President Uhuru Kenyatta isolates Central region’s power brokers

 President Kenyatta meets supporters. His style of leadership has stunned Central’s political Old Guard.  [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]



Since President Uhuru Kenyatta took power in May, he has confounded friends and foes in relation to his preferred leadership style.

His day-to-day running of government has baffled even his closest associates, a source close to State House confided in The Standard on Sunday.

Unlike his predecessors who kept their very close friends in the inner sanctum of state power  (commonly referred to as the kitchen Cabinet), Uhuru has taken a different route.

For starters, Deputy President William Ruto is actively involved in the day-to-day running of government, making it extremely difficult for Uhuru’s bosom political allies to influence governance decisions.

According to multiple sources, Uhuru and Ruto have worked out a relationship that leaves no room for self-interested political allies and hangers on to infiltrate and influence governance of state affairs. According to governance consultant Prof Peter Kagwanja, the ciama shia athuri (council of elders), has no place in Uhuru’s scheme of things.

“The deputy President is part and parcel of the presidency.  As you know, Ruto is even younger than Uhuru and he is, therefore, part of the generational change. The leaders we have had previously surrounded themselves with their age-mates who constituted the kitchen Cabinet – ciama shia athuri (council of elders) – who ensured that their will prevailed,” Kagwanja said.

Old Guard

Kagwanja said Uhuru’s decision to disregard the old guard in the former President Kibaki’s administration and shore up a new team, was clear indication that he wanted to present himself to Kenyans as his own man.

But former Nyeri Town MP Wanyiri Kihoro disagrees, arguing that Uhuru’s governance has not shifted from the old ways.

“The change is just physical. Ideologically, Uhuru is as old fashioned as the old guard in Kibaki’s kitchen Cabinet. From what the government has done in the months it has been in office, we don’t see any change,” said Kihoro known for his fiery brand of politics.

Kihoro, who was constantly at loggerheads with Kibaki, said Uhuru has not shown any will to break from the past “despite changing a few faces in the public service”.

“Ask anyone and they will tell you that economy should drive politics. What is there in the budget to show economic reforms being undertaken by this government? This is like Kibaki’s – there is no change in the way of doing things,” said Kihoro.

Our State House source said the president and his deputy consult on daily basis either on phone or through meetings.

“The president is against political patronage and would rather call individual governors, senators, MPs or even County Assembly members to consult about an issue than listen to people who often refer to themselves as close allies,” said an official conversant with Uhuru’s modus operandi.

In his Central Kenya back yard, Uhuru has chosen to work with a new crop of individuals slowly edging out the old guard associated with his predecessor Mwai Kibaki.

With the dynamics slowly changing in the new regime, the President appears to have new lieutenants. The new kids on the block that are said to have close contact with Uhuru include Cabinet Secretaries Michael Kamau and Anne Waiguru. His other ally is former PS Joseph Kinyua, who is now the Chief of Staff and Head of Civil Service. The three are said to have the President’s ear.

Having served the previous administration as permanent secretary, Kamau’s experience has put him a cut above the rest and is

often seen with Uhuru in public. The Transport Cabinet Secretary who hails from Naromoru in Nyeri seems to have eclipsed other leaders from region who have previously wielded immense power.

In the Kibaki government, then Kieni MP Dr Chris Murungaru rose to become one of the most powerful ministers in the government. Being from Kibaki’s Nyeri back yard, Murungaru called the shots and was regarded as one of the most influential figures in the government.

He was however to fall disgracefully after he was adversely mentioned in the Anglo-leasing scandal that rocked the Narc government.

Having been swept aside by voters in 2007 and this year’s elections, Murungaru is yet to regain his political footing.

Since then, a lot has changed in the political scene with Uhuru coming up with a different line-up.

And Kihoro sees Kamau as one of the key regional pillars of the Jubilee government.

He describes Kamau as one of the most competent technocrats appointed by Uhuru in the Cabinet.

“There are people in that Cabinet who do not carry any clout. I think it’s only people like Kamau who have proved to be real trench fighters,” said Kihoro, adding that, “Kamau is a workaholic and a person who knows the grassroots well. This works well for the government. I think I can describe him as an asset for this government.”

Another individual said to be close to Uhuru is Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi.

Muturi’s friendship with Uhuru dates back to the old Kanu days when he was an MP.

“He is very close to Uhuru and they regularly consult on national matters,” said a State House source.

Apart from former Treasury permanent secretary Joseph Kinyua whom he retained as his economic adviser, Uhuru has chosen a new crop of leaders to head crucial departments ignoring some of Kibaki’s trusted lieutenants.

Trusted allies

Some Kibaki trusted allies like former Transport minister Amos Kimunya and former Finance minister Njeru Githae, former permanent secretaries Thuita Mwangi, Patrick Nyoike, Karega Mutahi and Cyrus Njiru were overlooked when Uhuru formed the government.

Cabinet Secretary Francis Kimemia and Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo were retained to “ensure a smooth transition”.

But what has surprised many is the open door policy that Uhuru has adopted in his operations allowing different opinions from people instead of relying on his close allies to make decisions. “I think thus far Uhuru has shown his statesmanship. He has not made rash decisions but governs through consultation. I think this is the way to go,” said Mwea MP Peter Gitau.

Gitau said members of parliament have a good working relationship with the president and his deputy as a result of constant consultation with them.

Prof Kagwanja says the paradigm shift seen in Uhuru’s government is as a result of the new Constitution and the changing dynamics of politics. He says the change in leadership has not only been in the national leadership but has been replicated in the grassroots.

“It is instructive to note that in Uhuru’s Central Kenya back yard, a lot of young people have assumed leadership positions. I think the generational change — itwika as it is known in Kikuyu — has already happened mostly in Central Kenya,” says Kagwanja.

Most of the leaders from Central Kenya feel that with generational change the local politics has also changed and most of them find it easier “to enjoy power”.

Change of style

Nyeri MP Priscilla Nyokabi who is among the youngest crop of legislators from the region said leaders have already noticed the change of leadership style of Uhuru. “We are very happy as leaders that there is nothing like a kitchen Cabinet in this government. We consult regularly with the president,” said Nyokabi.

She said leaders are buoyed by the fact that they belong to the same generation with the President and his deputy. “We feel we are at par and speak on the same wavelength. If you look at the people who have the president’s ear, they are young people who have new ideas. The days that moneyed individuals who belonged to the ‘kitchen Cabinet’ used to intimidate people are long gone, we are basically in one generation,” the MP says. Nyokabi, 35, said she finds it easy talking to Uhuru as opposed to the way she would feel talking to Kibaki.

“I think Kibaki was the last of the old order, we have moved to the digital generation. There were old men in the previous regime who felt that the youth were to be seen not heard,” said Nyokabi.

Mr Kanini Kega, another youthful MP from Uhuru’s backyard was full of praise for the new government.

“The new constitution brought a new order of doing things and Uhuru has perfected this art of consultation,” said Kanini.

He said the good working relationship between the President and his deputy has ensured there are no room for hangers-on in the corridors of power.