Is Health CS Mutahi Kagwe running for president?

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe addresses Community Health workers from all sub-counties in Nairobi on October 4, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe is set to join next year’s presidential race.

His strategy team is putting final touches ahead of his official announcement, The Standard can confirm.

Yesterday, the CS avoided the question: “My priority and patriotic duty now is to ensure at least five million Kenyans get Covid-19 vaccination in the next 30 days so that I can advise the Head of State to open up the country. Any other questions, please, reserve it until I’m done with the assignment given to me by the President.”

But his strategists, who didn’t want to be identified before the announcement, told The Standard the CS will be vying on the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) ticket. It is the party through which he made his debut in politics when he was voted Mukurweini MP in 2002 and Senator in 2013.

When it was formed in 2002, Narc, with the popular anthem ‘we are unbwogable (unbeatable)’, was a formidable coalition that ended Kanu’s 40 years in power and won the presidency for Mwai Kibaki.

Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu is the party leader.

Ngilu and the CS have a convergence of history in politics and in public service. In 2002 both contested and won parliamentary seats on Narc ticket. Ngilu was appointed Cabinet minister in the Health docket, which Kagwe holds today.

In 2013, both remained in Narc, with Ngilu teaming up with Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) and William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) to form the Jubilee coalition that won the elections. Kagwe was elected Nyeri senator.

‘Corona man’

In 2017, they again stuck with NARC. Ngilu was elected Kitui governor against strong opposition in a region dominated by Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Party.

But Kagwe lost the Senate seat in elections largely shaped by the Jubilee Party wave in the region.

But President Kenyatta advised Kagwe to stay put. When an opportunity come early last year after Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri was sacked, Uhuru did not disappoint.

And it was baptism by fire when Kagwe was appointed to the Health docket (not Agriculture ministry held by Kiunjuri). Within days of taking over at Afya House, Covid-19 struck. The new CS found himself in at the deep end hardly before he put on swimming gear.

From left, former President Mwai Kibaki, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, President Uhuru Kenyatta, DP William Ruto and Health CS Mutahi Kagwe at J.K.I.A, May 2016. [Courtesy]

The silver lining to that dark cloud is that it handed him an opportunity to showcase his ability. Suddenly, he was almost a permanent feature in the media as he gave daily updates on the pandemic that had shaken even the developed nations. 

He pleaded with Kenyans to obey protocols laid down by his ministry. His “if we treat this disease normally, it will treat us abnormally” appeal was on everyone’s lips. The social media was awash with his memes.

For lovers of alcohol, he joked that they had come up with a “dish” called “Mutahi Kagwe special” of two samozas and bottles of beer as an excuse to evade Covid-19 protocols. Hotels had been restricted to selling alcohol only to customers taking meals.

Before joining politics, Kagwe had built a career in advertising management, rising to a senior commercial manager at Standard Media Plc before moving into the corporate world as a consultant in public relations and management.

Unsettled mountain

His first stint in the Cabinet was in 2006/2007 when he held the ICT docket, where he oversaw the development of internet infrastructure countrywide. The idea to set up the Konza Technopolis was also mooted in his days at the ministry and approved in 2008 as a Vision 2030 flagship project.

Kagwe is the latest of leaders from the Mt Kenya region to show interest in next year’s State House contest.

If Central Kenya will ultimately not present a formidable presidential candidate in the August 9 elections, the question still remains who will be the best-placed person to represent the region at the negotiation table ahead of the polls.

Others who have come out to declare interest include the National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru and his Murang’a counterpart Mwangi wa Iria, and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua.