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Change of guard: End of an era as Dr Njoroge exits CBK after 8 years

 Outgoing Central Bank of Kenya Governor Patrick Njoroge. [File, Standard]

For eight years until Friday this week, the saintly gait of Dr Patrick Njoroge bestrode the hallways of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), like a colossus.

Never before had a man so resolute in his faith, stubborn in his conviction and cold in his emotions, occupied the corner office of one of the country's hallowed offices.

Before the 2013 General Election, Kenya had only one governor, the Governor of the Central Bank. And before him, Governors of the Bank also chaired the board of directors of the bank, until the Act was amended to strip him of executive chairman role.

But if someone thought the entry of 47 other governors for county governments, and the introduction of a distinct chairman of the board was going to slow the new CBK governor, they were gravely mistaken.

Plucked from IMF to lead the country's chief regulator of the sector, Njoroge took no prisoners, including his appointing authority, the media and overseers. It was either his way or the highway.

In parliament, he was mocked as a clueless monk. In corner offices of banks, he was dismissed as a passing cloud. In corridors of power, he was derisively described as "the man who lived in his own world".

Case of misunderstanding

"I think people did not take time to understand him. It's the perfect case of misunderstanding. Those of us who took time to understand him found it quite easy to work with and understood where he was coming from," Mohamed Nyaoga, the outgoing chairman of CBK, told The Standard.

Nyaoga took office on the same day as Njoroge. A senior lawyer, corporate governance expert and a former chairman of a bank among other roles, he blazed the trail as the first independent chairman of CBK.

Equally a stickler for rules, Nyaoga acquired the name Mohamed in high school and oscillated between religion and denominations in search of truth. Now a practising Anglican, Nyaoga's appointment thrust him at the front row of working with Njoroge, an Opus Dei adherent.

"When you are in public space, and you expect smooth sailing, it's like expecting a bull not to attack you simply because you are a vegetarian. You will be surprised," Nyaoga says of their tenure at CBK.

He does not believe the governor was thin-skinned as it was felt out here. On the contrary, he speaks of Dr Njoroge as an individual with a strong personality, one who stuck to the straight and the narrow in protecting customers.

 Brothers, outgoing CBK Governor Dr Patrick Njoroge and the Archbishop of Nyeri Anthony Muheria. [Courtesy]

To begin to understand the context within which Njoroge came into office is to begin to appreciate what he achieved. Prior to his arrival at CBK, banks literally ran down the place, remotely.

Stories, now a matter of court record, abound as to how CBK officials cavorted with the very banks they were supposed to regulate. Some, including top leadership, were dispatched to far-away exotic islands to regale semi-nude as banks indulged in wanton financial impropriety.

The mid-level bureaucrats facilitated sleaze by getting handsome kickbacks, interest-free loans, and other forms of favour. In the most notorious case, bank officials fanned a rogue banker's chest as he back-channelled depositor's money into an offshore account, then suddenly died just when the loot was secured in a foreign land.

And there is of course the infamous Goldenberg scandal where the bank's name was garlanded in ignominy. For gazillion years, the place was reeking sleaze, and stinking to the high heavens.

Archbishop of Nyeri Anthony Muheria is Njoroge's younger brother. Together, they have walked the journey of life from their late mother, Mary Agnes Njambi's womb, onto their separate but closely related vocations.

Outstanding character

"I followed him to Mang'u High School, and later to Strathmore College. His character was outstanding. He always ensured things were done with justice. He always believed one should own their mistakes and never excuse himself," Muheria says of his elder brother.

At the University of Nairobi (UoN), Njoroge went for Economics while Muheria went for Engineering. Both in Opus Dei, Muheria fully gave himself unto church while Njoroge joined the government as a bureaucrat.

When Njoroge was appointed to CBK, Muheria had no doubts he would clean up the regulator however deep the rot was.

Muheria himself had dabbled in high public life before his elder brother when he was appointed a Commissioner with Judicial Service Commission in 2010.

A few months later, at the time when JSC members were raking millions in sitting allowances, Muheria quit saying "the exercise of this noble task in the JSC may be prejudicial to some of the tasks I have as bishop, and meet some disharmony with these norms."

He, therefore, understood the exigencies of the high public office his brother was getting into, including the multiple intersections of interests, and public expectations of miracles to straighten things up.

 Central Bank of Kenya chairman Mohamed Nyaoga. [File, Standard]

"I know him for a long time, and he has even been my inspiration. I know his integrity is beyond reproach. He was going to make a difference, and indeed he has left deep imprints of diligence and patriotic service to our nation," Muheria says.

At the bank, Njoroge was obsessed with customers, almost to a fault. He kept a keen eye on risks that could erode people's savings while working to stabilize the banking sector from the horrors of the inglorious past.

He took an uncompromising stance towards banks, while also strengthening CBK's positioning as a regulator.

In his tenure, CBK set to increase its paid-up capital to the government which had bizarrely stuck at Sh5 billion despite the blossoming of Kenya's financial sector and CBK's monetary liabilities growing in excess of Sh400 billion.

In June 2019 at about the time Njoroge's term was renewed, the bank Authorized Capital was increased from Sh5 billion to Sh50 billion. Known as the registered capital or nominal capital of the company, Authorised Capital is the maximum amount of share capital that a company is allowed to issue to its shareholders as per its constitutional documents.

In September of the same 2019, the bank paid the government Sh4 billion as a dividend by crediting the Ministry of Finance's deposit account at CBK.

Government officials

In corridors of power, stories are told about how government officials sorely grieved over this move. They wanted the monies remitted to them, and to recoup the entire paid-up capital, in one fell swoop.

Nyaoga says those are just stories: "The most important thing to know is that the governor, with the support of the board, ring-fenced the autonomy and the independence of the bank fiercely. He never took instructions from anyone, and he never pretended to be someone else."

He says there was a clear separation of roles between the board and the management, and everybody kept to their lane. He says his board adopted a "noses, eyes in and fingers out" strategy of corporate governance to avoid the pitfalls of many boards.

"That is where most boards go wrong, straying into executive roles. Besides, you got to cultivate positive board dynamics between yourselves. You will be surprised to know that we never voted on that board, not once. We strove to hit consensus on every matter that came before us," he says.

 Outgoing CBK Governor Dr Patrick Njoroge (seated), his brother Archbishop of Nyeri Anthony Muheria and father Thomas Ngugi (right). [Courtesy]

In Aristotelian ethics, virtue is described as the golden mean between two extremes of excess and deficiency. There are many who feel that Governor Njoroge overreached himself, and was an extremist who never quite struck the mean of excellence.

Of this, Nyaoga says nothing could be further from the truth.

"If you took time to understand him you would not hold that view. People develop hard, irrational opinions of others over the failure to understand them. They then resort to unfair profiling, stereotyping and all that type of a thing," he says.

He says one thing he noted, and learned from the Governor, pulled all stops to strike fairness on every matter before him. He would sit back and reflect on issues for as long as it took to be satisfied that on the balance of scales, it was good for the institution and the country.

During his reign, the country undertook a four-month demonetization programme during which the country's currency was aligned to the dictates of the constitution. There was a lot of pressure on the matter, with a general election around the corner.

Spurn around

Theories spurn around the motivations of the programme and its timing. The governor was blind to them and ploughed on with it, regardless.

"Over the course of the work and implementation of policies, we developed a lot of critics and enemies. And the Governor, being at the frontline- remember as a board we are not the spokesman of the bank- took it all, with grace. The question to ask at the end of the day is, did he achieve his mandate?" Nyaoga asks.

In scorecard terms, Nyaoga says he would score Njoroge 8.5 out of 10 for the 8 years of service: "He is leaving an institution where nobody has a leeway to play around, and where rent-seeking is but a distant rumour. He successfully delinked the bank from its ugly past, and we hope those who succeed him will sustain this culture."

A week into Njoroge's exit, Muheria and his family trooped to the CBK office of their kin, for the first time. He was accompanied by their father Thomas Ngugi and their sister Joyce Ngugi.

Muheria told The Standard that it was a family "courtesy call" to the outgoing governor, and to personally thank the CBK staff for the immense solidarity and support they had given to the family when they lost their mother late last month.

Their mother, he said, had been an important pillar of their individual work as siblings- the pastoral duty in his case, and the economist roles of his brother. He said she had been silently praying for them, and the country.

They were welcomed by Nyaoga, Deputy Governor Sheila M'Mbijjiwe and senior bank officials.


Anthony Muheria receives a gift from his parents, Mary Njambi and Thomas Ngugi, during his installation as Archbishop of Nyeri Catholic Archdiocese at Kings of Christ Major Seminary in Nyeri on June 17, 2017. [File, Standard]

Muheria noted the CBK's leap into a point of reference for integrity and professionalism in Kenya and beyond.

Nyaoga said after interacting with Governor Njoroge's family that day, he now understood where it all came from: "His father Mzee Ngugi was very proud of the work his son had put into serving the people of Kenya, and God. He told us that in life, every assignment is an opportunity for us to do our best and only the best, and to serve God."

At the visit, Muheria noted that his brother had stood out in combining his uncompromising positions that at times made him unpopular and being a compassionate leader. He prayed for the incoming Governor and his team so that they can achieve more and build on the work already done.

"As Kenyans, we see the stability and good esteem of the Central Bank as our security of the country's economy and development," Muheria said during the visit.

His twin brother

In William Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, Dromio of Ephesus calls out his twin brother, Dromio of Syracuse: "We came into the world like brother and brother, and now let's go hand in hand, not one before another."

On Monday, June 19, Njoroge will hand over to his successor Dr Kamau Thuge. His brother, Archbishop Muheria will be at hand to receive him back into the vocation they set their lives upon, Opus Dei's vocation of divine filiation, prayer, sacrifice, freedom and charity.

Dr Njoroge attended Mang'u School and Strathmore College for his high school education. He then proceeded to the University of Nairobi for BA and MA in Economics. He did his PhD in Economics at Yale University, USA, and worked as an Economist at the Ministry of Finance and Planning Officer at the Ministry of Planning in earlier years.

Njoroge worked at the International Monetary Fund for 20 years, serving in different capacities as an advisor, deputy division chief and mission chief among other roles. He was appointed Governor of CBK in 2015, and reappointed in 2019.

So long, Governor Njoroge!

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