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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How to embrace "reformer" Karua

By KWAMCHETSI MAKOKHA

Former Justice minister Martha Karua may just have written the manual on how to achieve an image makeover in less than a year. In the space of just under 12 months, she has gone from being the most intransigent hardliner to conciliator to reformer.

Yet the image of Ms Karua insisting on comprehensive constitutional reforms after the referendum is difficult to erase. She set up a committee of eminent persons to advise on how to conclude constitutional reform in a year.

She used the report and the processes thereafter to stonewall and stall, so that by the time Kenya went to the elections in 2007, the electoral boundaries had not been reviewed, the electoral commission had not been reformed, the powers the Electoral Commission sought had not been passed and even the barest minimums of electoral thresholds for holding the office of the President could not be passed.

Many will blame the polarised politics of the time for many of these initiatives, but as minister, her leadership defined the atmosphere in which those polarities were exercised.

Ms Karua was an eloquent speaker in her time at the Justice ministry. She dismissed John Githongo’s concerns about corruption famously with the words: “He was never hired as an investigator; he was only an adviser.” Now, Ms Karua complains about the Kenya Anti-Corruption Cover-up Commission.

As a member of the Cabinet, a close confidant and defender of the President, Ms Karua coined the refrain that became the stock response to complaints about electoral irregularities in 2007: “Go to court.” The courts are no longer even pretending to adjudicate electoral disputes and Ms Karua wants the whole Judiciary reformed.

Ms Karua drove a hard bargain during the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation talks. She wanted President Kibaki in charge and delivered just the deal. She moved the National Accord and Reconciliation Act in Parliament and asked MPs to pass it without amendment.

She saw through the belated decision to appoint her to the permanent coalition management committee and turned down the honour. Now, she says she is frustrated and wants to work for reform. Is this what the leadership paralysis Kenya is experiencing now what she fought so hard to give this country?

For those who had it in for her, such as President Kibaki when he warned of dismissals, and the group of youthful members of Parliament who had threatened to introduce a censure motion against her, her departure from Cabinet has stolen the thunder from her detractors.

They will probably say it is good riddance since she was such a hardliner incapable of making the compromises necessary to secure the passage of a new constitution. That is neither here nor there.

While her frustration with anti-reform forces in government draws sympathy, it also exposes a scheming, calculating side to her that should invite public caution.

Those who want to see action on poverty, inequality, land, corruption, constitutional review, a more accountable police force and court system would be well advised to embrace her – at arms’ length before they can discern if hers mirrors the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.

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