By Amos Kareithi
President Uhuru Kenyatta has introduced changes in the management of State affairs that differs radically from those of his predecessors, including his father.
Among them is the shifting of his key presidential functions to stations outside Nairobi.
Taking prominence is Sagana State Lodge, where Kenyatta recently met Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon.
Sources close to the presidency say youthful Uhuru plans to turn Sagana Lodge into Kenya’s version of America’s Camp David, popularized by presidents in the United States of America as a working-cum-holiday retreat.
Uhuru received his university education in America.
The head of Presidential Press Service Isaiah Kabira explained Sagana State Lodge’s importance to the head of Sate’s work arrangement:
“I think he will be working from most State Houses and lodges but Sagan could end up being ‘Camp Sagana’ where he can hold retreats and interact with visiting world leaders on a more personal basis while keeping engaged on the agenda.”
This builds upon Kenya’s presidential history where Uhuru’s father and first president Jomo Kenyatta had a special preference to Mombasa and Nakuru.
The second President, Daniel arap Moi, had a strong preference for Nairobi’s State House and his private city residence at Kabarnet Gardens, while his predecessor preferred commuting to work from Gatundu. In the early days of his presidency Mzee Kenyatta worked from Harambee House and State House.
He is however reputed never to have spent a night at State House, which he thought was ‘haunted by the ghosts of white governors’.
Moi held court at Kabarnet Gardens while Kenyatta preferred receiving delegations either at his Gatundu home or at the Mombasa and Nakuru State houses.
Moi also liked operating from Nakuru State House, which was popular with people seeking the president’s ear out of Nairobi.
The third president, Mwai Kibaki liked operating from Nairobi, occasionally transacting business from Harambee House in the capital city’s CBD.
Kibaki also operated from Nairobi State House although he at times visited Mombasa but stayed away from other state houses and lodges.
Uhuru’s choice of Sagana Lodge, which he has visited frequently, seems to have debunked the theory propagated by Kiambu politicians during Mzee Kenyatta’s reign.
At the time, it was rumoured that Kenyatta had expressed a wish that the presidential motorcade should never cross River Chania.
The rumour was popularised during the Kenyatta succession debate as a way of locking out Kibaki, who hails from Nyeri and at the time was one of the probable successors outside Kiambu.
He was pitted against Kiambu giants such as Mbiyu Koinange and Njoroge Mungai as well as the influential Attorney General of the day, Charles Njonjo.
Now as one observer remarked, by choosing Sagana as one of his bases Uhuru had finally bridged the divide that has traditionally divided central Kenya.
Nyeri was one of the first places Uhuru visited as soon as he assumed power to thank the electorate for voting for him.
Unlike Kibaki, whose tenure was marked by heavy traffic jams whenever he used Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Uhuru uses a helicopter to fly straight to State House Nairobi.
In an unprecedented move that startled observers, Uhuru has opted to operate away from Harambee House office, which traditionally has been the nerve centre of power.
Harambee House has in the last ten years become synonymous with the presidency during Kibaki’s tenure as he routinely governed the country from there.
But it is not only at State House that Uhuru has changed the way of doing things.
He has surprised old political power brokers by introducing a new way of leadership.
Highly placed sources we talked to intimated that although Uhuru in public cuts the image of a consummate politician, he has been managing State affairs like the chief executive officer of a corporation.
“Some of his cronies who were very close to him during the campaigns are like fish put of water. Some of them have not been to State House since Uhuru was sworn in,” a source says.
It is emerging that in his new approach to governance, Uhuru has given substantial clout to hitherto unknown people, creating new centres of power.
Chief among this breed of apolitical bureaucrats is a former Kiambu District Commissioner, Francis Lenayapa who has been thrust in thick of the presidency.
Lenayapa, who previously worked as a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, is Uhuru’s Comptroller of State House.
He is not only the custodian of the President’s diary but also the main gatekeeper who determines who has access to the Head of State.
“Uhuru only receives written briefs and nobody can go to State House without an appointment. This is how most of the old power brokers have been kept at bay,” explained another source.
Another State House insider is Jomo Gecaga, Uhuru’s Chief of Staff and personal secretary.
Gecaga is present at all the president’s meetings and his duties overarch between official and private affairs.
He is described as a close friend of the President, with considerable clout in the Uhuru presidency.
Perhaps the most surprising member of Uhuru’s inner team is Nancy Gitau, who worked as the Director of Political Affairs in the Office of the President during Kibaki’s tenure.
In the new scheme of things, Gitau has been elevated to the position of presidential advisor on political matters.
According to sources, she has the President’s ear, which gives her considerable clout.
Contrary to popular belief, Mama Ngina Kenyatta exerts little influence in her son’s political or professional life.
A source close to the presidency says that although she is quite close to Uhuru, she keeps off matters of official matters.
“She is a very happy mother. Uhuru’s election has been a big relief but she does not try to influence his decisions,” the source said.