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Myriad issues await Owalo in ICT and Media if he is cleared

 CS Nominee for ICT Eliud Owalo.

To many Kenyans, the name Eliud Owalo may have sounded unfamiliar, and even surprising when it was listed as the nominee for ICT secretary in President William Ruto’s Cabinet.

But for those who know him well, that is vintage Owalo, an astute, connected, and calculating figure who loves to operate under the radar and show his mettle behind the scenes.

Mr Owalo, who first came to the national political stage as manager of ODM leader Raila Odinga’s 2012 presidential campaign, makes his stab at the cabinet after many years in behind-the-scenes politics, public affairs and management.

An economist by training, Mr Owalo will bank on his vast experience in management and deep understanding Ruto’s economic plan when he appears before the vetting panel today.

In the heat of the just-concluded political campaigns, Mr Owalo carved his niche in the economic policy corner of President Ruto’s team, becoming the most ardent advocate of Kenya Kwanza’s bottom-up economic agenda and its face in the local media.

The nominee, who has maintained an intellectual bent, has over the years written thought leadership articles in local newspapers on a wide range of subjects, including his pet subject the economy, sports, and law.

More recently, he has come out as the man in Dr Ruto’s camp to explain to the Kenyan public why the country should align its strategic planning with the bottom-up agenda. 

“The crux of this plan is the economic model whose agenda will channel the ever-scarce resources to improve the lives of those who occupy the lowest echelons of the economic pyramid,” he wrote in a recent column.

Mr Owalo, talks through the five critical pillars of the Kenya Kwanza agenda; agriculture, micro, small and medium enterprises, housing and settlement, healthcare, the digital superhighway and the creative economy in bits and details that’s rare among Kenya’s politicians.

Dismissing the top–down model as a complete failure, Mr Owallo reckons that “trickle-down economics has facilitated 0.1 per cent of the Kenyan population to own more wealth than the remaining 99.9 per cent.”

He regrets that in a country of about 50 million people, the bulk of the wealth is in the hands of less than 10,000 individuals leaving millions living in extreme poverty, without access to healthcare and education.

Consequently, he says, bringing down the cost of living, eradicating hunger, creating jobs, expanding the tax base, and achieving inclusive growth is the target of Dr Ruto’s government.

The litmus test for the cabinet nominee, however, remains in his docket – ICT. 

In there is the big agenda of establishing and growing the infrastructure that is needed to position Kenya as a modern and modernising digital economy, where it has taken the poll position in eastern and central Africa.

Then there is the media, a critical cog in the wheel of advancement for Kenya as a country that has chosen the path of democratic governance and a free market economy. 

In the past, the Kenyan media, upended by the ongoing global digital disruption, has suffered additional strangulation at the hands of state operatives uncomfortable with its accountability role. 

That cabal of power barons has turned ordinary business such as government advertising into instruments of media capture and strangulation with grievous consequences for the industry and the health of Kenya’s democracy at large. 

The industry, which because of its role, is structurally positioned to have a love-hate relationship with those in power, often requires intellectual rigour to understand and live with in the absence of which it becomes an easy target of regimes in power.

It remains to be seen how Owalo, who has never shied away from challenges, will handle the many media issues – including the recent weaponisation of government advertising to control the media – if cleared to serve in the ministry. 

A newcomer in the national government, Owalo remains untouched by the stain of corruption and crime that has dogged many of his counterparts in parliament since the vetting began on Monday – leaving his vetting to focus on policy, legislation and operational segments of his docket.

Mr Owalo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Business Studies from Kenyatta University, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) Degree in Human Resources Management from the University of Nairobi and is currently enrolled in a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) course in Strategic Management at the University of Nairobi.

Owalo dabbled in politics when he ran for the Kibra parliamentary seat on Musalia Mudavadi’s ANC party ticket following the death of the area MP.

He later quit ANC before the 2022 elections and joined Ruto’s UDA party where he emerged as one of the point men in the Nyanza block.

 Corruption and political interference, he reckons, killed the sugar industry in his backyard of Nyanza and is what the government he seeks to serve in will address.

 Reviving the long-dead cotton sector and establishing the blue economy are also on the cards.

Mr Owalo delves into statistics arguing that none of the Nyanza counties should be in the top quantum of Kenya’s poverty index and that is part what the government he seeks to serve will address.

Dr Ruto’s government will also invest in fish processing, fish value-addition and fish storage facilities along the shores of the lake. 

Mr Owalo, who is a strategy specialist with core competency in macro and micro-economics and strategic planning could come to government when such expertise is most needed.

If approved, his experience in executive search, selection and placement, human resource audit, market research surveys and feasibility studies will quickly come to the test when he begins the task of picking advisors and top ICT ministry staff.

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