Wangari Maathai, Charity Ngilu, Martha Karua: Political Moments and the Legacies of ‘Mama’

“Leadership is not simply a matter of filling the top positions in a government. Nor is it a quality restricted to the ambitious, the elite, the politically gifted, or the highly educated. Indeed, not every person in a leadership position is truly a leader” – Wangari Maathai, ‘The Challenge For Africa’ (2009).

A good place to start would be the 1997 General Elections. Charity Ngilu, who was already a household name after capturing the Kitui central in Kenya’s first ever multiparty elections held in 1992, announced that she would be running for the presidency on a Social Democratic Party (SDP) ticket. “Ma saa na Ngilu”, for those who remember. We all cheered for this gallant politician who arrested our imagination when she stormed out of Mwai Kibaki’s Democratic Party (DP) and boldly struck out for the country’s top job despite a relatively short career in politics. And then, several months to the election, Wangari Maathai, too, announced that she was vying for the top job. The results? Moi won, of course. Kibaki came second, Raila, third and Ngilu managed a respectable 5th place, one notch higher than the late Martin Shikuku. As for Maathai, she came third from last in those elections with 0.07% of total votes cast.

With today’s news that Charity Ngilu will be seeking the presidency in the 2013 General Elections, one cannot help but feel that history is somewhat repeating itself. Martha Karua, the proverbial long-distance runner, launched her presidential bid a couple of years ago, and has been on the campaign trail ever since. Now Karua has company in the form of ‘Mama Rainbow’. It may be political naivete to ask, but would anyone serious about campaigning for the presidency launch a bid with only five months to the polls? Prior to her campaign announcement, wasn’t she on record that she would support Raila’s presidential ambitions? These questions may seem to you, rhetoric or a display of my ignorance, but allow me to continue.

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