Since independence, Kenya has had some government officials who have shone above others by sheer drive, either protecting the president or just throwing their political weight around.
During the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s era, the strongmen around him included Peter Mbiyu Koinange, Charles Njonjo, Isaiah Mathenge and James Mungai.
During former President Moi’s reign, the powerful leaders were the late Nicholas Biwott, Mark Too and Zakayo Cheruiyot.
In the Kibaki presidency, Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua stood out as his fiercest defender while the late John Michuki was the Mr Fix-It.
Under President Uhuru Kenyatta, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has stood out because of his ability deliver results in government.
Dr Matiang’i has in the recent past been criticised for allegedly overstepping his mandate of overseeing government operations.
Since he was appointed to President Kenyatta’s administration in 2013, the ‘super minister’ seems to wield absolute powers and has rattled many people with his combative style.
The opposition and members of the ruling Jubilee government have experienced the wrath of the Interior CS in equal measure.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church devotee and father of two has earned enemies and friends. The latest tiff has been with Deputy President William Ruto and his political allies, who have faulted his leadership style.
“Matiang’i is at the heart of the Executive and Ruto is the Deputy President. Ruto, the DP, is a tough guy but he must play smart,” says veteran politician Koigi Wa Wamwere.
“Since Matiang’i is a tough guy, if Ruto slips up, Matiang’i will have to checkmate him. That is where they are now.”
When he was appointed to the Ministry of Information Communication and Technology (ICT), Dr Matiang’i championed the controversial migration of television broadcasting from analogue to digital, amid outcry from the media.
Many Kenyans were left with blank screens after the government switched off the analogue transmission.
When the CS took over at the Ministry of Education, he disbanded the Kenya National Examination Council’s board. Many praised him for being firm on cheating cartels, and abolishing the ranking of schools.
“His impromptu visits to public schools and stern action against players in the sector bore fruit,” says Mr Charles Nyabuto, a commentator of political and social events.
The president appointed him to the Interior Ministry after the death of Maj Gen (Rtd) Joseph Naissery.
The Head of State picked Matiang’i to coordinate all government development projects, a move that has further sucked him into succession politics, with Ruto allies criticising his expanded mandate.
During the 2017 General Election, the Interior CS led police to crack down on opposition protests against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) before and after the 2017 General Election.
After the illegal swearing-in of ODM leader Raila Odinga as the people’s president on January 28, 2018, at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Matiang’i outlawed the National Resistance Movement, gazetting it as an organised criminal gang.
This led to the rounding up of opposition leaders and supporters over their association with Raila’s swearing-in.
Interestingly, the ODM leader has come out to the defence of Matiang’i following attacks by critics.
Raila described the Interior CS as competent and hard working, and said he was being targeted by selfish critics.
“Those against Matiang’i are fighting him simply because he has been doing his job correctly, as a man in charge of the country’s security,” he said.
Speaking at a fundraiser in Kirinyaga County last week, Matiang’i told politicians criticising his style of leadership that he was only accountable to the president.
His remarks rattled Ruto allies, who warned that they would hit back at the CS and his Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho at the right time.
Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen said Matiang’i has become unpopular because of his abrasive leadership style.
“Disrespecting the Deputy President is not the smartest way of wanting to be seen as tough. If Matiang’i wants a political contest, he should resign as CS and seek an elective political position,” said the Elgeyo Marakwet senator.
Emurua Dikirr MP Johanna Ngeno said: “As MPs, we are going to fight with Dr Matiang’i and Mr Kibicho until they toe the line or ship out. They are overrated.”
But Bundalang’i MP Raphael Wanjala noted that it was clear from the assignment that Matiang’i is the president’s Mr Fix-It.
“The president has demonstrated that he trusts Matiang’i to deliver on some assignments that are key to the government. And the CS has proved that he can deliver,” said Mr Wanjala.
He said issues raised by a section of Jubilee leaders against Matiang’i should be directed to the president.
“Those MPs should direct their attacks at the president because he is the appointing authority and he is the one assigning Matiang’i those roles,” said the MP.
Nakuru Town West MP Samuel Arama is full of praise for the CS, saying his contribution in the departments he has handled so far cannot be equated to any other Cabinet secretary.
“The roles the President has bestowed on Matiang’i are clear indications that he has confidence in him.
“He flies flags from CS for Interior and Coordination of National Government to the chairman of the all-powerful Cabinet committee on national development and implementation. And because of his appointments to critical dockets, he is President Uhuru’s Mr Fix-it,” said Arama.
The lawmaker said that the November crackdown on counterfeit goods as well as rogue road users in November last year propelled the CS to great heights, catching the eye of the President.