Risks, opportunities galore for Cabinet Secretaries
If getting parliamentary approval for some of the nominees for President William Ruto’s Cabinet was difficult, then the work that awaits them after last week’s swearing-in is even more Herculean.
For one, Kenyans have high expectations with the new administration because it made lofty promises during the election campaigns. They, for instance, promised to bring down the cost of foods like maize flour, which is now proving difficult due to the ongoing drought, lack of maize in the Strategic Grain Reserve and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, a key source market for some of the wheat consumed in Kenya.
Like maize, wheat is a staple in many Kenyan homes because bread is an integral part of breakfast.
It is, therefore, to be expected that the new CS for Agriculture, Mithika Linturi, has his work cut out for him even as he simultaneously battles the 35 cases that he says he has in various courts of law. His biggest trial, however, will be in the court of public opinion should Kenyans feel that he is not doing enough to one, manage the cost of food and food products and two, ensure that farmers earn the Guaranteed Minimum Returns he promised during vetting.
His Youth, Sports and Arts counterpart, Ababu Namwamba, has to literally hit the ground running. Fifa, the world football governing body, has banned Kenya from all recognised football events, including the local premier league. That means Namwamba has little time to get Kenya back in Fifa’s good books.
In addition, he has to slay the dragon of doping, which has reared its head in Kenya, putting the country at great risk of being blacklisted from international athletics competitions.
Apart from pressure to meet public expectations, the new CSs have the additional challenge of being innovative in the way they discharge their duties. For instance, Penina Malonza, whose nomination was salvaged on the floor of the National Assembly, has to find ways to breach the psychological barrier of attracting two million tourists annually. Cities like Paris attract four times that. Yet Kenya, as a country, has been unable to light a candle to it. Malonza, to prove her mettle, has to do something drastic first to shock the system and her critics and two, to show that managed well, tourism can increase its contribution to wealth creation. We could go on and on with a SWOT analysis for each of the Cabinet Secretaries but suffice it to say that the challenges they face — collectively and individually — are unlike any faced by their predecessors. This is, in large part, because President Ruto was big on promises on the campaign trail. And his critics, even more perhaps than those in his corner, have been demanding that he lives up to them all.
President Ruto will, in all likelihood, go down in history as the Head of State who came into office with the shortest honeymoon period. If he had hoped that he would take a break and chew gum as he forms his government, he has quickly learned that he has to walk while chewing gum. Besides delivering on their promises — and actually being seen to be doing so — the new Cabinet team will need considerable tact in managing narratives around their personalities, past record and suitability to hold high office.
Already, the odds are staked against them although Parliament gave them a resounding mandate. They are coming into office at a time when Kenyans on social media — particularly Twitter — have taken scrutiny to new heights.
The new CSs can choose to run away the social media space, but they must be cognisant that this will take away their power to control the narrative around their lives and public personae. As such, it will be in their interest to invest in professionals who can help them tell their stories and manage their brands.
They can, if they want, walk alone. That way, they might go fast. But if they want to go far, they will have to weigh their options. Whatever road they choose to travel, they must remember they have a legacy to build.
— The writer is the Managing Editor, People Daily