Why Uhuru’s men did not resign to plunge into politics

CSs Peter Munya (Agriculture), Ukur Yatani (Treasury), and Mutahi Kagwe (Health) were expected to resign by Tuesday, February 8, 2022. [File, Standard]

The much-anticipated volcano triggered by some Cabinet Secretaries and other state officers that at one point appeared likely to cripple President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government has ended in an anti-climax.

Yesterday, as the dust of mass resignations from the Cabinet began to settle, it emerged that a select group of key cogs in the government had decided to shelve their political ambitions for the smooth running of operations ahead of the August 9 elections.

It was expected that Ukur Yatani (Treasury), Peter Munya (Agriculture) and Mutahi Kagwe (Health) would resign by Tuesday to pursue political ambitions.

The Standard can now reveal the behind the scenes horse-trading and intense negotiations that forestalled the departure of the three CSs.

We have established that there were talks between Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi and allies of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, which aborted the planned exit of the Agriculture CS from the government.

After the deadline set for CSs to resign and on learning that Mr Munya was still in government, Kiraitu was ecstatic and expressed gratitude to a man he said would have been his main opponent in the 2022 race.

“He has made my work a little bit easier... This is a gift to me from God, and I have to thank him and promise that we shall work together with him,” the governor told a Press conference at his Meru office on Wednesday.

Deputy governor Titus Ntuciu said yesterday that they stood by the remarks of Kiraitu and were looking forward to working with Munya. “We have nothing much to add but appreciate his extending of the olive branch,” Mr Ntuciu said.

The Agriculture CS had told a coffee farmers’ meeting at Meru Showground last week that he would be in the Meru governor race if he was not picked as running mate to Raila, the Azimio la Umoja movement flag bearer.

“If it (running mate) becomes available, I will take it. But if it does not, I will be with you here to look for the other (governor) so that I can move forward together with you. We cannot turn down a post when it is made available for you. I am not saying that, because it has not been offered (yet),” he said.

Efforts to get a comment from Munya yesterday were futile, as he spent the better part of the day with Interior CS Fred Matiang’i in Tharaka.

“But what drove the intense negotiations that saw the CS opt-out of a difficult race he was unlikely to win was that the President was highly desirous of a united political front in Meru,” said the source.

The negotiations would also likely see the exit of Meru Woman Rep Kawira Mwangaza from the governor race to defend her seat. Leaders in the talks are said to have reached a verdict that the Azimio command will have a say on who will take the Senator and Woman Rep positions.

Yatani has since backtracked on his quest to reclaim the seat that he lost to Marsabit Governor Ali Mohamud Mohamed in the 2017 elections.  

President Uhuru Kenyatta. Uhuru’s Cabinet has a total 17 vacancies. [PSCU, Standard]

Through a statement yesterday, the Treasury CS said he had chosen to support the President in his quest to consolidate his legacy and preside over a smooth transition.

“I have carefully weighed the dictate of my current national duty, respect for my President and the push to offer myself as a gubernatorial candidate for Marsabit County. In this regard, I have, therefore, reached the decision not to run in the forthcoming August 9 General Election but instead continue to support the President in his quest to consolidate his legacy and preside over a smooth transition,” stated Yatani.

The CS said whereas he had invested heavily in the political journey to salvage Marsabit County from the little that had remained of it, courtesy of wanton plunder of public resources and collapse of public services, he was fully aware of the critical role of the office of the Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury during this political transition period.

While thanking President Kenyatta for the opportunities so far, he rallied the people from Marsabit to throw their weight behind Raila and Azimio.

“To the people of Marsabit County, I am profoundly humbled by your deep love and confidence in my ability to positively impact your lives. I shall endeavour to meet some of these expectations from my current national platform while wishing you God’s guidance as you make an informed decision to choose your next set of leaders from the Azimio la Umoja movement headed by Raila Odinga,” he added.

Prior to his appointment as CS, Yatani served as a District Officer, District Commissioner, Member of Parliament, Assistant Minister, Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN and the pioneer governor of Marsabit County.

Separately, Transport CS James Macharia also explained that he would not be contesting for Murang’a governorship, but will support the President’s Big Four agenda to the end of his term. 

Mr Macharia told The Standard he had decided to drop out of the governorship race to complete Transport projects. “We have a big agenda to complete other than going local. When we complete the Big Four agenda and the Transport projects, even the locals will benefit. Between now and August we are keen on revamping Kenya Airways, shipping and maritime economy among other tasks,” he said. 

Macharia was one of the aspirants who many people in Murang’a thought would give his contenders sleepless nights due to his development record, especially the many roads that have been tarmacked in Murang’a. 

He refuted claims that his decision could have been a result of negotiations with governor aspirants in Murang’a, maintaining that his decision was purely based on completing the president’s legacy projects. The projects that Uhuru hopes to use to revive his influence in the region include the Mau Mau roads, dualling of Kenol Sagana Marua road which falls on Macharia’s dockets. The CS has been the President’s confidant in the region and has been on many occasions represented him during fund-raisers.

His decision is seen as a bargain by the President to support him to complete his term as his resignation could have left the President an isolated man even as he seeks to lead Mt Kenya region in succession politics. 

Transport CS James Macharia at Transcom House, Nairobi, during Wavinya Ndeti's handing resignation. Wavinya will be vying for the Machakos gubernatorial seat. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Health CS Kagwe stated that he would not to resign and abandon Kenyans at this critical time of Covid-19.

The fact that he was called up to government by President Kenyatta just two years ago and that he has been helping the country navigate the pandemic, also emboldened his decision not to quit.

On Tuesday evening, Kagwe confirmed that he has been thinking about the issue of running for an elective seat, but decided to shelve it.

“No, I’m not resigning. I have given a lot of thought to this issue. We are still grappling with this pandemic, and I do not feel it will be responsible on my part to abandon the course at this critical moment to go and run for an elective position,” he added.

By yesterday, those who had handed over their dockets are Sicily Kariuki (Water), Charles Keter (Devolution), Adan Mohamed (East African Community and Regional Development) and John Munyes (Petroleum and Mining) who are pursuing governorship in their home counties.   

The resignations in some dockets have set the stage for paralysis in service delivery, as happened in the Water docket where the CS and PS have resigned as well as the Devolution and East Africa Community dockets where the CSs and Cabinet Administrative Secretaries have resigned.

Now Uhuru’s Cabinet has a total 17 vacancies, since nine CASs, four CSs and four PSs resigned. Out of the initial 22 Cabinet secretaries appointed in 2017, four have abandoned ship to pursue political interests.

This leaves him with only 18 CSs determined to steady the ship and safely deliver it to the dock.

The remaining CSs are Amina Mohamed (Sports and Heritage), Macharia (Transport), Joe Mucheru (ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs), Fred Matiang’i (Interior and Government Coordination), Eugene Wamalwa (Defence), Faridah Karoney (Lands) and Monica Juma (Energy and petroleum).

Others are Munya (Agriculture), Najib Balala (Tourism and Wildlife), Margaret Kobia (Public Service and Gender Affairs), Raychelle Omamo (Foreign Affairs), Simon Chelugui (Labour and Social Services), Mutahi Kagwe (Health), Keriako Tobiko (Environment and Forestry), George Magoha (Education), Betty Maina (Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development) and Raphael Tuju.   

Tourism and Wildlife CS Najib Balala. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Then there is the CASs, where out of a total of 29, nine have vacated Uhuru’s administration in line with the February 9 directive by the Head of public Service Joseph Kinyua.

The CASs are Beatrice Elachi, who is seeking to unseat the incumbent MP Simba Arati for Dagoretti North. Wavinya Ndeti (Transport) also vacated to vie for Machakos governor.

Hassan Noor Hassan (Education) wants to be next Mandera governor on ODM, Gideon Mung’aro (Devolution) wants to be Kilifi governor. Mung’aro joins a list of famed politicians seeking the top county seat, battling it out with, among others; Kilifi Deputy Governor Gideon Saburi and Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa.

CAS Ken Obura (East African Community) also resigned to contest for Kisumu governor.

Petroleum and Mining CAS John Mosonik resigned to seek the Bomet governor seat where he will battle it out with incumbent Governor Hillary Barchok and former governor Isaac Ruto of Chama Cha Mashinani. 

Others that took a bow include Tourism CAS Joseph Boinnet who is after the Elgeyo Marakwet governorship and the Labour and Social Protection CAS Patrick ole Ntutu who quit to vie for Narok governor.

Yesterday, Ababu Namwamba also stepped down as the Foreign Affairs CAS, a day after the set deadline.

Namwamba was appointed Deputy President William Ruto’s Head of International Relations in his presidential campaign secretariat.

Under his new role, the CAS will be responsible for Ruto’s internal image and relations ahead of the August 9 General Election. At the same time, four out of 44 PSs have also resigned to join politics.

They four are Agriculture PS Hamadi Iddi Boga who resigned on Wednesday to vie for Kwale governor on Azimio la Umoja ticket. He will be seeking to succeed the incumbent Salim Mvurya. He will battle it out for the seat with six aspirants including his Mvurya’s deputy Fatuma Achani of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

Water PS Joseph Irung’u also resigned on Tuesday after four years in office to vie for Murang’a governor. Others who resigned include Wildlife and Tourism PS Fred Segor (tourism), Safina Kwekwe (Prisons).

[Josphat Thiong’o, Wainaina Ndungu and Ndungu Gachane]