CS Fred Matiang'i's quiet exit from government as Ruto presidency begins

Outgoing Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i addressing the residents of Nyaura in Nyaribari Chache Constituency, Kisii County on June 24, 2022. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Outgoing Interior Cabinet Secretary (CS) Fred Matiang'i quietly exited the government shortly before William Ruto's presidency began officially on Tuesday, September 13.

The Standard has learnt that Dr Matiang'i, a key cog in President Uhuru Kenyatta's administration, has not, for a week now, set foot in his Harambee House office in Nairobi.

A senior officer at the Interior ministry said Dr Matiang'i confided in him that he would take a break from the public limelight to plot his next move.

"Boss (Matiang'i) has not been in his office for one week now. The last time we spoke, he said he was taking a break from the public service and the public limelight," said the senior Interior ministry officer who sought anonymity.

With President William Ruto yet to unveil his Cabinet lineup, the Cabinet Secretaries who served under President Uhuru Kenyatta remain in office in a caretaker arrangement.

On Friday, September 16, the outgoing CS for Treasury Ukur Yatani invoked his powers under the law to implement President Ruto's order directing that the Inspector-General of Police be designated as the accounting officer for a budget that would be transferred from the Executive to the Police Service.

Dr Ruto, in his inauguration speech on Tuesday, said the move will give the Police Service operational autonomy.

The other Cabinet Secretaries who've remained in office in the caretaker capacity include Monica Juma (Energy) James Macharia (Transport), Najib Balala (Tourism), Farida Karoney (Lands), Mutahi Kagwe (Health), Raychelle Omamo (Foreign Affairs), Simon Chelugui (Labour) and George Magoha (Education).

CSs who supported Raila

The whereabouts of some of the CSs, who endorsed Raila Odinga's presidential candidature in the August 9, 2022 election, remain unclear.

Raila Odinga was Ruto's main rival in the presidential election, that saw the former Deputy President declared the winner after getting 7.18 million votes (50.49 per cent). Odinga, who was the first runner-up, got 6.94 million votes (48.85 per cent).

The ministers who supported Odinga's candidature include Joe Mucheru (ICT), Peter Munya (Agriculture), Eugene Wamalwa (Defence) and Keriako Tobiko (Environment).

CS Wamalwa was appointed by former President Kenyatta the Acting Cabinet Secretary for Devolution, a ministry he previously held, after the then-holder Charles Keter resigned in February 2022 to pursue his Kericho gubernatorial ambition.

Recently, following the August 9 elections, all the 47 governors and their deputies convened in Mombasa County for the county chiefs' induction seminar.

Wamalwa, who is the Acting Devolution CS, did not attend the function that was officially opened by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua on Thursday, September 15.

Wamalwa and President Ruto don't enjoy a good relationship.

Ruto-Matiang'i frosty relationship

CS Fred Matiang'i is the other minister who openly had a hostile relationship with Ruto, when the current president was serving as Uhuru Kenyatta's deputy.

Ruto had, in a past media interview, alleged that he'd been kicked out of the Security Council, an Executive body that had President Kenyatta, CS Matiang'i, the Chief of Defence Forces, the head of the National Intelligence Service, the Inspector-General of Police, among others.

Ruto also alleged that President Kenyatta had withdrawn his powers to supervise ministries and assigned them to CS Matiang'i.

The now fifth president had also accused Matiang'i of misusing county and sub-county administrators to frustrate him and the leaders allied to him.

It was an open secret that the two leaders had a frosty relationship.

During his campaigns, Ruto said should he win the presidency, he'll ensure that the security apparatus in his government won't be used for "political witch-hunt".

After Ruto won the election and a subsequent petition filed against his victory, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i penned a goodbye letter to the security personnel, saying he was proud of his tenure at the helm of the ministry.

That letter was released on September 9, the last public engagement of the minister, whose whereabouts now remain unclear.

"At this ministry, we have collectively strived to deliver service to our citizens. We have done this while improving the welfare of the gallant men and women in the security sector. This has been extended to other sectors that play vital roles in the day-to-day running of the government. As my tour of duty comes to an end. I exult in the pride of knowing that we have not only honoured expectations but exceeded them by important and evident milestones. History will vindicate our legacy," he said in the letter.

Deletes Twitter page

In what came as a shocking move to Kenyans, Matiang'i, thereafter, deleted his Twitter page that had more than 1.3 million followers.

The Standard sought a comment from his senior communications aide on why the CS exited Twitter, a platform that he was active on, updating Kenyans on the security situation and policies on a day-to-day basis.

"Honestly I'll be lying to you if I say that I know the reasons for his Twitter exit," said the aide who requested not to be identified.

"Boss (Matiang'i) was personally tweeting on that platform. Unlike other public officers, who hire social media managers, he personally operated his account. Being a private space, it would be intrusive of me to enquire why he decided to quit the platform," added the aide.

"However, I remember him saying that he wanted time to cool off, take a break from the tasking demands of government, and plot his next move."

Matiang'i, being a member of the Security Council and a senior security officer in government, we asked the aide whether the minister gives intelligence information to President Ruto on a daily basis as required by the law.

"I'm not sure he's doing that. He's not been in office for one week now. It's not a must that a caretaker minister remains in office when a new administration formally takes power. The security updates shared with the president usually come from the head of NIS, the Chief of Defence Forces and the Inspector-General of Police, not the Cabinet Secretary. Actually, the minister is copied in the emails, just like other recipients," said our informant.

According to the source, most of the Interior ministry work is currently being done by outgoing Interior Principal Secretary (PS) Dr Karanja Kibicho, who is still in office in a caretaker capacity.

CSs handing over

Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and his Public Service counterpart Margaret Kobia say they've prepared their handover notes in readiness to surrender the ministries to their successors.

Under the caretaker arrangement, according to Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua, a CS's powers are limited, including being unable to oversee a ministry expenditure that exceeds Sh50 million.

Should there be a need to spend beyond Sh50 million, then the National Treasury must be involved.

Other powers that the CSs lose include the ability to pronounce new policies and the ability to travel outside Kenya on official duties.

Fred Matiang'i's profile

Fred Matiang'i, who was christened President Uhuru Kenyatta's "super CS", served in the Cabinet in different portfolios for ten years.

Throughout that period, he served as Cabinet Secretary for Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), Lands and Physical Planning, Education and most recently Interior and Coordination of National Government.

Kenyatta had also picked Matiang'i to serve as the chairperson of the National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee.

Matiang'i holds a Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) in Communication and Comparative Literature from the University of Nairobi (UoN). His Master's studies at the UoN was in English. His Bachelor's Degree, which he pursued at Kenyatta University, was in Education.

Before venturing into governance and public service, Matiang'i was a lecturer at the University of Nairobi and Egerton University.

He's also conducted research and training for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Parliaments of Ethiopia, Uganda and the East African Legislative Assembly.

The outgoing minister also conducted consultancy services for the USAID, World Bank, the Canadian Development Agency and the Transparency International.