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Kenya elections 2022: Raila Odinga picks Martha Karua as running mate

One of the frontrunners in Kenya’s presidential election has picked a veteran female politician and one-time rival as his running mate.

Raila Odinga named Martha Karua to the role on Monday, making her the first woman to run on a major political party’s presidential ticket.

Ms Karua is a former justice minister from the Central Region, which is seen as a key battleground in the 9 August election.

She ran for president herself in 2013.

“I still have unfinished business with [the] presidency, so God-willing one day I will serve in that capacity,” Ms Karua said last year.

“History is calling us to close the gender gap in our country,” said Mr Odinga as he announced Ms Karua’s appointment as his deputy on Monday. She said she was “deeply honoured” and thanked the “faceless team of dreamers” who had supported her.

Some in the press have dubbed the veteran politician the “Iron lady”. She has been outspoken on corruption in the past, decrying Kenyan politics as a “rich boys’ club” and backing calls for the International Criminal Court to investigate the violence which broke out after previous elections.

Her alliance with Mr Odinga is something of an about-turn.

Back in 2007 while justice minister, she accused Mr Odinga’s opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of “ethnic cleansing” after the nationwide clashes that followed that year’s disputed election. Mr Odinga called the accusation “outrageous”.

In an attempt to quell the violent aftermath of those polls, a power-sharing deal saw Mr Odinga become prime minister in what some saw as a snub to Ms Karua.

Ms Karua hails from Kenya’s largest community, the Kikuyu, whose support is vital in Kenya’s ethnically charged elections.

For the first time in Kenya’s history, no prominent Kikuyu candidates are in the running for the top office, making the choice of running mate potentially decisive.

On Sunday another Kikuyu politician, Rigathi Gachagua, was announced as the running mate of Deputy President William Ruto, the other main presidential contender.

Kenyans are guaranteed a new president in August as Uhuru Kenyatta steps down.

He has fallen out with his deputy, Mr Ruto, and backed former arch-rival Mr Odinga, who is mounting his fifth attempt to win the presidency.

Kenya has one of the lowest proportions of female parliamentarians in East Africa – at just 23%.

Ms Karua, 64, is a lawyer by training who won praise before becoming an MP for her work advising human rights activists and championing wider access to clean water.

‘Loyal but no pushover’

Analysis by Emmanuel Igunza, BBC News, Nairobi

In picking Martha Karua, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga is seeking to woo two key constituencies – Central Kenya and female voters.

Several women have run for the presidency in past elections but all were from fringe parties and performed dismally at the polls – Ms Karua’s own attempt nine years ago saw her win less than 1% of the vote.

So, in the eyes of many, her latest nomination represents genuine progress.

During her stint in government, Ms Karua emerged as a loyal and staunch supporter of former President Mwai Kibaki, and in his speech on Monday, Mr Odinga alluded to these qualities as key qualities in a running mate.

Someone who “would not compete with the president”, he told supporters at a rally – a comment many analysts regards as a dig at current Deputy President William Ruto, who has fallen out with President Kenyatta.

But Ms Karua is no pushover either. She has earned a reputation as a straight-talker especially on issues of human rights, democracy and corruption.

The main question now however is whether Kenyans will vote a woman into high office, a milestone which has eluded the country so far.