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Intrigues that led to Uhuru’s experts fall by the wayside

By Eric Wainaina
Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto with Cabinet Secretaries after chairing a Cabinet meeting at State House, Nairobi, in 2013. Photo/PD/file
In summary

Eric Wainaina @EWAinaina

When Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto took over as President and Deputy President in 2013, they picked highly educated and experienced technocrats from the public service and the corporate world to serve in the Cabinet.

Being the first presidency elected under the 2010 Constitution which disqualifies Members of Parliament from serving in the Cabinet, the pair had to headhunt ministers from the banking sector, private health institutions, tech firms, universities and top ranks of the public service.

These were people who had an impressive managerial track record, with most of them credited with exponential growth and transformation of companies.

Move was perceived a deliberate plan by the President to assemble a competent and experienced team that would guarantee service delivery and bring about changes that would transform the country.

But the experiment seems not to have worked as splendidly as was anticipated.Just a year after their appointment, the President started to drop some of them over allegations of corruption and incompetence, replacing them with politicians.

Today, the Cabinet includes eight former governors, senators and candidates who lost in the 2017 General Election.

In the initial Cabinet, the only politicians were Charity Ngilu and Najib Balala.

Non-politicians who were appointed in the first term but have since been jettisoned include Henry Rotich (Treasury), Joseph ole Lenku (Interior), Anne Waiguru (Devolution), Davis Chirchir (Energy), Phyllis Kandie (East African Community) and Prof Jacob Kaimenyi (Education).

Others are Felix Kosgey (Agriculture), Judy Wakhungu (Environment), Cleopa Mailu (Health), Willy Bett (Agriculture), Michael Kamau (Roads and Public Works) and Hassan Wario (Sports and Culture).

Of the 12, only Waiguru and Lenku found a lifejacket in politics when they were elected governors of Kirinyaga and Kajiado counties, respectively, in the 2017 elections. A few were given a soft landing in ambassadorial positions.

But for some, like Rotich, Kamau and Wario, it has been a truly humiliating fall as they continue to battle court cases relating to their time in the Cabinet, or as PS in Kamau’s case.

Of the technocrats who served in Uhuru’s Cabinet in his first term, only Fred Matiang’i )Interior), Raychelle Omamo (Foreign Affairs), James Macharia (Transport), Amina Mohamed (Sports and Culture), Adan Mohamed (EAC) and Monica Juma (Defence) and Sicily Kariuki (since 2015, Water), have stood the test of time. 

The latter two started as Principal Secretaries before they were elevated to the Cabinet. 

Prof Macharia Munene of the United States International University says that while hopes were high that the technocrats would apply their expertise to transform the government, some of them, especially those who had been fished out of the corporate world, found public office a strange habitat where they could not perform as had been expected. 

“The CS job is political and most technocrats could not handle it as initially thought. Some had no clue how the government works and this frustrated them.

Because Uhuru wanted people who would help him achieve his agenda, he had to drop them and pick people who he felt would help him build his legacy,” Munene said.

For example, Kaimenyi, who holds a PhD in Periodontology, and was the University of Nairobi’s deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs, was, with six others, left out of Uhuru’s second-term Cabinet.

As Education CS, Kaimenyi was accused by teachers of high-headedness, an attitude that led to constant confrontations with unions, leading to strikes. He was later moved to the Lands ministry.

Consolation prize

The President appointed him an ambassador in 2018. Wakhungu, who is a holder of a PhD in Energy Resources Management from Pennsylvania State University, and who was the executive director of the African Centre for Technology Studies before 2013, did not make the cut in the 2018 Cabinet.

As a consolation prize, she was appointed Kenya’s ambassador to France.

Before she became East Africa Community CS in 2013, Kandie was the director of investment advisory services at Standard Investment Bank.

She did not make a comeback to the Cabinet after the 2017 election but was picked as Kenya’s ambassador to Austria.

Bett, on the other hand, has a rich academic and professional background having served in top managerial positions in several parastatals. He was sent off to India as ambassador in 2018. 

Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny, who served as President Kenyatta’s political adviser in his first term, says there are numerous intrigues in the public sector, arising from internal and external interference that many technocrats cannot cope with. 

This, he says, leads to frustrations that affect their performance. Among the machinations the CS had to grapple with, according to Kutuny, were greedy politicians and wheeler-dealers, who would invoke the name of the President and the DP, to get their way.

According to Kutuny, some of the ministers were forced to either facilitate theft of public resources or turn a blind eye, leading to huge corruption scandals that saw some of them sacked and charged in court.

Illustrious career

“Some of these CSs could not say no to people who were perceived to be close to the presidency,” Kutuny told People Daily.

Rotich, who in 2013 was the poster child of a successful professional in the financial sector, was forced out of office in July last year and charged in court over the controversial Kimwarer and Arror dam tenders.

Before becoming CS, Rotich who holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University, worked at the research department of the Central Bank of Kenya.

He also once worked for the International Monetary Fund Nairobi office as an economist and was director on several boards of state corporations.

Kamau’s illustrious career in the public service, where he rose to become Permanent Secretary in 2007, crushed in 2015 when he was suspended and charged over graft claims during his tenure as PS in the Ministry of Roads.

Unlike his public service days when he would regularly appear on television holding forth on government policy and programmes, or accompanying the President in public functions, Kamau’s name nowadays only comes up during court sessions.

Chirchir’s fall from grace was brought about by his alleged role in a corruption scandal involving officials of the defunct Interim Independence Electoral Commission.

Not even his appointment as Jubilee Party’s chief presidential agent in the 2017 elections could rescue him.

Prior to her appointment as CS in 2013, Waiguru was the Integrated Financial Management and Information System (IFMIS) director and head of governance in Treasury. 

She was forced to resign as Devolution CS over the National Youth Service scandal in which billions of shillings were stolen through fake tenders.

Unlike her other colleagues, Waiguru escaped court and went on to become Kirinyaga governor a few months later.

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