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How the nomination of the ‘Iron Lady’ has influenced Kenya’s 2022 general elections

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Picture: Noor Khamis/Reuters – Martha Karua has been nominated by presidential Raila Odinga as his running mate.

By Halima Ahmed

Kenya will hold its 5th general elections on August 9. Voters elect the President, Members of the National Assembly and Senate, County Governors and Members of the 47 County Assemblies. For the first time in Kenyan history, a woman was proposed as a Presidential running mate.

Hon. Raila Odinga, one of the presidential candidates from the Azimio La Umoja Party, nominated Hon. Martha Karua as his running mate. She hails from a large voting constituency in the Mount Kenya region, home to the Kikuyu, the country’s largest ethnic community. Election results in Kenya are usually determined by how the nation’s five largest ethnic communities vote. If this team wins the 2022 elections, Karua will become the first female deputy president of the Republic of Kenya.

Karua made her first appearance as a student leader, and then later became more prominent as a lawyer during Kenya’s second liberation in 1992, when Kenya became a multi-party democracy. She has also formerly served as Minister of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs. Karua has been an activist for the widening of the democratic domain as well as for gender equality. She has been involved in advocating for women’s rights through general interest litigation, and in mobilisation and advocacy for statutes that augment and safeguard women’s rights through her work with diverse women’s organisations, particularly the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya) and the League of Kenya Women Voters.

As a result of this track record, women all over Kenya welcomed her nomination as Raila Odinga’s running mate. Her announcement also raised interest in Kenya’s 2022 general elections, especially among women who went out in number to register as voters after her nomination. Women and men alike, took to social media networks to discuss the implications of her nomination, with some talking of the women’s inclusion, if realised, signalling a third stage in Kenya’s liberation.

Spirited evidence of women’s optimism in the country was illustrated through the Million Women For Martha Movement (MW4M). The Movement’s objective is to round up women’s support, nationally, for the Deputy Presidential candidate, and thus the Azimio La Umoja party and the Raila and Martha presidential ticket. The MW4M Movement was established by Kenyan Women for Kenyan Women and has been operated independently by a committee of women from all around Kenya working in varied regions and from diverse backgrounds.

The Movement is a cause that is devoted to encouraging women on the ground to partner and join Karua in working towards gender equality and women’s rights. The women-run committee in charge of the campaign is dedicated to implementing grassroots measures and collaborating within themselves to achieve its goals. The Movement had a successful launch event on 9 July 2022 at the Catholic University in Nairobi, where thousands of women from all over the country showed up in support of Karua.

According to the 2019 census, women in Kenya account for 51% of Kenya’s population, and they thus represent a significant faction in Kenya’s elections. Some may claim that Odinga intelligently played into this statistic to bolster his ticket, but regardless Karua does seem to have independent personal support among some voters as the ‘Iron Lady’ who has historically advocated for good governance, integrity and accountability in government and who has never been afraid to call out corruption. Even in this campaign period, she has reminded Kenyans that politics need not be about slurs and that Kenya can have a thriving democracy based on principles, where people can agree or disagree respectfully. For these reasons this year’s elections may be historic for Women’s equality in Kenya.

Ahmed is a Peace, Security and Development Early Career Fellow at the African Leadership Centre, King’s College and a research fellow at ACCORD.