A section of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Cabinet has now officially been sucked into the factional politics that have caused a rift in the ruling Jubilee party ahead of the 2022 elections.
In a development that may signal that Cabinet Secretaries are taking certain positions with their eyes firmly on the next polls, a group of ministers, coalescing around the powerful Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, has been touring the country inspecting development projects much to the chagrin of some of their colleagues and politicians in the regions they visited.
Other CSs who have been making development tours are Keriako Tobiko (Forestry and Environment), Joe Mucheru (ICT), George Magoha (Education), Eugene Wamalwa (Devolution) and the latest entrant, Mutahi Kagwe of Health.
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During their tours, the ministers have been veering off to engage in politics by taking on President Kenyatta’s critics in what appears to be their efforts to show where their loyalties lie.
In contrast, some of their colleagues perceived to be allied to Deputy President William Ruto have taken a low profile. Still, there are those who do not wish to associate with the Matiang’í group for their own strategic reasons while others are simply being careful not to antagonise interest groups.
On Friday, Tobiko was involved in an ugly spat with former Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, a key ally of Ruto.
“Huyo mkubwa wa Murkomen ni karani wa rais. (Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen’s boss is a clerk). The deputy president is just a clerk to the President... Murkomen and even his boss must respect the president,” Tobiko said.
The implosion began in Kajiado on Thursday when Tobiko hosted Matiang’i and Kagwe. During the tour, Tobiko castigated meetings Ruto has been hosting at his Karen residence, which he said, were acts of premature campaigns by “restless characters keen on succeeding President Kenyatta”.
“We are still two years to the 2022 elections and the Office of the President is not vacant,” Tobiko said. “The Constitution only recognises one person in the Office of the President at a time.”
Tobiko accused Ruto and his allies of disrespecting the Head of State yet he is just an assistant to the president like the rest of the Cabinet Secretaries.
“Respect is a two-way traffic. If you cannot respect the president then you do not deserve to be respected by anyone,” Tobiko said during an event at Loita Forest.
This came just a day after Ruto had hosted MCAs from Kajiado in Karen. During the meeting, the DP hit out at the CS for criticising him for hosting delegations, a clear indication of the growing rift in the Cabinet. (See story on Page 20)
“These people (the delegations) are the same people who have employed us so we can in turn employ others as Cabinet Secretaries,” Ruto said in an apparent response to Tobiko, though he did not directly mention him by name.
Yesterday, Laikipia Woman Representative Catherine Waruguru lambasted the CSs in a video clip which went viral. She accused them of disrespecting the president.
“We must stop this hypocrisy ... Kiunjuri was sacked allegedly for engaging in politics. We have seen Wamalwa engage in the same yet nothing has been done to him. Now, Matiang’i and Kagwe and their ilk have joined in politicking. We are asking the president to sack them as well,” Waruguru said.
On Friday, Murkomen hit back at the CSs, sensationally claiming that Tobiko must have had the blessings of the president when he publicly addressed the DP in a disparaging manner, and wondering why he was not sacked.
“William Ruto is not anyone’s clerk, he was jointly elected with the president and without him, Uhuru would not be president and Tobiko would not even be a clerk,” said Murkomen twitted.
Baringo North MP William Cheptumo turned his fury against Tobiko terming his attacks on Ruto as careless and irresponsible.
“Even if you hate the person of Ruto, show some respect to the Office of Deputy President. It is a constitutional office and we cannot equate the office to that of a mere clerk. It is irresponsible for a person of a CS to have such a demeaning view on a position that is part of the Presidency,” Cheptumo said.
But those close to Tobiko say the Rubicon has long been crossed and there is no point sugarcoating the obvious. The feeling within this group is that there is clearly no love lost between their boss and the DP.
Given the unfolding scenario, the ministers have to shore up support for the president, given they are equally facing uncertain future if the president’s side does not win.
“You are forgetting that CSs are appointees of the president. They ought to do his bidding. We cannot expect them to stick to their offices when the fight is out there,” a source said.
Matiang’i, courtesy of an Executive Order by President Kenyatta, chairs the National Development and Communication Cabinet Committee, a position that gives him a supervisory role in the delivery of government programmes and projects.
The appointment of Matiang’i to the position was interpreted in political circles as taking away from Ruto his key mandate as the principal assistant to the president.
Before the Executive Order, it was Ruto who was seen as the supervisor of government’s projects, a role that earned him the infamous Tanga Tanga tag.
From there arose the Tanga Tanga wing of the Jubilee party, allied to the DP, and was countered by another faction under the tag Kieleweke, which is leaning towards Uhuru.
But activities of these two groups have subsided, especially after a purge in Parliament that saw Ruto allies removed from key positions.
The political undertones witnessed in the numerous tours by the CSs have left no doubt that the ministers are keen to play a role in the succession politics.
Matiang’i has in the past come under criticism from Ruto’s allies, with MPs in the Tanga Tanga camp accusing him of undermining the deputy president.
In several instances, the CS has stated that he is only answerable to President Kenyatta, a statement interpreted by Ruto and allies to mean he does not recognise the authority of the DP.
Former Naivasha MP John Mututho says CSs should restrict themselves to ensuring delivery of the president’s election pledges and avoid involving themselves in politics.
“The single duty of ministers is acting as cogs in delivery of government projects and must leave no room for partisan politics,” Mututho said yesterday.