Martha Karua

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Martha Karua

Minister of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs
In office
2005 – 6 April 2009
PresidentMwai Kibaki
Preceded byKiraitu Murungi
Succeeded byMutula Kilonzo
Minister of Water Resources Management and Development
In office
PresidentMwai Kibaki
Former Member of the Kenyan Parliament
Assumed office
ConstituencyGichugu Constituency
Personal details
Martha Wangari

(1957-09-22) 22 September 1957 (age 62)
Kirinyaga District, Kenya
Political partyNARC-Kenya
Alma materUniversity of Nairobi (LL.B)
Kenya School of Law
United States International University - Africa
PositionsPartner, Martha Karua & Co. (1987–2002)

Martha Wangari Karua (/wænˈɡɑːri kəˈr/; born 1957) is a Kenyan politician and an advocate of social Justice. She is a former long-standing member of parliament for the Gichugu Constituency and an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. She was Minister of Justice until resigning from that position in April 2009. Karua has consistently fought for the protection of women's rights and improvements to the democratic process.[2]

Early years[edit]

The daughter of Jackson Karue and his wife, Martha Karua was born on 22 September 1957 in Kirinyaga District in the Central Province of Kenya. Brought up in the village of Kimunye in the Gichugu Constituency, she is the second child in a family of eight, four girls and four boys.[3][4]

She attended Kabare Girls Boarding School and Kiburia Girls Secondary School before passing her East African School Certificate at Karoti Girls High School in Kirinyaga County.[5] 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.[4]

Professional career[edit]

1981 – 2002[edit]

After graduating, from 1981 to 1987 Karua worked as a magistrate in various courts including those at Makadara, Nakuru and Kibera, receiving credit for careful discernment.[3] In 1987, she left to start her own law firm, Martha Karua & Co. Advocates, which she ran until 2002. Cases included the treason trial of Koigi Wamwere and that of the Kenyan member of parliament Mirugi Kariuki.[4][6] At the risk of being blacklisted by the Moi government, she defended several human rights activists.[3] Her work contributed to family law, especially in regard to matrimonial property.[3]

Political career[edit]

1990 – 2002[edit]

Karua was a member of the opposition political movements that successfully agitated for the re-introduction 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.[7]

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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[9]

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.[2]

2003 to 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.[2][3]

Karua remained Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister in the Cabinet appointed by Kibaki on 8 January 2008, following the controversial December 2007 election. [10] 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".[11] Karua headed the government's team in negotiations with the opposition regarding the political dispute that resulted from the election.[12] 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.[13]

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 that being President in the Kenya's 2012 elections. [14]

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.[15] She was the first Minister to resign voluntarily since 2003.

2013 to present[edit]

Karua contested the 2013 Kenyan presidential election, under the NARC Kenya party ticket. New Kenyan law barred presidential contenders from simultaneously seeking a parliamentary seat, so she had to give up her interest in her somewhat safe Gichugu seat, with potential risk of being cast out of 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 she trailed Mohammed Abduba Dida, a previously unknown candidate, who polled 0.43% against her own 0.38% of the total presidential votes cast.[16]

Martha Karua would make a come-back in Kenya's political scene in the 2017 general election seeking for a Gubernatorial Seat in Kirinyaga County. She lost to the current Governor Anne Waiguru in a heavily contested election after garnering 122, 091 votes against Ms Waiguru's 161,373 votes. Karua contested the election citing election irregularities and filed a petition at the High Court seeking to have Waiguru's election nullified but lost the petition's at the High court, Court of Appeal and ultimately at the Supreme Court. ≤ref≥ ≤/ref≥.

[17] 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.[18] 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.[19] Karua later abandoned her political relationship with Raila.[20]

In December 2015 Karua admitted to receiving a multi million-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. Prior to this, Karua had had 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.[21] Karua was defeated on 8 August 2017 by Anne Waiguru in the hotly contested Kirinyaga gubernatorial elections.


At one time in her Kirinyaga District when KANU was still in power, Karua 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 as an authoritarian.[22][23]

She has been an activist 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.[2][24]

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. [25]

She was referred to as "the only man" in the PNU Cabinet, despite the fact that all the other Cabinet members were men.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Karua gained attention after she and a Catholic priest, Fr. Dominic Wamugunda, were carjacked and robbed on 6 December 2003 late at night while en route to her house in Wamugunda's car.[26] 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.[27] Karua is a divorcee, including at the time of her reported association with Wamugunda.[28]

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 1991 Karua was recognized by Human Rights Watch as a hu[29]man rights monitor.[30]

In December 1995 she was awarded by the Federation of Kenya Women Lawyers (F.I.D.A) for advancing the cause of women.[31] 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.[4]


  1. ^ "Martha Karua: I'm Not Married But That's A Non-Issue". 11 February 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e Brownsell, James. "Profile: Martha Karua". Aljazeera. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Martha Karua Biography and Profile". SoftKenya. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Karua, Martha. "Profile". Wikifoundry. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  5. ^ Kamau, Munene (14 January 2013). "Martha Karua profile". Standard. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  6. ^ Press, Robert M. (12 August 2002). "Interview conducted and recorded by Robert M. Press" (PDF). Library of Congress. Retrieved 16 February 2017.
  7. ^ Nyström, Christina (2000). "Kenya:The party system from 1963-2000". International Comparative Political Parties Project. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  8. ^ Gakuu Mathenge, It’s not for love of Ruto that Kiraitu cornered Karua[permanent dead link], The East African Standard, 22 February 2009
  9. ^ a b Archived 23 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Kibaki Names Cabinet"[permanent dead link], The Standard, 8 January 2008.
  11. ^ "Odinga denies 'ethnic cleansing'", BBC News, 16 January 2008.
  12. ^ "Kenya government anger with Annan", BBC News, 13 February 2008.
  13. ^ Anthony Kariuki, "Kibaki names Raila PM in new Cabinet"[permanent dead link],, 13 April 2008.
  14. ^ MUCHEMI WACHIRA, "Karua endorsed as Narc Kenya boss ", Daily Nation, 15 November 2008.
  15. ^ ANTHONY KARIUKI, Kenya Justice minister Karua resigns, Daily Nation, 6 April 2009.
  16. ^ Kiplang'at, Jeremiah (9 March 2013). "Karua concedes defeat, ready to work with Uhuru". Daily Nation. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  17. ^ Kabugi, James (11 February 2017). "To Murgor and Aukot: Save face, leave before it's too late". The Star. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  18. ^ "This is what Obama told Martha Karua - She has had sleepless nights for two weeks". Daily Post. 4 August 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  19. ^ "Martha Karua Speaks about her Relationship with Raila Odinga". Busualeo. 10 June 2016. Archived from the original on 20 February 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  20. ^ Lang'at, Patrick (11 November 2016). "Martha Karua meets Raila Odinga after ditching him". Daily Nation. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  21. ^ Karua fights back as British paper names her in Sh7m BAT bribery storm, 20 December 2015, The Nation, Retrieved 25 March 2016
  22. ^ Bosire, Julius (18 June 2001). "Kenya: Karua: Why I Walked Out on Moi". Daily Nation. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  23. ^ Kabeira, Judie (16 April 2009). "The other side of Martha Karua". CapitalNews. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  24. ^ Nzomo, Maria. "Impacts of Women in Political Leadership in Kenya: Struggle for Participation in Governance through Affirmative Action" (PDF). University of Nairobi. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  25. ^ ERNARD NAMUNANE and DAVID MUGONYI, Chaos in cabinet as Karua and Ruto clash, Daily Nation, 17 February 2009.
  26. ^ "Kenya minister in carjack terror". BBC News. 7 December 2003. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  27. ^ Mark Agutu, ""Martha: I owe no-one an explanation"". Archived from the original on 16 December 2003. Retrieved 27 January 2008.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link), Daily Nation, 12 December 2003.
  28. ^ "Priest recalls night of terror". Daily Nation. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  29. ^ "Priest recalls night of terror". Daily Nation. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  30. ^ "ICJ Kenya to Award 2019 Jurist of the Year". Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  31. ^ Kasami, Dickens. "Martha Karua is fit to be next chief justice - MP". TUKO. Retrieved 19 February 2017.

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