Sharp tongues: William Ruto's men kick up a storm by talking out of turn


Prersident William Ruto chairing a previous Cabinet meeting at State House Nairobi. [PCS]

Formed under the umbrella of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), President William Ruto’s government has shown that it is anything but united in many of its governance policies.

Unlike the campaign period that had the entire UDA speak in one voice on bottom-up promise, the running of government has seen different offices of the Executive contradicting each other while others completely disagree with the pronouncements of their counterparts.

Taking over a government at the peak of a drought that has seen more than 4.3 million Kenyans in need of humanitarian assistance, the new government looked desperate to do anything to deal with its newfound challenges. 

In a Cabinet meeting on October 3, the president lifted the 10-year ban on open cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), a decision Cabinet said was to respond to the worst drought that has hit the country in 40 years.

In the weeks that followed, Trade and Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria took on the role of GMO ambassador and openly communicated the State’s commitment to import the food despite public uproar over the lifting of the ban.

"We have so many things that can kill us in the country. Being in this country, you are a candidate for death. And because so many things compete for death, there is nothing wrong with adding GMOs to that list. That is why we have deliberately allowed GMO until we are satisfied that we have enough maize, the staple food," said Kuria in a statement that would later come to haunt him.

Kuria’s push was met with resistance from both the government and Opposition sides, with some UDA-allied MPs from Western and Rift Valley regions calling for his impeachment.

“There is a deliberate move to continue killing the maize sector in this country as was seen in the previous regime. We don’t need to rush until we put in place policies, rules and regulations to govern the use and importation of GMO into the country,” said Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei.

However, it was only weeks later after CS Kuria had threatened farmers to release maize into the market, failure to which the government would import maize, that Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi weighed in on the matter and distanced himself from the importation of GMO maize.

“I am the custodian of the ministry and I am not ready to answer to what is being reported in social media,” said Linturi on November 28.

As Linturi made his way to the centre of the GMO debate, Kuria took to the background and avoided commenting on the matter.

However, it is not just CS Kuria who has had this kind of intentional slip of the tongue, prompting outrage from both the public and NGOs.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, a man who has found himself on several occasions in the eye of the storm over controversial remarks, was also pushing for the shamba system that allowed people to farm in the forests.

Gachagua's statements came at a time the whole country was uncertain of the next rainy season while environmentalists blamed the crisis on climate change and human encroachment.

His remarks also seemed to be in contravention to those of President Ruto who during the United Nations General Assembly and his inauguration speech expressed commitment to adopt methods aimed at reducing the impact of climate change and transitioning to 100 per cent clean energy by 2030.

However, a few days after his remarks, the DP made a U-turn and blamed the media for misquoting him.

Gachagua has recently clashed with Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja over the relocation of long-distance Passenger Service Vehicles to Green Park terminus in an effort to decongest the Nairobi Central Business District.

The DP stated that the directive suggested by the governor is “impossible”.

Speaking a week ago in Nyeri County, Gachagua said during the campaign period, he sat down with the Kikuyu business community and asked them to back Sakaja’s bid to become the Nairobi governor and that therefore he will not allow decisions that affect their business.

"We have to sit down and talk with the Nairobi governor because we are the ones who voted him into office,” DP Gachagua said.

Defence CS Aden Duale drew a heated debate on social media after stepping out of his docket and saying that “they” will ensure every Muslim woman wears a hijab.

From a government point of view, Kenya remains a secular State but accords every citizen the freedom of worship and expression and thus any imposition of such a directive may be a breach of civil rights.

Despite the Defence CS downplaying his statement, many felt he overstepped his mandate by saying that the government will ensure that Muslim culture is respected at a time no known threats have been lodged to the culture.

Duale said “our girls will wear hijab, what's wrong? Isn't it that way? For those who don't wear Hijab and are Muslims, they should hear me. If you don’t wear hijab and you want to be naked, look for other countries. Yes. Look for other countries.”

Similarly, Education CS Ezekiel Machogu jumped the gun in November and declared that the government will no longer fund public universities and colleges.

“I’m going to move around each and every university in Kenya because a number are faced with financial problems and we are encouraging them to  generate their own income because the Exchequer, as it is now, is not going to continue funding.”

Just like the DP, the CS made a turnaround three days later saying that the government is not going to stop funding but encouraging universities to find alternative sources of income.

According to the Constitution, Cabinet Secretaries are accountable individually, and collectively, to the President for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions.

As it stands, there seems to be a poor central dispensation of power as some of the CSs appear accountable to their own opinions and directives and end up changing policy direction once the public holds them accountable.

"What is self-evident is that the Ruto administration had a bit of a lull. There was also the outspokenness and excitement of the new CSs who over-read the president's mandate to them," said political analyst Javas Bigambo.

He says most of the CSs had not understood that their pronouncement carried policy weight and implications and therefore must be well thought out.

"It is important that the CSs making pronouncement know that each of their statement will be carried with weight. Most have appreciated this by now, going by the public reactions to their public talks," said Bigambo.