Just as every administration has the Cabinet, there are the inner circle movers and shakers and the kitchen cabinet who largely define its tenure. These are men and women who have the president’s ear and a mere whisper from their pursed lips can make or break careers.
In the course of Kenya’s history, they have been assigned or assigned themselves diverse roles like advising the head of state on weight matters to just tickling him, sharing a tipple or tearing juicy goat ribs under starlight skies.
The four former presidents have had their strong men and women orbiting in their power circles and who called shorts sometimes even without offices or being government appointees.
Some strongmen around the presidents sometimes have wielded so much clout and influence that they have caused the sacking, appointment, demotion and arrest of their friends or foes.
According to political analyst Javas Bigambo, President William Ruto, whose is barely two weeks into his presidency, will similarly have men and women who will wield power for the rest of his stay at State House.
“They are the unapologetic apologists of the system, the executors of power and are at all levels. They handle the things the president cannot handle, and sometimes deal with issues from within or projecting an internal image to the world,” said Bigambo.
Basically, he added; “They are the presidents alter ego. Each system needs such people and so even with Ruto’s strong character, we are likely to see the power wielders, and few others will be seen now and others as the regime takes course.”
As Ruto begins his presidency that could last 10 years if he is reelected in 2027, Bigambo says there will be power brokers that will emerge along the way and elbow themselves into the president’s inner circle depending on the unique service they offer the president. “It is a matter of time before the power wielders are known,” he says.
President Ruto’s administration, unlike his predecessor’s, is likely to find a president deeply involved in its operations.
During the campaigns and until voting day, Ruto is said to have personally controlled almost everything including where to campaign, the budgets and finances right to organisation of the guarding of votes through agents.
“He is very hands-on. He ran his campaigns individually including getting particulars on all the logistics that accompanied it. You do not expect him to have people control his government. He keeps tabs on every development and now as head of state, I believe he will be more particular,” said a source at the presidency.
Another source, who served as a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture when Ruto was the minister, recalled how the President has a strong character and pays attention to even minute details.
“I remember one morning, he came to the department meeting and he was asking very detailed questions that we were taken aback. He asked us to prepare well and then we would have another meeting later in the week. Those serving in his government must prepare to be thorough,” said the former director in the Agriculture ministry.
Ruto’s deputy Rigathi Gachagua, the Chief Cabinet secretary designate Musalia Mudavadi, Senate Speaker Amason Kingi and Garissa Township MP Aden Duale are part of his inner circle and have intimate knowledge of how the administration will shape up.
According to a source, the names of former Speaker Justin Muturi, former senators Kithure Kindiki and Mithika Linturi, former governors Josphat Nanok and Salim Mvurya, UDA chair Johnstone Muthama, Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and MPs Oscar Sudi, Ndindi Nyoro, Kimani Ichung’wah and Silvanus Osoro have come up as those that enjoy the president’s ear.
The source said Ruto, who is keen to have the face of Kenya in his government, will assembly a team that brings together leaders from across the country.
At the administrative level, Ruto’s Chief of Staff Davis Chirchir, his communications team of Hussein Mohamed, Emmanuel Tallam and Dennis Itumbi and economist David Ndii also enjoy the president’s ear.
Chirchir administratively deals with the day-to-day engagement of the President and has a close interaction that not only daily meetings but several a day. Tallam is close to Ruto and handles the president’s sensitive matters, while Itumbi and Hussein have earned his trust in communication roles.
In first President Jomo Kenyatta’s government, Cabinet ministers Mbiyu Koinange, Dr Njoroge Mungai, James Gichuru and senior government officials including Attorney General Charles Njonjo and long-time Coast provincial commissioner Eliud Mahihu, were the influential men.
Mr Koinange, a Minister of State in the Office of the President, is said to have not only been powerful but related by marriage, a close friend and political fixer.
An elected MP for Kiambaa, Koinange was well schooled and was an in-law after the Kenyattas married Grace Wanjiku Koinange. The Koinanges enjoyed unparalleled access to the President.
Dr Mungai was Mzee Kenyatta’s personal physician and enjoyed a cordial relationship also serving in the president’s cabinet, while Njonjo as a barrister, had a close relationship with the head of state.
Mahihu, was Coast PC and enjoyed access to the president who in the last ten years of his presidency, lived at the coast and therefore spent a lot of time with Mzee Kenyatta.
In Moi’s administration, MPs Mulu Mutisya, Ezekiel Barng’etuny, Shariff Nassir, Mark Too and Joseph Kamotho were very powerful.
Then there was Njonjo, who was instrumental in having Moi succeed Kenyatta by shielding him from the change constitution group.
He wielded a lot of power in the early days of his presidency but would later be hounded out of office after the failed 1982 coup with accusations that he might have participated in it and preferred a private life after that.
Mark Too, popularly known as ‘Bwana Dawa’, was said to be among the few people who could make the president cheerful when weighed down by rigours of leading the country.
Too was Mzee Moi’s special envoy to various nations and is remembered for having stepped down as a Nominated MP to pave way for Uhuru Kenyatta who was being prepared to contest for the presidency on a KANU ticket in 2002.
Biwott was popularly known as ‘Total Man’ and served as a Cabinet Minister while Nominated MP Barngetuny was known as one of the few people who could make the President crack his ribs and could visit the former President at his Kabarak home often. This was the same with Mutisya, a close Moi ally from Ukambani, Nassir on the coast, and Kamotho from Central.
Joshua Kulei served as the personal aide to President Moi and avoided public limelight with little known about him but he is known to have played an influential role in the manner the government carried out its activities.
But in the last term of Moi’s regime, Dr Sally Kosgei served as Head of Civil Service, and Internal Affairs PS Zakayo Cheruiyot and they too wielded substantial power.
When Mwai Kibaki took over in 2003, Francis Muthaura served as the Head of Civil Service, while ministers John Michuki, Dr Chris Murungaru, David Mwiraria and Kiraitu Murungi enjoyed unfettered access to the president. Later came in Njenga Karume.
Kibaki’s college mate in Makerere, Matere Keriri served as the State House Comptroller when Kibaki assumed the country’s leadership, a position was also a powerful figure in the Kibaki government before he fell out with First Lady Lucy Kibaki forcing him to leave State House, although he maintained his friendship with the President.
Former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s powerful men included Jubilee Vice Chairman David Murathe, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his PS Dr Karanja Kibicho.