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Martha Wangari Karua Biography

Martha Karua was born on the 22nd of September 1957 in Kirinyaga District, Central Province of Kenya as the second born in a family of eight siblings, four girls and four boys.

She had a humble upbringing that instilled in her lessons and values she still carries today.

Martha attended Mugumo primary school, Kabare Girls Boarding School before joining Kiburia Girl’s secondary school, and then had a stint at Ngiriambu Girls High School before settling at Karoti Girls where she sat for her East African School Certificate.

She then proceeded to Nairobi Girls High School (now State House High School) where after passing her EASCE embarked on her A levels.

Upon successful completion of her A levels, she joined the University of Nairobi where she enrolled for a law degree 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

Karua worked as a magistrate in various courts including those at Makadara, Nakuru and Kibera, receiving credit for careful discernment. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. She was the first Minister to resign voluntarily since 2003.

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 in a contested election outcome.

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. Karua proceeded to file a petition in the East African Court of Justice suing kenya government for failure of its Judicial arm to dispense justice in the petition. She was among the opposition leaders who President Obama met when he was hosted by Uhuru Kenyatta 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. Karua later abandoned her political relationship with Raila.

In December 2015 Karua admitted to receiving a kshs two million "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. Karua has the reputation of being untainted by corruption save for this report of donation of alleged tainted money. No culpability has been proven and the British investigations concluded without any charges against Paul Hopkins. Karua has maintained that she cannot be corrupted and invited Kenyan authorities to investigate any alleged wrong doing. Karua was defeated on 8 August 2017 by Anne Waiguru in controversial election outcome.

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.

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.

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 Karua demanding Ruto's resignation over a maize scandal.

She was referred to as "the only man" in the PNU Cabinet, despite the fact that all the other Cabinet members were men. Karua served as Minister for Water between 2003-2005 December and initiated the water sector reforms that devolved the management of water service leading to improved services.

On 20 September 2021, Senior Counsel Martha Karua was unanimously elected as the Interim Mount Kenya Unity Forum Spokesperson by a section of leaders from Central Kenya. “We have chosen Martha Karua to be our official convener and our spokesperson,” Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria.

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

In December 1995, she was awarded by the Federation of Kenya Women Lawyers (F.I.D.A) 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.



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