African politics, Kenya Watch

Iron ladies of Kenya’s politics and their divergent rise


Two ways of building a successful political career in Kenya is by either opposing the regime or by working for the regime.

Martha Karua rose to political prominence through the former, while Dr. Sally Kosgey through the latter.

As the 2012 elections approach, both Karua and Kosgey are positioning themselves nationally, with Karua launching her presidential bid in earnest. On the other hand, while Kosgey is holding her cards close to her chest and while it is highly unlikely that she will be a presidential candidate, whichever side she joins will have a formidable ally.

In a country where the national politics are dominated by men, and women are often nominated as symbolic tokenism for gender empowerment, both Karua and Kosgey have carved a place for themselves in national politics by sheer force of their intellect and pedigree academic qualifications, combined with patronage, in the case of Kosgey.

Kosgey received her MA in 1975 and a PhD in 1980, both from Stanford University in the United States. Karua studied law at the University of Nairobi from 1977-1980 before joining the Kenya school of Law for postgraduate studies, a prerequisite to practice law in Kenya.

In terms of their personalities, Karua is forceful while Kosgey is reserved.

Two public incidences by Karua and Kosgey cemented their places in the public conscience.

Karua rose to national prominence on account of her opposition to the Moi regime and she used every opportunity to oppose Moi. At one time in her Kirinyaga District, Karua walked out on President Moi, who was then addressing a crowd in the district stadium–something few could get away with during Moi’s regime.

If Karua’s stock in trade is opposing Moi stridently, Kosgey was Moi’s close ally. In 2002, when Moi left office and the ruling party in Kenya, Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) was defeated by the opposition coalition, where Martha was a key player. Kosgey was at the nerve center of the regime where she was the Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet. Indeed, when the helicopter carrying Moi left the States House for his home, after being in power for 24 years, Kosgey shaded tears in public.

After Moi left office in 2002, and the opposition won, Karua was appointed a government minister. During that time, Kosgey took a break from politics until 2007, when she sought the Aladai parliamentary seat on the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) ticket, which was an opposition party. This was curious for someone who served in the government her entire career. On the other hand, for the first time, Karua was seeking election on the Party of National Unity (PNU) ticket, the incumbent party.

In the 2007 election, the two parties, ODM and PNU, faced off in a stiff competition, and Karua and Kosgey played big roles in their party’s election campaigns. When dispute arose over who was the winner in the elections leading to the death of 1500 people and displacement of half a million people, the AU appointed Kofi Annan to be the Chief Mediator. When each party nominated their representative to the mediation process, both Karua and Kosgey were nominated as mediators by their respective parties. Throughout the mediation process, Kosgey conducted herself with dignity and decorum, while Karua proved intransigent, prompting a threat of expulsion from the mediation process

One of the products of the mediation was the formation of a collation government, where Raila Odinga, the head of ODM, was appointed as the Prime Minister, and Mwai Kibaki, the leader of PNU, retained the presidency. Additionally, some of the ODM and PNU Members of Parliament were also appointed as members of the cabinet. Both Karua and Kosgey were appointed as members of the cabinet. But both have fallen out with their respective parties, and are seeking election on different parties from the one that sent them to office during the previous elections.

Karua fell out with the PNU and she has launched her own presidential bid, while Kosgey fell out with Raila over the ICC indictments of William Ruto, Henry Kosgey and Joshua Sang.

For the first time in their respective political career, both Karua and Kosgey will be running for public office at the same time and on an opposition ticket. Although both have never run on a gender platform, in a political arena dominated by men, seeing formidable female politicians like Karua and Kosgey bodes well for gender empowerment in Kenya

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