Nobody will doubt Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe’s prowess in public communication, and more especially his ability to win over masses in his speech delivery.
The Cabinet Secretary, who is only six months into President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government, has outshone his peers in the Cabinet and emerged the most visible figure in an administration where the majority of ministers have remained in obscurity.
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The experienced politician – having served as MP for Mukurweini, Senator for Nyeri county, and also as a Cabinet Minister in retired President Mwai Kibaki’s highly rated Cabinet – has arguably relegated even the Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi, hitherto seen as the prominent face of the Jubilee’s Cabinet, as the widely “seen” figure in Uhuru’s administration.
This can be attributed largely to his critical docket at the time that Kenya, like any other country in the world, is fighting Covid-19, where he has to often brief the nation on the status of the pandemic.
But most importantly, it is how the minister has packaged and delivered his message that has left a mark in the majority of Kenyans. His authority in speech, especially on matters medicine and by large a science field that he commands little grounding, if any, by training, has even won him international recognition.
“Kenya’s unlikely coronavirus hero is Health Minister Mutaki Kagwe,” screamed the reputed Wall Street Journal, in its article dated April 4, 2020, and titled “In The Crisis, The Deputies Are The Heroes We Need”.
The article by the American daily, which also had the imposing photo of the Kenya’s minister during one of his daily briefings, paid glowing tribute to the CS as among the world leading heroes in the fight and management of the Covid-19 crisis.
The writer placed Kenya’s management of the pandemic, under Kagwe, in the same footing as that of South Korea and the United Kingdom.
Barely four months after the heaps of praise, that sheen seems to be waning fast.
And to the shock of many, Kagwe, who has at his disposal the entire media, courtesy of his daily Covid-19 briefings, has lately resulted to strange platform of communication to fight allegations of him being complicit in the “Covid millionaires scandal”.
In the heat of things, and understandably to save his soul, the former Mukurwe-ini MP has lately taken to social media, notably Facebook, to plead his case and inform the world of his innocence against the accusations of being part of those who benefitted from the scam at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa).
To many though, while presiding over a docket riddled with corruption and historical mess in how procurement are done, and where many before him have left office – fired or shuffled – in great unceremony and carrying heavy loads of graft-related baggage, it was only a matter of when and not if Kagwe was to find himself in similar quagmire.
The allegations of misappropriations of the Covid-19 mitigation funds and the mess at Kemsa over how procurement for essentials in the fight against the virus were done, have narrowed their way to the former legislator’s path.
Calls have been getting louder on him to step aside and pave way for investigations after he was adversely mentioned by the besieged Chief Executive Officer of Kemsa Jonah Manjari as among those who were “instructing” him on the procurement for Covid-19 goods and services.
But with his strong grounding in communication and being a Public Relations guru – the CS admittedly owns two reputable PR firms – Kagwe has been fighting the calls for his ouster.
He has, as expected, pleaded his innocence in the Kemsa mess, even as the public rage has been intensifying with complaints that some tenderpreneurs took advantage of the misfortune that is the pandemic to immorally enrich themselves, earning themselves the dubious title of “Covid millionaires”.
From his appointment, Kagwe has publicly spoken of his desire to root out the cartels at the Afya House, promising to dismantle the networks that have in the past been used as a conduit to siphon money from one of the highest funded ministries.
He has used the platform of his Covid daily briefs to give progress reports of this fight, urging the media to support his cause. He says that in the process of disassembling the web, he has transferred close to 100 people from the ministry.
Notably, when a local TV station aired an exposé on the alleged misappropriation of funds at Kemsa, Kagwe was among those who hailed the investigative works for exposing the scandal even as those adversely mentioned questioned the authenticity of the story on the grounds of wanting credibility of the scandal’s whistle-blower and news source.
“The days of weaponizing and politicizing corruption are ending. And there is no turning back,” Kagwe noted in his social media platform in his reaction to the exposé.
Seems, little did he know that the skunk would be placed right on his doorstep!
Now, to the surprise of many, Kagwe has opted to play his defence through the Facebook, as opposed to using the readily available platform of mainstream media to argue his case.
Yesterday, he authored a lengthy piece on his Facebook account titled “Covid-19: Mine’s an unbowed fight against corruption for all our sakes. Join the war; there’s no surrender, no retreat!” where in very many words, he simply maintains that “it was not me” telling Kenyans that he is the hunter, and not the hunted.
“We are working tirelessly with the DCI and EACC to ensure that those with criminal liability, for violations in KEMSA and elsewhere see their day in court,” says Kagwe in his Facebook account.
Whether the PR guru’s new tact of waging his fight in the Facebook will help him win the battle against those baying for him out of Afya House remains to be seen.