul Kagame. This is not to say he is a perfect president, but look at what he has done for Rwanda in terms of development, standing for the independence of Rwanda and Rwandans. These are qualities to admire.

You will remember that many people admired Abiy Ahmed [Ethiopia's Prime Minister] when he came in, but the problems now bedevilling his country, especially the Tigris issue, leave a question mark. I admire the president of Namibia and how Namibia has carried on. They have that tradition of being a country which respects the civil rights of its people.

What's been your greatest battle in life?

They all have been around governance and human rights. These are the same issues that led me to resign from the Kibaki government. Those are the most significant public battles.

But on a personal note, the battles have been trying to balance what I am doing in public as a leader and my family responsibilities. There’s no manual for that. You can never be sure what you’re doing is right or wrong. You just try your best.

Are you happy with how they've turned out?

Life is a journey of learning and making and remaking. There are always hits and misses in life. I'm not even done with growing myself. So far, so good, and I pray that I keep growing.

Which parts of you are you growing currently?

My patience with difficult situations. You can never have enough patience, so you must keep growing your patience. And also entry points in tackling different issues because you can do the same thing differently, and the outcomes will be very different.

As I grow, I've learned to adjust how I do some things with each day. To say that you don't look back and see where you can adjust would be untrue.

There are many things that one has to adjust and don't ask me to specify. Life is a journey of growth. You never cease growing till the day you exit.

This is in reference to the last General Election, how does it feel to come so close to something, and then it’s taken away?

We didn't just come close, we won, and that's a fact! That's why the Kenya Kwanza regime runs wild anytime we mention servers. The server represents an audit provided for by Article 88 of the Constitution.

An audit provides a mirror for you to see what is wrong, to find out where the election boat is leaking so that we can plug it in, and then see how to renew and reboot our system.

An audit is a must, and the IEBC cannot audit itself. You must call for external auditors. And those external auditors are Kenyans.

And you ask how it feels to come close…I was offering a service. I'm not a job seeker, not at this stage in life. Even when I entered politics, I was not a job seeker.

I was a private legal practitioner, and I went on with my practice for 10 years when I was in the opposition and then closed it down. I wasn't a job seeker then. I seek to serve, so if you offer service and it's not taken, you get on with life. I thrive irrespectively.

Do you think your fire is building up as you age, or is it subsiding?

Those who know me can answer that best. The fire in my belly doesn't go. It is there and will be as strong as it should be, depending on the occasion.


Narc Kenya Party leader, Martha Karua during an interview at the Narc Kenya offices in Nairobi on September 14 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

How do you protect your emotions from political disappointments like the last one?

You don't need to protect your emotions. You'll be angry just like everybody else. You'll be happy depending on the occasion. You saw me partying on my birthday in September, two weeks after "hot air".

I got angry and disappointed. But I will not allow that anger or disappointment to consume my life because I'm giving you power over me. I must be able to get on.

What do you find to be the major difference between being a mother and being a grandmother?

Being a grandmother is like a second chance at something. But grandmothers cannot really be disciplinarians. Okay, you can attempt, but I can't be a disciplinarian like I was with my children. You lavish more attention on the grandchildren. It's a natural thing.

What do you do to unwind when you're not politicking?

I enjoy socialising with my friends and family. I also enjoy swimming and golfing. I try to keep fit because at a certain age, you need a deliberate exercise schedule to keep your body going. Just like you need to keep attending to an old car.

The “Iron Lady” reference, how do you feel about it?

I wonder when I'll meet Iron Man because why aren't men called Iron Men? We want to pretend that strength belongs to men, not women. So when you meet a strong woman, you give her names. From Iron Woman to Abrasive, women are called all sorts of names, but a man who is the same or even more, "Oh, that's a strong leader.

But you find all the negative adjectives for women. You see? Strength is the characteristic of a woman, even those who don't express themselves often. Just think of your mother. Think of the women you saw in your neighbourhood. Think of the daily toil and struggles of women to raise their children, to steer their families, whether single-headed households or the usual two-parent family, and you will discover that strength is the other name of a woman.

It's not something reserved for Martha Karua or politicians. We wield our strengths differently, some quietly. And when I remember my mother, who is still alive, I see her quiet strength. She's not like me. We have similarities, but her character is different, I'm more like my father.

And I remember I went backwards and I saw the strength of my mom and the strength of other women in the neighbourhood and of all the women I meet, of most women, almost all women, strength is the other name. And the world would cease to function without the strength of the women around it.

What makes you insecure?

[Pause] Have I ever really thought of myself as insecure? I’m insecure at that moment that I have not found the solution to a pressing problem, but immediately I figure out how I will do it, I’m liberated from that insecurity.

What's the biggest risk you have ever taken in life?

Life is a risk, so everything is a risk. Whether it's a mortgage you're taking and you're not sure you will have money to pay it, whether it's a car loan, a decision to vie, or to go into business, life is a risk. I've never wondered, "What is the risk I took?"

I understand life is a risk, but I'm never shackled by fear, whether it's fear of failure, fear of others, or even fear of death. Let's not be bound by fear. So, as you are doing the right thing and within the law, do it.

What makes you very emotional?

Injustice. And I just remember yesterday (September 13) how emotional I was when I was told that my upcountry power bill was Sh85,000, which never reaches Sh3,000 because it's only lighting. We have one homestead: my parents' side and our side. It's one house joined by a corridor. So their bill is typically not much higher than on our side because our side is hardly used.

I was so upset because it was outright theft. When I called a local Kenya Power person, they said they keyed in the wrong number. The same thing happened to my house here in Nairobi. I was so mad I just decided to go solar, and I wish for the day I will put up solar in the village.

So those repeated injustices, and you know, if it's happening to me, it's happening to many others who might not even be able to follow up for corrections the way I did. Plus, how many people will be able to do solar? They hiked the taxes on solar. The worst pain is injustice by a government-funded by your taxes.

If someone were to buy you a gift, what would that be? Something that would make you happy.

A good read would make me happy. I like books that make me laugh. One time, when my daughter was young, I was laughing uncontrollably while reading this book. She asked me, "What did it say? Tell me what it said!" I was reading a book by Tom Sharpe [an English satirical novelist]. Have you read any of his books?

They are not educational, just hilarious, like standup comedy. I like Trevor Noah. I used to watch him when he was doing The Daily Show, very gifted and sharp person. Are we done? Sasa nyinyi mnakuja team kubwa mnataka kuniuliza maswali watu wengi. {You came as a big team. You all want to ask me questions.} (Laughter)

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