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Why Uhuru and Kibaki cabinets were better than the current one

Former presidents; Uhuru Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki during the beatification of Irene Stefani Nyaatha at Kimathi Grounds in May 2015. [Jacob Otieno, Standard]

The formation of Cabinet by President Uhuru Kenyatta in his first and second terms relied on the intentions, paradigms, and philosophies that guided the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

Kenya’s fourth president, having worked in the private and public sectors, was very aware of the threat of politically-exposed persons in the Executive.

In fact, some of President Kenyatta’s leadership philosophies were borrowed from President Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki leveraged the technical knowledge and expertise of successful leaders in the private sector to run key government ministries, State agencies, governmental departments, and policy-driven committees.

The approach was very successful in the development of important projects and programmes, including the Big Four Agenda, infrastructure development, and education programmes such as TVET, among others.

The ‘Technocratic Cabinet’ by President Kenyatta enjoyed greater independence due to limited distractions from the happenings in the political underworld. The design, development and implementation of key government policies was devoid of any future political ambitions and ensured service delivery to every Kenyan, irrespective of geographical, cultural, or ethnic differences. Regional representation was felt across the country. No region felt ‘outside government’ irrespective of the voting patterns witnessed in the 2012 and 2017 presidential elections.

However, this is likely to change as politicians in the Cabinet are likely to balance national interest with their own regional political ambitions. The appointment of politicians and politically-exposed persons into the Cabinet erodes the milestones achieved since the promulgation the 2010 Constitution. Champions of the Constitution were aware of the social, political, and economic impact of a politically dominated Cabinet.

Policy shapers opine that the fourth administration may be shielded from some blame, considering they kicked-off the first term while the new Constitution was in its infancy. The first administration under the 2010 Constitution was confronted with an expanded executive, legislature, and a new wing of government: county government.

Despite the mishaps and the trial-and-error systems that pushed the country into debt, President Kenyatta was able to settle the ship and implement stringent public oversight policies. Among the strategies adopted was shielding the executive wing from the grip of politically exposed persons. In fact, Cabinet members that did not keep their distance from their political brothers and cousins went out of office with a bang.  

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has claimed that the previous technocratic Cabinet was disconnected from the people’s interests and that most policies were implemented blindly without the ‘people’s touch’. Funny enough, I somehow, agree with him.

While this is true, the implementation of policies must be based on rationality, realism, and sustainability rather than idealism and populism. For instance, we may decide to negate the taxation of sugar due to the current prices. Of course, all Kenyans will celebrate, but this will come back to bite KRA and the national government.  

Technocrats, especially those that have thrown the towel in elective politics, are the ideal batch for Cabinet Secretary and Principal Secretary positions. Technocrats are more concerned with the implementation of the best policies based on the current socio-economic and political situation and in line with future goals such as Millennial Development Goals and Vision 2030.

President Ruto’s Cabinet puts Kenya’s forward thinkers in reverse gear. The governance model will erode some of the tremendous achievements in promoting the independence of the government’s independent organs, enhancing accountability and transparency in governance, and tackling Kenya’s second biggest challenge (after poverty): CORRUPTION!

In fact, there is little to no distinction between the Kenyan Bicameral Legislature and the Executive. The interests of those in Parliament and those in the executive are aligned, with time being the only variable. Indeed the oversight role of the 13th Parliament will be non-existent and significantly compromised.

President Ruto’s Cabinet is merely a self-serving political move that will guarantee a win in the 2027 elections, notwithstanding the new government is yet to settle down!

The appointment of persons with integrity issues, questionable character, and shaky intellectual and academic backgrounds sums up Kenya’s next five years of disappointment in governance and leadership. Leadership is about placing the interests of the electorate rather than rewarding political allies and loyalists.

-Mr Kariuki is the director of BEWA Research