Susan Nakhumicha: CS in eye of a storm as Cabinet faces stinging criticism

Health CS Susan Nakhumicha during a meeting with the Joint committee of the National Assembly and the Senate Health Committee scrutinizing the new SHIF health scheme at the Argyle Hotel in Machakos on February 27, 2024. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Susan Nakhumicha finds herself at the centre of a political and social tempest, facing mounting pressure from various fronts over her handling of the nation’s Health sector crisis.

From Health workers’ strikes to allegations of academic misrepresentation and political scrutiny, Nakhumicha’s tenure has become a battleground of conflicting interests and demands.

The embattled minister, appointed by President William Ruto in 2022, has encountered a storm of criticism, including a looming motion of no confidence promised last week by Embakasi East MP Babu Owino. 

The second-term MP’s motion cites gross constitutional violations and incompetence as grounds for her potential dismissal.

“Incompetence by not preventing the ongoing doctors’ strike, neglecting to fulfil the doctors’ collective agreement, and adopting a rigid stance,” Owino declared in his notice of motion. “I will be moving this motion and seeking a resolution from the House calling on Ruto to remove the CS from office.”

Nakhumicha’s leadership started facing scrutiny on her first day of vetting at the National Assembly, particularly during her appearance before the Committee on Appointments, where MP Kimani Ichung’wah questioned her academic qualifications and entitlement to the title ‘Doctor’. 

“I want her to clarify whether she is a doctor,” Ichung’wah said, adding that, “I don’t see anything that has to do with a doctor other than a Diploma in Healthcare from the Institute of Management, and even the degree from Turkey is not in the vetting file.”

Ichung’wah clarified that the candidate, Nakhumicha, had failed to include the degree from EGE, where she claims to have studied in Turkey online. In her response, Ms. Nakhumicha reaffirmed that she had completed an online degree programme from EGE University in Turkey. 

However, she explained that due to disparities in regulations and legislation between Kenya and Turkey during that period, she was unable to be registered as a pharmacist in Kenya. 

“I did a degree in pharmacy from Turkey, but I also said I did not manage to be registered by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) because of the difference in regulations,” the CS designate explained.

“While I was doing that degree, I was working and was required by the PPB and the regulations in this country to do another one-year-round internally, which I was not able to do because at that moment I was still working, had a life to live, and other beneficiaries I had to take care of, so I wasn’t registered.”

She added, “Because of that registration, I have always not placed my degree document in my folder so that questions do not arise.”

She said during the vetting that her net worth was Sh101 million, including land in different countries, townhouses, dividends, and shares.

Responding to the allegations, Nakhumicha reaffirmed her academic journey, citing challenges in obtaining recognition from Kenya’s regulatory bodies due to regulatory disparities. She said she initially attended the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC), where she underwent training as a pharmaceutical technologist and graduated in 2000. 

Subsequently, she pursued a degree programme in Turkey before furthering her education with a degree in procurement and supplies from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). 

Health CS Susan Nakhumicha  before the National Assembly's Health committee at the Parliament buildings,Nairobi on February 22, 2024. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

However, when The Sunday Standard reached out to JKUAT, the administration said they  could not provide her information since it is private and that only the Public Service Commission, Parliament, and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) could write to them to request her qualifications. 

Our attempt to contact EGE University in Turkey, founded in 1955 with the faculties of medicine and agriculture, were not successful. 

Just like the streets, the social media sphere has also become a battleground for Nakhumicha, with critics dissecting her qualifications and handling of the healthcare crisis, which has left doctors demonstrating on the streets since March 15, denying millions of patients specialised care.

Accusations and counter-accusations reverberate across digital platforms, reflecting broader societal discontent at the expense of suffering patients.

At the heart of these challenges, calls for Nakhumicha’s resignation from influential quarters, including the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), have intensified each day owing to the plight of poor patients in private hospitals.

“If I were the Minister of Health and one person died due to negligence, I would either fix it or step down,” said Dr. Alphonse Kanga, Chairman of the NCCK Nairobi region. “It is not people of my calibre who are suffering.”

Meanwhile, political dynamics continue to unfold, with MPs calling for a vote of no confidence against Nakhumicha. 

“The issue of the doctors’ strike is so serious that it cannot be taken lightly,” said Opiyo Wandayi in an undated video statement. “Parliament was willing to help her by providing additional funds through a supplementary budget.”

Nakhumicha’s acknowledgement of the challenges facing the Health sector has been mixed with assertions of her commitment to resolving them. 

“I am aware of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for solutions,” Nakhumicha stated in a press conference. “We are actively engaging with stakeholders to address the concerns raised by the medical professionals and to find a way forward.”

As Nakhumicha navigates the stormy seas of politics and public scrutiny, the future of Kenya’s health sector hangs in the balance.

The coming days, or months, are likely to determine whether she can weather the storm, or if a new course will be charted for the nation’s healthcare landscape. 

However, scepticism persists among medical professionals and the public alike, with doubts lingering over Nakhumicha’s ability to effect meaningful change in the healthcare sector.

In the words of Makueni Senator Dan Maanzo, “She is in enough trouble. She must urgently resolve this crisis or face the wrath of Kenyans.”