Ruto swallows Jubilee, appoints its NEC bosses to head parastatals

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta who is also the Jubilee Party Leader at the National Delegates Convention in Nairobi Ngong Racecourse on May 22, 2023. [Samson Wire, Standard]

President William Ruto has tactfully “swallowed” the heart of the former ruling party, Jubilee, in a masterstroke that has seen its National Executive Council (NEC) members appointed to boards of parastatals.

This will effectively see the officials, who are supposed to assist former President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni steer the party ahead of the next elections, serve in Ruto’s government.

The officials were Uhuru's allies but shifted their loyalty after the former president preferred Raila Odinga of ODM, who would lose to Dr Ruto in the August 2022 polls.

The seven NEC members have been in the Kanini Kega and Sabina Chege faction of Jubilee that has been wrestling for the soul of the troubled party with the Kioni faction.

They include three deputy party leaders, Naomi Shaban, Jimmy Angwenyi, and Peter Mositet who deputized Uhuru. They have been appointed to serve as chairpersons of the Tobacco Control Board, National Heroes Council Board and Nairobi Metropolitan Board respectively.

Their appointment, according to the gazette notices, will run for a period of three years.

Been appointed

Others are Jubilee Deputy Secretary General Joshua Kuttuny who has been appointed to be the chairperson of the Kenya Copyright Board. His appointment will run from October 27.

Kuttuny was one of the few Rift Valley MPs who campaigned for Raila's presidential bid last year.

Nelson Dzuya, Jubilee's chairperson was appointed as a member of the Non-Governmental Organizations Co-ordination Board in a gazette notice dated October 12.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by section 4 (1) (b) of the Non-Governmental Organizations Co-ordination Act, the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and National Administration appoints– to be a member of the Non-Governmental Organization Coordination Board, for a period of three (3) years, with effect from October 13, 2023,” read the Gazette notice.

Rev Mutava Musyimi, Jubilee’s Deputy Organizing Secretary was, in May, appointed to head a Presidential taskforce to review laws governing churches.

City businessman Joel Kibe, who has been the Business Council chairman of the Jubilee party, was appointed by Education CS Ezekiel Machogu to the University of Nairobi Council, where he will serve for three years.

The appointments came amidst confusion and disagreement among government officials on whether parastatal heads should be considered state officers and whether they are prohibited from occupying political party positions.

State officers

United Democratic Alliance’s Secretary General Cleopas Malala and Attorney General Justin Muturi have differed on whether such board members are state officers and whether they are allowed to participate in partisan party politics.

Malala rejected Muturi’s advisory by allowing CEOs of state corporations and board members the nod to contest elective party positions.

Muturi and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi had categorically stated that parastatal heads should be considered state officers and, as such, are prohibited from engaging in political party activities.

In a letter to the AG dated September 19, Malala pointed out a discrepancy between Muturi’s advisory opinion and a High Court judgment in the case of Katiba Institute & another versus the Attorney General & another.

Citing the High Court’s judgment, the letter pointed out that state corporations generate their revenue for expenditure and their funding is not necessarily wholly provided for by Parliament. This financial autonomy suggests that their chairpersons and board members may not necessarily be considered public officers.

“We find and hold that positions of chairpersons and members of boards of state corporations and parastatals are not officers in the public service,” reads an excerpt of the judgement quoted in the letter.

However, Jubilee Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni, a lawyer, is of the view that Article 77 (2) of the Constitution and Public Officer Ethics Act stipulates who a state officer is, thus through the operationalization of the law, the seven NEC members are not members of the Jubilee party.

“It is a good riddance for me because, through their appointment, the party is now in the hands of the party leader and the secretary-general. In the fullness of time, we shall regain total control of the party,” he said.

But Sabina Chege, who is trying to oust Uhuru as Jubilee party leader, maintains that the seven are still NEC members since the High Court case does not declare them so and will continue being Jubilee NEC members unless they turn down the appointment.

“Their appointment is a testament of true understanding of democracy by the President because although our party is independent of Azimio or Kenya Kwanza, it shows that even those who are not in government can serve Kenyans,” she said.

Kioni however says the appointments are a true testament to the rewards to the ‘errant party officials’ who he claimed worked in cahoots with the rivals to destabilize Jubilee ahead of 2022 elections. They messed up party primaries, he said.

“The appointments lay bare the Executive’s hand to disenfranchise the Jubilee party, which is the only political vehicle in Mt Kenya region, and their efforts to erase the legacy of our party leader,” said Kioni.

Analysts have interpreted the State appointments as Ruto’s alternative strategy to capture Jubilee after the other one, of wrestling it from Uhuru allies, seems to be delayed.

Enjoying fruits

Charles Munyui, a political analyst, says the seven NEC members seem to have negotiated aptly with the Kenya Kwanza administration and are now enjoying the fruits of their labour.

“Regardless of whether they will continue to serve as NEC members, from where they leave the party, no one can trust it anymore and could be throwing its last kicks,” he noted, saying the biggest beneficiary of the political game plan is the President.

However, Prof Gitile Naituli noted that the appointment to parastatals could be a hint that during the ongoing National Dialogue Committee, the warring parties may have agreed to return the party to Uhuru, a move that could force the government to award those who helped destabilize the former ruling party.

“Constitutionally, they ought to resign after the appointment and the President knows that. The ongoing correspondence on whether parastatal members are state officers may be meant to hoodwink Kenyans. Who knows whether the government has bowed down to pressure by Azimio to let go of the party?” he said.

Jubilee's woes started on February 10, when the faction led by Kega and Sabina met in Nakuru and announced the ejection of Kioni and Murathe as secretary-general and vice chairperson respectively.

The duo rushed to court and obtained stay orders in a move that opened a string of court cases in the fight for the weakened soul of once a vibrant party.

Uhuru then issued a notice to the National Delegates Council (NDC) but Dzuya wrote back accusing him of exercising powers he did not have, asking him to ‘correct the indiscretion’.

“Your purported notice of an NDC to be held on March 24 and 25, 2023 is irregular and in breach of our party constitution. I urge you to avoid the usurpation of powers that do not inherently attach yourself as per our party constitution,” the letter read. 

This marked the beginning of a legal and political tussle that has dragged along the office of registrar of political parties, members of the Political Party Tribunal and now the courts where the matter currently lies even as the Azimio coalition put the issue as one of their agendas in the National Dialogue Committee.

The matter has also found its way to the National Assembly where Chege has been de-whipped from her post as Azimio’s Minority whip. But in an unprecedented move, Speaker Moses Wetang'ula recognized Jubilee as a parliamentary party.

Wetang'ula also declared Chege as its whip a move that opened a new battlefront between the factions with Kioni maintaining that the party is still a member of Azimio, hence it can’t be a parliamentary party with the other faction claiming they had removed Jubilee from Azimio. 

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