Kwendo Opanga: Tough as nails this Martha Karua

If Martha Karua became president, I would wish her to be a Margaret Thatcher -- with a compassionate and affectionate, fond and kind, side to her public persona.

Is there such a side to her austere and arrogant persona? If there is, it will have to be made public and often for there is not much evidence of this when one mentions her or sees her on TV.

Recall that two Sundays ago I referred to her as tough-as-nails and that, of course, reminds me of somebody else -- former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Thatcher -- now Baroness -- remains for me a politician’s politician, one who presided over an era that saw massive change in British politics and especially economy.

When the Brits voted for Thatcher to be their premier in 1979, a local editor, Mr Chege Mbitiru, argued that she would protect them the way a hen protects its chicks.

The Iron Lady, as the Soviets called her, was to have a massive influence on British politics, especially her Conservative Party, economics and society as a whole. And she became a global player.

Under her leadership, the so-called special relationship between London and Washington flourished and there was, indeed, a special chemistry between her and Ronald Reagan.

Thatcher was a household name worldwide. Local humorist Wahome Mutahi, aka Whispers Son of the Soil, aka Wispa ole Soilo, promptly nicknamed his wife Thatcher. Many men followed suit.

Thatcher’s supporters among the Tories became known as Thatcherites and privatisation was well and truly entrenched as she pursued her goal of transforming Britain into a property-owning democracy.

When in 1991 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Thatcher thundered that “you do no negotiate with an aggressor, you make him pay!”

When Saddam briefly used foreign nationals as human shields, Thatcher goaded him, calling him a loser who was hiding behind the skirts of women. Remember also that Thatcher had her own war, taking on Argentina over the Falklands in 1982.

And it was Thatcher who destroyed the power of organised labour in the UK, through tough legislation meant to limit strike action. Then she faced down and eventually won against Arthur Scargill when he called out the miners in the 1983-1984 strike.

Before Thatcher went into one election, her handlers worried that she was too stern a person; that she came across as hard as nails, uncompromising and off-putting.

She had to be trained to come across as soft and loving, caring and understanding as she addressed audiences during her campaigns or appeared on TV programmes.

Indeed, Thatcher intimidated even members of her own Cabinet. When a critical minister would begin to criticise her, Thatcher would reach for her handbag and fish out something she appeared to be reading while stealing glances at the speaker.

Ministers thought she was reading from some secret script, possibly prepared by the intelligence, about each one of them. This came to be known as hand-bagging and it scared ministers stiff!

In public, the Iron Lady may not, as she herself said, have been for turning (doing a U-turn or turning her back on her policies) but, in private, she was softened a little.

So is there a tender side to Martha Karua who, it appears, can be as tough as Thatcher? The public Martha Karua, especially the one that emerged after last December’s sinful presidential poll, is as intransigent as she is belligerent.

This is best illustrated by her static positions on the outcome of the presidential election and the matter of amnesty for those suspected of perpetrating the violence that followed the disputed results of the poll.

That won her many admirers, especially in her native Central Province and Mt Kenya areas while alienating her from Western Kenya especially. But in here comes Chege Mbitiru’s chicken and chicks metaphor.

She could protect the country the same way she spoke out in defence of the so-called Central Province diaspora.

You will recall that when a high commissioner and ambassadors waded into the controversy over the presidential poll results, she reminded them that they were inconsequential junior civil servants.

Martha Karua fears no one and she did not hide her opposition to the creation of the Prime Minister’s office and was emphatic when it was created that it was no more than a ministerial position.

After all, there was a Vice President as the principal assistant of the President’s and the President, she let us all know, would chair Cabinet meetings.

Like Thatcher before her, Martha Karua is ready to face down her adversaries any time and anywhere, including on their own turf. It is why she took her no-amnesty message to the land of the Kipsigis and was intent on being heard despite the din of the booing and hissing.

Martha Karua does not hide her disdain and contempt for her critics.

She took Kiss FM’s Big Breakfast presenter Caroline Mutoko and comedian Nyambane to court. The enduring picture from the courts is of her looking daggers at the pair. Thank God looks do not kill.

Former President Moi cannot have forgotten the picture of Martha Karua walking out of his meeting. It was a long walk she took as the TV camera focused on her back and immaculate kitenge outfit.

Just as she is defying President Kibaki on the matter of dissolution of parties, so also was she ready to take on his predecessor on any issue.

Thatcher was eloquent from the dispatch box and quick with the putdown. Sharp witted and even sharper-tongued, Martha Karua has the lawyer’s eloquence and reasoned debate, with rapid fire delivery of putdowns.

But nobody in Kenya’s political arena sneers and grimaces more menacingly than her.

It is why she would dare those in the Party of National Unity (PNU) who are interested in the presidency to come out and face her. She is a formidable opponent in a verbal slugfest and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, who was her target here, and others have kept their counsel and distance.

But what would be Karua’s platform as she goes for the presidency?

Most of the memorable battles Thatcher fought within and outside the Conservative Party, between Number 10 and Number 11 Downing Street, between the Tories and Labour, and in and outside the United Kingdom, revolved around the economy.

I do not know what Martha Karua’s economic philosophy or blueprint is, but I know the Thatcherites had a social as well as economic policy which stipulated that owners of assets, especially homes, became independent and self-sufficient.

Let me hear yours Martha. Fight your corner furiously, madam. But, think about a more kindhearted you as you plot your road to State House.

If I did not vote for Martha, it would not be because I am not ready to vote for a woman. No, it would be because I would not be ready to vote for that woman.

That means she need not worry about me. What should worry her is that she might, like Amos Kimunya before her, self-immolate in the furnace of self-importance!

And that, incidentally, is what happened to Margaret Thatcher as Michael Heseltine led the internal revolt against a once heroic Tory leader.

Kwendo Opanga is a media consultant.

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One Response to Kwendo Opanga: Tough as nails this Martha Karua

kins said...

Yes we need her for presdent.