Martha Karua is one of Kenya’s top political leaders credited with expanding the country’s democratic space as a Senior Counsel, former magistrate and former member of Parliament. Indeed, she has always been at the forefront of defending pro-democracy leaders, fighting with Kenyans to defend the Constitution and keeping the government of the day in check. Karua is known as an astute woman of principle, and the embodiment of good governance, accountability and servant leadership. Having respected the Court’s decision to uphold the 2022 Presidential elections in favor of her competitors, Martha is now the de facto Leader of Opposition and as she prepares to be Kenya’s next leader.
Leadership and Mentorship
Whether at the strategic, tactical or operational level, effective leadership demands the achievement of results. In as much as there is need to place focus on organisational capabilities, i.e. adaptability, agility, mission-directed, or values-based, or on leadership competencies, i.e. vision, character, trust, and other exemplary attributes, competencies and capabilities, it is important that a connection is made between these critical capabilities and results. This is what Hon. Karua believes it creates results-based leadership. She has been adamant that results in leadership are the product of demonstrated leadership attributes, including those emanating from personal character, mastering competencies, setting directions, building organisational capacity, mobilising individual commitment and achieving positive results, whether in the public or private. Therefore, Hon. Martha Karua believes that good or effective leadership is thus rooted in ethics.
When it comes to leadership, Hon. Martha Karua believes in leadership that will invest in our people. She has been vocal over the years about her passion in guiding and mentoring the next generation of leaders when it comes to matters of democracy and good governance. She holds firm the ideal that in order to be a good leader, one must invest their time and dedication to their goals by being focused and competent in their respective fields of work.
She is known to champion good leadership. Good leadership to her has always been partisan to good citizenship; one which is in line with being of service to one’s country. One that is crucial to her. Leadership scholars such as Doris Kearns Goodwin have placed resilience – “the ability to sustain ambition in the face of frustration” – at the heart of leadership. If you consider Hon. Karua’s political career, you will realise that it was neither luck nor fate that got her to this point, but her indefatigable, never-say-die spirit that many young women could emulate.
It was not what happened to Ms Karua that mattered, but how she reacted and responded to the challenges and drawbacks she encountered in her journey. It was not the hurdles placed in her way or the insults she endured that mattered, but how she managed to pull herself up by her bootstraps and steeled herself for the journey ahead. These are some of the attributes that Hon. Martha Karua embodies and wishes to pass them on to young leaders that she mentors and advocates for mentorship.
She has been an advocate for leaders with shared histories coming together to fight for the rights of people, democracy and the rule of law. She believes in leaders with a shared history who sacrifice and serve together for the benefit of the people of Kenya.
For, Hon. Martha Karua, leadership is about integrity. She has consistently been one of the leading voices in calling for the expansion of democratic space and gender issues and continues to do so in her capacity as Kenya’s iron lady.
Youth and Women Affairs
Karua’s background as a fervent democracy and integrity campaigner, as well as representing the important issues around youth and women affairs has been an open and passionate role for the veteran politician.
She has voiced her concerns during her time in the public eye that having a small number of women in the policy making institutions is not good for Kenyan women and the country. She holds firm the belief that there are many examples from all over the world which show that women bring a different perspective into political leadership. According to Hon. Karua, women leaders tend to differ from their male colleagues in matters of policy attitudes when it comes to youth and women affairs. She views that the former are usually more supportive of liberal legislation intended at creating a more inclusive society.
For Hon. Karua, women and the youth have a tendency to support liberal legislation, particularly that which seeks to create a more inclusive society. This may be a result of the fact that in many ways, women and the youth in Kenya have historically been marginalised and under-privileged in communities all over the country. Having been on the receiving end of discrimination based on their sex and age groups, women and the youth who get into positions of leadership are more likely to support initiatives that seek to end or at least lessen it, than their male colleagues who traditionally have been the beneficiaries of such marginalization.
Hon. Karua has also been quoted and stands firm on the objectives that women are socialised to be nurturers and caregivers may also help to explain this tendency to empathise with the under-privileged and the desire to bring everybody on board. She has also highlighted that women serving in state legislatures tend to have extraordinary policy priorities particularly in women and youth issues. She observes that ‘scholars have found that in comparison to men, female lawmakers are more liberal in their policy attitudes and they display a tremendous devotion to the pursuit of feminist initiatives and legislation, incorporating issues of conventional concern to women and the youth, including education, health and welfare.
Democracy and Good Governance
A government is as good as the political party/parties that form it. It is therefore of great importance that we put our energies as citizens to build strong political parties that are well managed as a prerequisite for good governance in our country.’ – Hon. Martha Karua, 2021
Hon. Martha Karua has had a long career on the perimeters of political authority. She has been a key figure in the push for multiparty democracy through the 1980s and 1990s, and defended human rights activists during the autocratic regime of the former president Daniel Arap Moi, known for its vicious crackdowns on dissent.
She’s known to have relinquished roles such as justice minister in 2009, referring to frustrations in her efforts to bring about judicial reform after the government assigned judges without her knowledge. Hon. Karua’s human rights record has won her applause from civil society organisations. She has been involved in the Linda Katiba Movement, a citizens’ endeavor to protect the constitution from government-led changes that profited the political nobility.
Hon. Karua has long been known as a strong defender of good governance and democracy in Kenya. She became popular in the Kenyan media when she was elected as one of the LSK council members in the early 1990s at a time when President Moi was under pressure to repeal Section 2A of the Constitution and allow for multi-party democracy. Her team was taken to court and prosecutors asked that they restrain them from engaging in politics under the banner of LSK. It was this fight that endeared Hon. Karua to the populace as she called for judicial reforms and demanded the removal of British expatriate judges who had unfailingly made pro-government rulings. Some of the decisions that upset her were the upholding of the legality of the one-party state and rejection of the justiciability of the human rights provisions of the Kenyan Constitution. At this point, Hon. Martha Karua was only 34 years old, and was tossed into the deep end of Kenya’s politics. But this was not her first time fighting for democratic space. In her practice, Hon. Karua stood out as a defender of human rights by representing many on a pro bono basis. She stood her ground in court when the state sought to end charges against some of those charged. During this period, she also enormously contributed to the development of family law, especially the distribution of matrimonial property, as well as constitutional and administrative law. In 1999, she received the Kenya Jurist of The Year Award from the International Commission of Jurists, Kenya Chapter.
She has always been revered and famously known to advocate for democracy and good governance in Kenya and for Kenyans. She has been vocal about processes of measuring how public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources and guarantee the realization of human rights in a manner essentially free of abuse and corruption and with due regard for the rule of law.
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