Martha Karua

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Martha Karua
Martha Karua.jpg
Minister of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs
In office
2005 – 6 April 2009
President Mwai Kibaki
Preceded by Kiraitu Murungi
Succeeded by Mutula Kilonzo
Minister of Water Resources Management and Development
In office
President Mwai Kibaki
Former Member of the Kenyan Parliament
Assumed office
Constituency Gichugu Constituency
Personal details
Born Martha Wangari
(1957-09-22) 22 September 1957 (age 59)
Kirinyaga District, Kenya
Nationality Kenyan
Political party NARC-Kenya
Children 2[1]
Alma mater University of Nairobi (LL.B)
Kenya School of Law
Profession Lawyer
Religion Christianity
Positions Partner, Martha Karua & Co. (1987–2002)

Martha Wangari Karua (born 22 September 1957, in Kirinyaga, Kenya) is a revered Kenyan politician. She is a former long-standing member of parliament for Gichugu Constituency and an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. She was Minister of Justice until resigning from that position in April 2009.

Early years[edit]

Martha Karua was born in Kirinyaga District, Central Province of Kenya; she is the second born in a family of eight siblings, four girls and four boys. She studied law at the University of Nairobi from 1977 to 1980. Between 1980 and 1981 she was enrolled at the Kenya School of Law for the statutory post graduate law course that is a prerequisite to admission to the Kenyan roll of advocates and licensing to practice law in Kenya. She then joined the public service, and worked as a magistrate from 1981 to 1987. From 1987 to 2002 she worked in private practice as an advocate.

Professional career[edit]

1981 – 2002[edit]

She worked in the Judiciary as a District Magistrate rising to a Senior Resident Magistrate at the time of exit in 1987. During this period, she was in charge of Makadara Law Courts from 1984 to 1985 and Kibera Law Courts from 1986 to 1987 when she left to start her own law firm. In 1987 Martha Karua formed Martha Karua & Co. Advocates which she operated till the year 2002. While in practice, Karua presented many pro bono cases notable among them the treason trial of Koigi Wamwere and where she represented the late Hon. Mirugi Kariuki.

She immensely contributed to the development of family law and especially the distribution of matrimonial property as well as constitutional and administrative law.[2]

Political career[edit]

1990 – 2002[edit]

Karua was a member of the opposition political movements that successfully agitated for the reintroduction of multi-party democracy in Kenya in the early 1990s. Kenya was at the time under the authoritarian rule of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the only legally recognised political party in Kenya and which was led by president Daniel arap Moi.

Martha Karua joined Kenneth Matiba's Ford-Asili party but lost the party nomination ticket to the wealthy and influential former Head of Public Service Geoffrey Kareithi. She was then offered a ticket and support by the Democratic Party of Kenya (DP) elders who wanted a clean break from the Kareithi – Nahashon Njuno rivalry. Karua won the 1992 general election to become the MP for Gichugu constituency and the first woman lawyer to be popularly elected to Parliament. She was also appointed as the party's legal affairs secretary between 1992 and 1997.[3]

In 1998, Karua declined the position of Shadow Minister for Culture and Social Services which conflicted with her position of National Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (an elected office) that made her the official spokesperson on legal matters of the party. She opted to resign her position as the National Secretary.[4]

In 2001, when the Constitutional Review Bill was laid before the House, the entire Opposition with the exception of Karua walked out of Parliament. The Bill had been rejected by the Opposition as well as Civil Society but Karua was of the view that as elected representatives, instead of walking out, it would be more prudent to remain in Parliament and put the objections on record. She therefore chose to remain in the Parliament and her objections to the Bill were duly recorded in the Hansard.[4]

Later she was among those who formed the political coalition NARC that won the 2003 General Election in Kenya and ended KANU's nearly four decades of leadership in Kenya's politics.

2003 to March 2009[edit]

Until 6 April 2009 she was the Minister of Justice, National Cohesion & Constitutional Affairs. She also previously served as the Minister of Water Resources Management & Development, and was behind the implementation of the Water Act 2002, which has since then accelerated the pace of water reforms and service provision in Kenya.

Karua remained Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister in the Cabinet appointed by Kibaki on 8 January 2008, following the controversial December 2007 election. [5] In an interview with BBC's HARDtalk in January 2008, Karua said, regarding the violent crisis that had developed over the election results, that while the government had anticipated that the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of Raila Odinga might be "planning mayhem if they lost", it was surprised by "the magnitude" of it, calling the violence "ethnic cleansing". Asked to clarify, Karua said that she was stating "categorically" that the ODM planned ethnic cleansing. Odinga subsequently called Karua's accusation "outrageous".[6] Karua headed the government's team in negotiations with the opposition regarding the political dispute that resulted from the election.[7] The political crisis eventually led to the signing of a power-sharing agreement between Kibaki and Odinga. In the grand coalition Cabinet that was announced on 13 April 2008, Karua remained in her post as Minister of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs.[8]

She was endorsed as the national chairperson of the NARC-Kenya political party on 15 November 2008. There was virtually no competitive election during the party's national delegates’ convention at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi as all the officials including Ms Karua were being endorsed. After her endorsement she immediately declared she would be gunning for the highest political seat in the Kenya's 2012 elections. [9]

Martha Karua resigned as Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs on 6 April 2009, citing frustrations in discharging her duties. A clear example of her frustrations was when President Mwai Kibaki appointed Judges without her knowledge a few days before her resignation.[10] She was the first Minister to resign voluntarily since 2003.

Iron Lady[edit]

Karua has the image of being combative and a woman of unbending resolve. At one time in her Kirinyaga District when KANU was still in power, Karua dramatically walked out on President Moi who was then addressing a crowd in the district stadium. This was an unusual display of open defiance against Moi, who was then feared and ruled the country with an iron fist.

She has been a leading crusader for the widening of democratic space and gender issues in Kenya. She has been involved in championing women's rights through public interest litigation, lobbying and advocacy for laws that enhance and protect women's rights through her work with various women's organizations, particularly the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya) and the League of Kenya Women Voters.

In February 2009 during her time as Minister of Justice, she once had a heated argument with the Minister of Agriculture William Ruto at a cabinet meeting as the President sat quietly, watching the sparring ministers, a source at the meeting said: "The President did not say or do anything. He just sat there quietly watching as the ministers took on each other. It was chaotic, hot and eruptive." The two ministers had been sparring in public over a period of three weeks, with Ms Karua demanding Mr Ruto's resignation over a maize scandal. [11]

She was referred to as "the only man" in the PNU Cabinet, despite the fact that all the other Cabinet members were men.

Private life[edit]

Martha Karua gained attention after she and a Catholic priest, Fr. Dominic Wamugunda, were carjacked and robbed on 6 December 2003 late at night while enroute to her house in Wamugunda's car. The pair were alone. She said in Parliament upon being questioned by MPs that she was under no obligation to provide any explanation for why she was in Wamugunda's car or what she was doing at the time of the carjacking. Her security guards were not present when the crime occurred; Karua said that when she did not feel she needed the guards, she did not use them.[12] Martha Karua is a divorcee, including at the time of her reported association with Wamugunda.

2013 Presidential Bid[edit]

Martha Karua contested in the running for the presidency in 2013.(New Kenyan law barred presidential contenders from simultaneously seeking parliamentary seat so she had to give up her interest in her Gichugu seat with potential risk of being cast out politics altogether if she lost her presidential bid) She came in sixth with 43,881 votes, by all accounts a dismal showing, where to the surprise of many given her pedigree she even trailed Mohammed Abduba Dida , a complete unknown and decidedly a lightweight , who polled 0.43% against her own 0.38% of the total presidential votes cast.

Following this and after a long time in relative obscurity and abstention in the political scene, she has reappeared in public life recently, hinting on renewed political ambition in the coming 2017 presidential election in which President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to seek re-election. She was among the opposition leaders who President Obama met when he was hosted by Uhuru in 2015 in Obama's only presidential visit to Kenya. Politically, she seems to have inclined toward CORD ,the main opposition political outfit led by Raila Odinga , even though she and Raila have been long-standing political foes and for a long time seemed the most unlikely of political allies.

In December 2015 Karua admitted to receiving a multimillion-pound "donation" to her presidential campaign costs from British American Tobacco. Karua said that she thought that the contribution by Paul Hopkins, a BAT employee, was a personal donation. The money was paid via Mary M'Mukindia who was running Karua's campaign.[13] Prior to this, Martha Karua had long enjoyed the reputation of being untainted by corruption by many but this bribery report appeared to cast doubt on this. No culpability has been proven nor any charges pursued against her. Karua has maintained that she cannot be corrupted .

Awards And Recognition[edit]

In 1991 Karua was recognised by Human Rights Watch as a human rights monitor.

In December 1995 she was awarded by the Federation of Kenya Women Lawyers (FIDA) for advancing the cause of women.

In 1999 the Kenya Section of the International Commission of Jurists awarded her the 1999 Kenya Jurist of the Year and in the same year same month, the law society of Kenya (LSK) awarded her the Legal Practitioners Due Diligence Award.[2]


  1. ^ "Martha Karua: I'm Not Married But That's A Non-Issue". 11 February 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2013. 
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Gakuu Mathenge, It’s not for love of Ruto that Kiraitu cornered Karua, The East African Standard, 22 February 2009
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ "Kibaki Names Cabinet", The Standard, 8 January 2008.
  6. ^ "Odinga denies 'ethnic cleansing'", BBC News, 16 January 2008.
  7. ^ "Kenya government anger with Annan", BBC News, 13 February 2008.
  8. ^ Anthony Kariuki, "Kibaki names Raila PM in new Cabinet",, 13 April 2008.
  9. ^ MUCHEMI WACHIRA, "Karua endorsed as Narc Kenya boss ", Daily Nation, 15 November 2008.
  10. ^ ANTHONY KARIUKI, Kenya Justice minister Karua resigns, Daily Nation, 6 April 2009.
  11. ^ ERNARD NAMUNANE and DAVID MUGONYI, Chaos in cabinet as Karua and Ruto clash, Daily Nation, 17 February 2009.
  12. ^ Mark Agutu, "Martha: I owe no-one an explanation" at the Wayback Machine (archived December 16, 2003), Daily Nation, 12 December 2003.
  13. ^ Karua fights back as British paper names her in Sh7m BAT bribery storm, 20 December 2015, Thew Nation, Retrieved 25 March 2016

External links[edit]