In Kenya, loyalty is better than competence

When President William Ruto made an impromptu visit at the National Assembly, a day before Speaker Moses Wetangula declared Kenya Kwanza as the majority side in the chambers. [Elvis Ogina, Standarad]

In the last couple of weeks, Kenyans have been treated to a preview of what to expect from the new administration over the next five years.

From policy decisions to Cabinet nominations, we now have a clearer picture of what issues will take priority in the Kenya Kwanza administration, and which individuals are likely to inform these priorities. On Tuesday, 27th September, President William Ruto announced his nominees for the 22 Cabinets slots.

The list did not inspire confidence as it appeared he was out to reward his political allies, and seemingly, academic and professional qualification were of little relevance. Some of the nominees to key ministries have no experience or academic qualifications for the sectors and industries they will inform for the next five years.

Additionally, several individuals nominated to Cabinet, at the time of nomination, had active court cases for serious crimes that should cast doubt on their ability to lead. Granted, they remain innocent until proven guilty.

However, the crimes in this case ranged from fraud to murder. It is impossible to overlook the fact that their nomination, which is effectively a stamp of approval from the highest office in the land, will definitely impact the outcome of these cases. As it stands, some of the cases have since been dropped by the institutions pursuing them.

In the same period, the High Court revoked the degree requirement for governors, terming it ‘unconstitutional’. The judiciary has over the past ten years been a beacon of hope that stood for the spirit of the Constitution. The Judiciary ruled that the Building Bridges Initiative, the Nairobi Metropolitan Services, and the position of Chief Administrative Secretary were all unconstitutional and went against the spirit of our Supreme Law.

President Mwai Kibaki’s administration set us on a new path where competence at the Cabinet level was a prerequisite for our progress as a nation. We went further to introduce provisions in the Constitution for Cabinet Secretaries who are not sitting Members of Parliament as was the case in the past. The spirit was to have the president prioritise competence over rewarding his or her political allies when selecting the individuals who would oversee our political, social, and economic progress as a nation. Invalidating the degree requirement for gubernatorial aspirants is a step backwards and goes against this very spirit.

For now, the nominees’ fate hangs in the balance, and it is Parliament to decide whether they will allow this list to pass. However, based on the move by Kenya Kwanza to consolidate their political strength by ‘convincing’ Azimio-allied politicians to switch sides, we should manage our expectations.

If the proposed Cabinet list goes through in Parliament, then we are sending a clear message to Kenyans that competence will never win over connection in this country. We are telling Kenyans who have worked hard to attain academic qualifications in the hope of getting a job, advancing their careers, and getting themselves out of poverty, that it was an exercise in futility. The message being sent is that what matters is who you know and who you’re loyal to.

If this is the Kenya we are building, then the Federation of Kenya Employers, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, and employers in general should lower the bar. Many Kenyans who are contributing to the economy and to the growth of our nation at different levels have had to attain a unique combination of academic qualification, verifiable competence, and industry experience to reach the higher levels of their industries. The discordant reality of having underqualified individuals lead whole sectors of our economy is bitter pill to swallow. Perhaps lessening these requirements for all is the way to go.

 The writer is a Communications Specialist