Why Martha Karua Rocks!

Published on 24th March 2009

Deciphering the rock drawings and paintings of the caveman give us clear pictures of hunter gatherers, bison, pack animal mentality, tribal bands and magic; true hallmarks of the Kenyan politician. Along side these paintings are other spectacular drawings of shamans that bear close resemblance to the typical Kenyan clergy. It is therefore refreshing to find that standing tall out of the morass of this cave is Martha Karua – although wild at times, but very sensible, principled and not afraid to take on fellow cave dwellers.

Kenyan politicians mistake microphones for tribal summoning horns, and TV cameras for tribal torch lights sent to make them flicker in the performance of mysterious ghostly tribal ceremonies in the recess of caves. But Martha though she is inclined to dance a little, when garlanded at weekend Homo sapiens rhetoric sessions, she does so with grace and speaks her mind with clarity and sincerity. Too bad she has to share the political space with unreformed chauvinists and bigots whose genes are wired to ridicule anything that does not behave like an ancestral warrior cum mammoth hunter.

To better define Martha, let us look at what surrounds her. Foul mouthed male politicians who would rather grope and leer at a woman than offer her a smile. The Kenyan parliament is haven to unreformed old in the tooth hipsters of the Kenyatta bakora era, strugglers from the Moi sing-along years, and deal cutters of the YK’92 con jobs and wildcatters of the pseudo reform age. All these groups ooze a sense of entitlement accrued from privilege, ownership of the country, robber baron haughtiness, being men of letters, teargas entitlement and plain tribal chauvinism. 

They are used to glaring and hence have to be glared down. They function best when shouting and frothing at the mouth and are at home in the game of finger wagging and vituperation and are at there best when dishing out vitriol. To most of them the best a woman can be is as a mother or daughter, niece or aunt and hence worthy of some respect. The rest of womanhood is fair game, and come in the guise of wives, mistresses, concubines, msichana and maid servants.

A woman like Martha riles them for she can go one on one with them in haughtiness, serpent tongue games and eyeballing. Being eloquent and brave, she constantly reminds them of their Neanderthal postures and behavior, distracting their work in the darkest recesses of their tribal caves where they love to paint beautiful pictures whose motifs are tribal alliances, a bigger share in the hunt and the demand for the choicest bison skin for cold days. And they love to remind the tribe that they are under constant threat from saber toothed tigers reared by the people with funny names from across the valley. 

To them looking at a woman like Martha conjures the image of another predominant interest of mankind - the swelling curves of the female form as an emphasis of the fertility on which the survival of the tribe depends. And if you are Martha surrounded by this horde of shamans constantly in trances that are an essential quality of their priestly tribal roles, then it is a free fire zone.

And since these tribal artistic politicians have to paint inside the dark caves of their hearts using lamps and torches that consume animal fats in large quantities, all the citizens have to bear their upkeep and marvel at their backbreaking work every weekend when they take a break. And Martha the assistant torch holder is demanding to graduate into a master painter, and dares grab the conch to demand equal speaking time.

What cheek; didn’t she read Lord of the Flies?

By Onyango Oketch

Visual Artist and Flaneur in the footsteps of Walter Benjamin, Baudelaire and Amos Tutuola.


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