Martha Wangari Karua (born 22 September 1957) is a Kenyan lawyer who was a long-serving member of parliament for the Gichugu Constituency. She served as Minister of Justice until April 2009, when she resigned.
Karua campaigned for president in 2013 on the Narc-Kenya ticket, becoming the third woman to do so following Charity Ngilu and Wangari Maathai in the 1997 elections. She finished sixth overall.
Childhood and education
Martha Karua is the daughter of Jackson Karua and Josephine Wanjiru. She grew raised in the village of Kimunye in as the second of eight children, four girls and four boys.
She went to Mugumo Primary School, Kabare Girls Boarding School, and St Michael’s Keruguya. She then attended Kiburia Girls Secondary School, Ngiriambu Girls Secondary School, and Karoti Girls High School in Kirinyaga County, where she earned her East African School Certificate. She subsequently went on to Nairobi Girls’ Secondary School for her A levels. From 1977 to 1980, she studied law at the University of Nairobi. She attended the Kenya School of Legal for the statutory postgraduate law study between 1980 and 1981.
1981 – 2002
Karua worked as a magistrate in numerous courts, including Makadara, Nakuru, and Kibera, after graduating, and was praised for his thorough judgement. She departed in 1987 to establish her own law business, Martha Karua & Co. Advocates, which she led until 2002. Among the cases were the treason trials of Koigi Wamwere and Kenyan Member of Parliament Mirugi Kariuki. She supported several human rights advocates at the risk of being banned by the Moi regime.
A career in politics
1990 – 2002
In the early 1990s, Karua was a member of the opposition political movements that successfully pushed for the reintroduction of multi-party democracy in Kenya.
Karua became a member of Kenneth Matiba’s Ford-Asili party. In September 1992, she stepped out of the party leadership elections, which she saw as rigged, leaving her single opponent, Geoffrrey Karekia Kariithi, to be declared the winner. She joined the Democratic Party of Kenya (DP), where she won the Party nominations / ticket in November 1992, and went on to win the election as Gichugu MP in December 1992, defeating incumbent Geoffrrey Karekia Kariithi, liberating Gichugu people from the Kareithi – Nahashon Njuno feud. Karua was the first woman lawyer to be elected to Parliament and the MP for Gichugu seat. In 1993, she was elected as the Democratic Party’s legal affairs secretary.
Karua renounced the job of Shadow Minister for Culture and Social Services in 1998 because it conflicted with her role as National Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (an elected appointment), which made her the party’s official spokesperson on legal concerns. She chose to quit as National Secretary for Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
When the Constitutional Review Bill was introduced in the House in 2001, the entire Opposition, with the exception of Karua, walked out. The Bill had been rejected by both the Opposition and Civil Society, but Karua believed that it would be more wise for elected members to remain in Parliament and express their objections rather than walk out. As a result, she opted to stay in Parliament, and her objections to the Bill were duly recorded in Hansard.
2003 to 2009
She was the Minister of Justice, National Cohesion, and Constitutional Affairs until April 6, 2009. She formerly served as the Minister of Water Resources Management and Development, and was instrumental in the passage of the Water Act of 2002, which has increased the pace of water reforms and service delivery in Kenya.
Karua retained Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister in Kibaki’s Cabinet, which was formed on January 8, 2008, following the contentious December 2007 election. In an interview with BBC’s HARDtalk in January 2008, Karua stated that while the government had anticipated that the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of Raila Odinga would be “planning mayhem if they lost,” it was surprised by “the magnitude” of the violence, labeling it “ethnic cleansing.” When asked to clarify, Karua stated “categorically” that the ODM planned ethnic cleansing. Odinga later called Karua’s accusation “outrageous.” Karua led the government’s team in negotiations with the opposition over the election-related political issue. The political situation eventually led to Kibaki and Odinga negotiating a power-sharing pact. Karua retained her position as Minister of Justice, National Cohesion, and Constitutional Affairs in the grand coalition Cabinet announced on April 13, 2008.
On November 15, 2008, she was elected as the national chairman of the NARC-Kenya political party. During the party’s national delegates’ convention at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi, there was essentially no competitive election because all of the officials, including Ms Karua, were approved. Following her support, she indicated that she would run for Kenya’s highest political office, President, in the 2012 elections.
On April 6, 2009, Karua resigned as Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, citing difficulties with her duties. A notable manifestation of her dissatisfaction was when President Mwai Kibaki selected Judges without her knowledge just days before she resigned. She was the first Minister to quit on her own own since 2003.
2013 to the present
Karua ran for president of Kenya in 2013 on the NARC Kenya party ticket.
In a contentious race, she finished sixth with 43,881 votes.
Martha Karua would make a political comeback in Kenya in the 2017 general election, running for a gubernatorial seat in Kirinyaga County. She was defeated by current Governor Anne Waiguru in a hotly contested election, receiving 122, 091 votes to Ms Waiguru’s 161,373 votes. Karua protested the election, citing electoral irregularities, and filed a petition in the High Court attempting to have Waiguru’s election declared null and void, but lost the petitions in the High Court, Court of Appeal, and finally the Supreme Court. Karua then filed a petition in the East African Court of Justice, accusing the Kenyan government of failing to provide justice through its judicial arm.
Karua admitted in December 2015 to receiving a kshs two million “gift” from British American Tobacco for her presidential campaign expenses. Karua stated that she believed Paul Hopkins, a BAT employee, made a personal donation. The funds were transferred through Mary M’Mukindia, who was running Karua’s campaign. Except for this revelation of alleged contaminated money donation, Karua has a reputation for being free of corruption. There was no evidence of guilt, and the British investigations closed without charging Paul Hopkins. Karua has insisted that she cannot be bribed and has urged Kenyan authorities to look into any potential wrongdoing.
Senior Counsel Martha Karua was overwhelmingly elected as the Interim Mount Kenya Unity Forum Spokesperson by a group of leaders from Central Kenya on September 20, 2021. “Martha Karua has been appointed as our official convener and spokeswoman,” Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria said.
Honors and recognition
Human Rights Watch designated Karua as a human rights monitor in 1991.
In December 1995, she was honored by the Federation of Kenya Women Lawyers (F.I.D.A) for her contributions to the advancement of women’s rights.
In 1999, the Kenya Section of the International Commission of Jurists named her the 1999 Kenya Jurist of the Year, and the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) honored her with the Legal Practitioners Due Diligence Award in the same year and month.
- Bills introduced in Parliament
- The Kenya Constitution (Amendment) Bill of 2008
- Kenya Constitutional Amendment Bill – 2008
- The National Ethic and Race Relations Bill was passed on July 1, 2008.
- Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Act – October 23, 2008