For some time, President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) seemed captive to powerful forces, though he tried being assertive. The latest such effort was on January 14, 2020 when he addressed the nation from Mombasa and announced a mini Cabinet reshuffle. He was firefighting while setting the agenda.
The speech aimed at containing “rebellions” in the Mount Kenya region where people repeatedly complained of neglect and possible poverty creation. The supposed neglect increased a sense of unhidden unhappiness. Subsequently, the way politicians addressed the president on increasing poverty challenged Uhuru and his official team. Farmers complained of agricultural woes and small business operators grumbled about the pain of doing business, but politicians engaged in the political theatrics.
The simmering rebellion made Uhuru look weak, uncaring and out of touch; he had to act. He decreed that payment to farmers be prompt and monthly, that government increase the buying price for such agricultural products as tea, rice and milk. The decree had the desired effect of deflating the grumbling balloon.The remaining test for Uhuru’s team is to deliver on his decree for the positive effect to be long lasting.
Uhuru seemed to rely on Finance CS Ukur Yatani, new Agricultural CS Peter Munya, and Interior leadership of CS Fred Matiang’i and PS Karanja Kibicho. Yatani has cut the image of a no nonsense financial man, declaring for all to hear that the country is broke and people should not, therefore, expect more mega projects. Since competing demands on resources is high, the country will have to live within budget.
Uhuru also re-affirmed his faith in Fred Matiang’i and Karanja Kibicho. He had politically created and turned them into a major force on which his credibility hinges.
As the unofficial prime minister with the job of coordinating other ministries, Matiang’i and Kibicho wield unprecedented power; they are a governance phenomenon. With the only visible limitation to their administrative power being the president and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the tactics they adopt to deliver matter. One of their challenges is handling the weakening public impression that Uhuru is beholden to Raila. Can they do it?
Other CSs appear to have had problems and were moved around or simply disappeared from the Cabinet list. Old time politicians found their way back into government. Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma and Defense CS Raychelle Omamo switched offices, Health CS Sicily Kariuki was moved to create space for Mutahi Kagwe’s return to the Cabinet. ODM’s Peter Odoyo and Wiper’s Wavinya Ndeti found slots as Chief Administrative Secretaries (CAS). The names of Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri and suspended Finance CS Henry Rotich disappeared with Uhuru concluding; “So be it.”
Kiunjuri had expected his name’s disappearance and felt relief that he was relieved. He graciously thanked Uhuru, told supporters not to sympathise with his plight and said he was leaving the Cabinet with his head high. His language was one of alternative leadership, asserted that he was “going nowhere,” warned that “for every action, there will be reaction,” and implied that people will hear more from him.
In addition, Uhuru reappointed the BBI team and indicated what he would like to see. Missing in the team is an administrator called Stephen Karau who, in BBI-1, appeared to be the driver in the last months before handing in the first report that appeared hurriedly put together.
Although the public had received the report well because it gave something to everybody and nobody received everything, political disgruntlement from influential players surfaced immediately over missing power positions.
BBI-2 has until June 30 to rectify the shortcomings of BBI-1 through validation and suggestion of desired changes. Uhuru wants to eliminate “the-winner-take-all” electoral doctrine.
Uhuru’s self-asserting show reduced influence erosion; the people are happy. The longevity of that happiness, however, depends on two things. First, how well Munya, Matiang’i/Kibicho and Yatani work together on Uhuru’s different expectations would be testing. With Yatani controlling the purse, the others might have to struggle. Second is reduction of self-inflicted political wounds arising from politicians competing to contain each other. The destructive competition on supposed loyalty to the president needs to drop drastically.