7 May 2011

Kenya: Five Reasons Martha Karua Could Win the Presidency


Nairobi — If 2012 becomes the Year of the Woman, Kenya will have Gichugu MP Martha Karua to thank. That's because her bid for the State House isn't whimsical. It's for real.

I have a simple piece of advice for the supporters of the so-called "Kikuyu Muthamaki" -- Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta. They should "man up" or shut up.

Mr Kenyatta's mandarins -- like Nairobi Metropolitan minister Robinson Njeru Githae -- should chill, stop whining, and play ball. They should consider themselves warned -- the "Iron Lady" won't be intimidated.

The word "fear" is alien to her vocabulary. She is playing to win, and intends to beat her opponents like a drum. I see an image of Ms Karua in my 2012 crystal ball.

I have five reasons why Ms Karua could be Kenya's next CEO. The first -- and arguably the most important -- is the "fatigue factor".

Something dramatic is quietly happening in Kenya. The ground is shifting. There is every indication that Kenyans are fed up with the "same old faces".

Remember a recent opinion poll that found Kenyans among the most depressed people in the world? Why? Our leadership doesn't inspire confidence. The bickering, shenanigans, thieving, and silly games are sickening. Don't mention the personal egos. They don't give a hoot about Wanjiku.

We are "fatigued" with our leadership. They have become an iron cast around our necks. The question is whether Ms Karua can effectively exploit this malaise.

The "fatigue factor" is a "yellow card" for the leading presidential contenders. And I mean all -- PM Raila Odinga, VP Kalonzo Musyoka, and Mr Kenyatta. Eldoret North MP William Ruto is not among them. Mr Ruto is unlikely to get any significant vote outside the Kalenjin Rift Valley.

But this "yellow card" could quickly turn "red" for all these contenders, except Ms Karua. That's because they are tarred by the dysfunction of the State and must take the blame -- along with President Kibaki -- for "depressing" Kenyans.

In this matrix, Ms Karua becomes the plausible "outsider" and "saviour" that voters could embrace. This would be Kenya's way of "internalising" the mass protests in North Africa and the Middle East.

The second reason Ms Karua could capture State House is because of "backlash". There are two elements here. The first "backlash" could come from the rest of Kenya outside the Mt Kenya region.

The rest of Kenya may resent the dogged attempt by the Kikuyu elite to impose Mr Kenyatta on the country.

To spite the Kikuyu elite, the rest of Kenya could elect a Kikuyu woman -- Ms Karua -- who is despised by them. This would be "poetic justice". The second "backlash" could be feminist.

Keys to State House

Most women -- from all over Kenya, including the Mt Kenya region -- could decide to teach the Kikuyu chauvinists a lesson. This "woman power" could dramatically hand Ms Karua the keys to State House.

The third reason Ms Karua could become our next CEO is the "historic moment". This, too, has two elements. Kenyans are in a mood to "make history". We made history in August last year when we passed the new Constitution. It was history because we defied the Church and powerful political interests.

We threw off the yoke of constitutional oppression. In August next year, we may feel like making history by electing a woman president.

This is especially seductive because Ms Karua is arguably the most consistent reformer among the contenders. Only Mr Odinga can challenge her reformist credentials.

The other element is global. We live in an historical age when more countries are electing women leaders. We aren't alone.

The fourth reason a President Karua is plausible is fate. Fate is a "natural conspiracy" that no human being can stop. Two fateful things could happen.

The first is that Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto could be taken down by the International Criminal Court. This would leave Mr Musyoka -- the third cog in that wheel -- gasping for air.

The KKK Alliance would fall with a thud. But ODM and Mr Odinga could also be isolated and dithering. In the absence of strong tribal alliances -- ODM and PNU/KKK -- Ms Karua could turn the election into a contest of issues.

This would give Ms Karua a distinct advantage over others. Her anti-corruption, nationalist, and reform image could prove "fateful".

The fifth and last reason Ms Karua is the one to watch is "momentum". Call it the "big mo". This is an intangible. Senator Barack Obama rode the "big mo" all the way to the White House in 2008.Some people have it, and others don't.

It's one of those sparks that are lit for whatever reason. In Mr Obama's case, he became the "star of the moment".

Became converts

He became sort of messianic. Young people everywhere latched onto him. White people who weren't inclined to vote for a black man became converts. The US economy went into a tailspin. The man was seen as a saviour. This is what "big mo" can do for Ms Karua's candidacy.

In Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare wrote that "some [men] are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them". I would like to believe the phrase applies to women as well, and to Ms Karua in particular.

I don't know whether she was "born great". But that's not important to me. I know for sure she hasn't had "greatness thrust upon" her. These two stanzas more aptly describe Mr Kenyatta. But I know that she is likely to "achieve greatness".

It's the only honourable way to earn the presidency.

Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.

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