The last five CSs still standing in Uhuru’s Cabinet
With just two weeks to the end of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s second term, special attention has turned to five Cabinet Secretaries who have survived political onslaught to remain in office since April 2013.
It remains a matter of conjecture as to whether the quintet’s survival is drawn from exemplary competences or vantage political correctness.
The five are Cabinet Secretaries Amina Chawahir Mohamed of Sports and National Heritage, James Macharia (Transport and Infrastructure), Fred Matiang’i (Interior and National Co-ordination), Raychelle Omamo (Foreign Affairs) and Najib Balala (Tourism and Wildlife). They have the peculiar identity of being survivors of Uhuru’s purges while restructuring the government since he assumed office in 2013.
Practically, and in the eyes of the broader public, Matiang’i ranks as the first-among-equals. He is also the most powerful minister in Uhuru’s cabinet.
Though not a darling of human rights activists, Matiang’i is a visible, voluble and voluminous figure with mammoth influence on the government’s modus operandi.
He was first appointed as Minister for Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) in 2013, an assignment he assumed with zeal and loyalty.
While serving as ICT Cabinet Secretary, Matiang’i was added the role of acting Cabinet Secretary for Lands and Physical Planning for more than six months after the sacking of current Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu over graft-related allegations.
He was later moved to the Education docket where he left an indelible mark owing to his uncompromising stance, especially at the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) where he busted cheating in national examinations.
After the 2017 General Election, he was redeployed from the Ministry of Education to his present portfolio. He was replaced by then KNEC chairman and former University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor, Prof George Magoha.
Matiang’i’s sterling performance has led to the sobriquet Chief Minister or Super CS, which he earned after his appointment to chair a Cabinet sub-committee that co-ordinates all government ministries. The move was seen as clipping the power of beleaguered Deputy President William Ruto, who previously executed that mandate.
Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi gives a thumbs-up to the former University of Nairobi Literature lecturer, saying he is among the few visible members of Uhuru’s cabinet. The legislator observed that one of the missing links in the current constitutional arrangement is having Cabinet ministers appointed from outside Parliament, as this creates a disconnect between the government and the citizenry.
“People like Balala, (Peter) Munya and (Mutahi) Kagwe are able to understand the feelings of the electorate because they have represented people in Parliament. Matiang’i is an exception. Although he has never been a Member of Parliament, his performance stands out. You cannot say the same about his colleagues,” he stated.
Until early 2021 when she was moved to her current docket, Omamo had distinguished herself as the only Cabinet Secretary not to have been transferred. She had been serving as Defence Cabinet Secretary since 2013. Raychelle is a former chairperson of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), and daughter of Kanu-era Cabinet Minister William Odongo Omamo. She previously served as Kenya’s ambassador to France.
Her father, a highly humorous person who went by the sobriquet Kaliech (elephant), was a long-time political nemesis of the Odinga family. Frequently, he fought the family’s patriarch, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, to represent Bondo in Parliament during the heady one-party era.
It is difficult to assess the performance of a Defence Minister, since most of the responsibilities in that docket pander towards military operations and, therefore, are secretive.
Omamo is largely a reticent and behind-the-scenes actor. She has taken a low-key stance at Foreign Affairs, where she has been over-shadowed by the more outgoing Permanent Secretary, Kamau Macharia, and, before his exit in March this year, Chief Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba. Amina, a respected diplomat with overflowing international credentials, was first appointed to head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She is remembered for her shuttle diplomacy in which she sought to lobby the global community against a criminal case facing Uhuru, Ruto and four others.
She was later transferred to the Ministry of Education to replace Matiang’i after he was relocated to his current docket. She did not last long there. In early 2020, she transferred to the Sports docket to take over from Rashid Echesa following his sacking.
The former Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, is one of the people who praise Amina for her industry and dedication to duty.
“She understands geopolitics at a global level and the horse-trading that goes with it. She is an upright person and excellent servant,” Kituyi told this writer sometime back.
Apart from her stint at WTO, as Kenya’s Permanent Representative, Amina has previously served as Under Secretary-General of UN-Habitat and also as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs during the regime of retired President Mwai Kibaki.
However, in the second term of Uhuru’s regime, Amina’s body language displayed characteristics of a disturbed person ready to quit. She applied for the position of Director-General of WTO, a seat she had lost to incumbent Roberto Azevedo in 2013 and which she again lost to Nigerian Ngozi Okonji-Iwela in 2021.
In 2017, Amina unsuccessfully vied for the position of chairperson of the African Union, and lost to Moussa Faki Mahamat from Chad. Amina’s ministry is currently reeling from a scandal in which 32 joyriders are alleged to have travelled to Eugene, Oregon, in the United States to attend the 10-day World Athletics Championships that ended on Sunday. This was at the expense of elite athletes who missed out.
Macharia, a banker, first started as Cabinet Secretary for Health. But his tenure there, and later at his present portfolio in Transport, has been low-key. He has been at the centre of Uhuru’s infrastructure legacy projects that now dot many parts the country.
Balala is arguably the longest-serving member of the Cabinet. He first made it there during the Kibaki regime following the 2007 elections. Under Uhuru’s regime, he was first named Mining minister, and was later moved to Tourism and Wildlife. His critics, especially technocrats from the ministry, have repeatedly accused him of laying too much emphasis on tourism and abandoning wildlife.
The minister is also blamed for reportedly standing in the way of a proposal to have the Wildlife docket merged with that of Forestry, which is in the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Natural Resources.
Balala’s lowest moment at the ministry was in July 2018 when seven rhinos died at Tsavo East National Park after being translocated from Nairobi and Lake Nakuru national parks. The matter generated international outrage, especially after he told his critics to “go to hell.”
Westlands MP Wanyonyi agrees, saying whether members of the Executive are productive, it is the prerogative of the Head of State to retain or dismiss them.