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New Uhuru Cabinet signals it’s time to move on

By Kamau Wairuri | January 28th 2018
President Uhuru Kenyatta when he addressed the nation on Cabinet re-organization at State House, Nairobi [File, Standard]

After a long wait, President Kenyatta finally named his Cabinet. The list of men and women he hopes to work with in this second term to deliver his legacy agenda. Many things can be said about the President’s choices. In this column, I want to focus on three key items highlighting what the President will be better able to deliver during this term compared to the last one.

For one, President Kenyatta has recognised that professional competency maybe important for high positions of leadership but it is hardly adequate – political aptitude is critical. By augmenting the leadership of ministries with the position of ‘Chief Administrative Secretary’ he has created, he will be better able to balance both demands. In his speech, the President said these new officers will help the Cabinet Secretaries coordinate affairs within their ministries. Obviously, this is not clear enough - subsequent documentation clarifying their role will be critical. Further, it should not escape our attention, that many of those nominated to this position are politicians.

Perhaps, this might be the reason why some speculate that their role will be similar to that of assistant ministers in the past. My wager, however, is that they are likely to wield more clout and influence. I will not be surprised if they are charged with driving aspects of the ‘Big Four’ within their ministries. Obviously, this increases the risk of conflicts within ministries. That is why clarification of their roles within the ministry will be critical. Nonetheless, this is a useful innovation. Of course, some will argue about the constitutionality of this office, but we can have this debate another day.

Secondly, as I have stated here before, statecraft is about gaining the capacity to govern. It is evident that after his first term in office and the tumultuous electoral period, he is clearly focused on delivering his legacy agenda. This is evidenced by his ability to balance rewards for loyalty and competence impeccably. The ascension of Prof Margaret Kobia and Monica Juma to the Cabinet is to be lauded. Their competency speaks for itself. At the same time, he has remained loyal to his lieutenants from Mwangi Kiunjuri to Nelson Marwa who have aggressively defended the regime.

Biggest threat

As such, it is not surprising that he has retained some pillars of his first administration including Joseph Njoroge, Lilian Omolo and Karanja Kibicho as Principal Secretaries but perhaps more importantly, was his commitment to redeploy those seen to not have performed in their roles.

Make no mistake – many of those whom the President had appointed to his first Cabinet are capable professionals; but political leadership is something else. Hopefully, they have gained useful skills to help them in their new roles. 

Third, it is evident that the President is aware that the biggest threat to his ability to deliver on his legacy agenda lies in the division of our nation. The last election revealed, once again, the depth of our distrust for each other and the need for people to feel part of the nation.

Evidently, the President is aware that his biggest challenge is uniting the nation. Little wonder that he has chosen leaders from all corners of the country in an effort to ensure everyone feels included. This is obviously commendable. Obviously, there will be those who will argue that it’s not their loudest sons and daughters who were nominated. But I suppose what the president is signalling is that it is time to get down to work and deliver on the Big Four not make noise.

The announcement of the Cabinet puts to rest the anxiety that has marked the last few weeks as people have speculated on how the final list would look like.

There were as many explanations for the President’s delay in naming the Cabinet as there are people on the streets. Now that’s water under the bridge. Once they are vetted by the legislature, they will be sworn into office and begin working. Hopefully, we will have got the other ‘swearing in’ out of the way, by that time.

-The writer is a PhD Candidate in African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. [email protected]

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