Titus Mbathi: My lessons in high office and short stint in politics

Former cabinet minister Titus Mbathi during an interview with the Standard on May 23, 2023. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

In 1955, Kenya was still reeling under the state of emergency when a lanky man, Titus Kitili Mbathi returned home after five years studying in India.

At the turn of 1950, he had quit his teaching job at Machakos School for a scholarship in India, first at Loyola College for an intermediate certificate course, and later at Madras Christian College to study BA (honours) degree course in economics (major) and political science (minor).

Back in Kenya, jobs lay in wait for graduates. All that it took was to apply to the Public Service Commission (PSC) and he landed an appointment as a Community Development Officer.

After orientation at Jeanes School, Kabete, Mbathi was first posted to Athi River detention camp to assist the Commandant Major James Breckenridge in rehabilitation of Mau Mau detainees. Later, he was handed a Land Rover, a driver, a camera, a film projector and audio visual gadgets and dispatched to Kitui.

Mbathi went on to serve in same capacity in Embu, before landing a Fullbright scholarship to study for an MA Economics degree in the US for two years. He returned in 1961, and was appointed lecturer in economics at Jeanes School, Kabete.


In his book "My Life's Journey", Mbathi says his breakthrough in the civil service came in 1962 after presenting a paper on employment at the first conference on the "Kenya We Want". On that day, he established useful contacts in public and private sectors which changed his life.

Shortly thereafter he landed an Assistant Secretary in Treasury job at the East Africa Common Services Organisation. He was then appointed the first Director of Personnel at the Prime Minister's office when Kenya attained self-internal rule.

From working in Mzee Jomo Kenyatta's office, he would scale through the civil service ladder, with an appointment as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Development headed by late Tom Mboya, assisted by former President Mwai Kibaki.

The three had studied in the same school - Mang'u School - and were instrumental in developing Sessional Paper Number 10 of 1965, Kenya's economic roadmap for many years.

He moved to the Ministry of Power and Communications in 1966 and Ministry of Labour in 1967. In November 1969, few months after his schoolmate Mboya was gunned down, Mbathi voluntarily retired from civil service at 40 to join Agence Maritime Internationale (AMI), currently known as Transami as its East and Central Africa representative.

Private business

Five years of high profile job at AMI interspersed with lots of international travel, Mbathi quit and ventured into private business in 1975 stretching from cargo business, real estate and farming.

In 1978 elections, Mbathi contested and lost Kitui Central constituency seat. He petitioned the election in court, and they were back to the ballot in a by-election in which he won. He was subsequently appointed Labour minister by then President Daniel arap Moi.

In 1983 elections, he lost his parliamentary seat after falling out of favour with Moi. He lost again in 1988 and was knocked out of the 1992 race on a technicality. He went on to serve in numerous boards of public organisations including as chair of Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KENGEN) for the 10 years of President Kibaki's rule.

In his book published by Bounce Back Books, Mbathi shares his perspectives on success of governments and individuals:

  1. Good Governance

In a democratic state like ours, there are three arms of government namely the Executive (the presidency) the Legislature (upper and lower houses of parliament) and the Judiciary (the court system) each with specific power enshrined in the constitution. The three arms are intended to serve as checks and balances for each other. Good governance demands strict adherence to this principle of separation of powers. If left unchecked, there is a tendency for the executive to usurp the power of the other two arms of government. In our country, there have been cases of the executive disobeying several court orders.

  1. Political Stability

Political stability is a prerequisite for a successful government. Since the 1990s, the main cause of political instability in Kenya has been the clamour for political office, particularly the presidency. In late 2007-early 2008 it got so bad as post-election violence erupted prompted by presidential election losers' claiming that the elections had been rigged. Since then, our elections have been characterized by political violence which erupts every five years. This cycle must be stopped before it gets out of hand.

Post-election violence is exacerbated by the concept of winner takes all. This is clearly explained in Michela Wrong's, "It's Our Time to Eat" in which she explains how public funds are pilfered by the ruling elite. In order to ensure political stability, this issue must be effectively addressed. Our society has come to the point where mature choices have to be made concerning not just the choice of leader, but also how to respond to electoral outcomes regardless of whether our candidate won the ballot or not.

This requires all players to deliberately and mindfully make choices that benefit the nation over the individual. Here I am referring to the candidates, their parties, the bodies involved in managing elections, the media who play a critical role in influencing public opinion, the judiciary, the police and every single citizen. After all, we are our brothers' keepers.

There are several ways of tackling this problem. First, In order to promote rectitude of the election, members of the electoral board should be people with high integrity appointed in accordance with the criteria stipulated by chapter 15 of the 2010 constitution. The election should be free and fair. To achieve this objective, there are several prerequisites: there should be widespread civic education with a view to making voters appreciate the importance of electing development conscious leaders.

  1. Corruption

Corruption is the most serious problem facing our country currently. The patriotism which inspired us to serve our country in delight, without expecting rewards other than our salaries, is no longer prevalent. For instance, in the early 1960's, I can remember only one case in which a permanent secretary was imprisoned after being convicted of bribery.

Currently, corruption is so deeply entrenched in our country that there is hardly any government department where one can get prompt and efficient service without paying a bribe. Worse still, there are hardly any prominent civil servants or politicians who are serving jail terms for corruption even though they are known to be corrupt. As a result, the younger generation believes that it is alright to commit crimes in order to enrich oneself as in the end there appears to be no price to pay for such acts.

Conservative estimates indicate that the country loses about Sh2 billion daily through corruption. Furthermore, Transparency International, which traces corruption worldwide, ranks Kenya high on their corruption index every year. To illustrate the negative impact of corruption on our country, let me quote the case of Malaysia.

When we gained independence in 1963 our Gross Domestic Product per capita was about the same as that of Malaysia. Over the years, however, a huge difference has emerged between the two nations. In 2019 GDP per capita in Kenya was recorded at 1237.50 US Dollars. This is equivalent to 10 percent of the world's average. The GDP per capita in Malaysia was recorded at 12,478.20 US Dollars in the same year. This is approximately 10 times that of Kenya. The cause of this huge disparity can be largely attributed to corruption.

In order to address the corruption issue effectively, the government should establish special courts for prosecuting corruption cases and set a time limit of say six months for determining them. Any civil servant accused of corruption should be interdicted on half salary until his/her case is determined.

  1. Tribalism

National cohesion is a prerequisite for the success of our democracy. Prior to independence, we were Kenyans just because we lived in the same geographical area christened as Kenya by colonialists. In actual fact we were Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Akamba, Maasai etc. Each tribe had its own culture and traditions and tribal wars were rampant. After colonization by the British, we became Kenyans, but only by name.

In actual fact, we retained our tribal identities. In order to become a strong and unified nation, the government must make a determined effort to promote national cohesion. This can be achieved by making national values an important component of civic education and discussing the subject at national and county seminars.

During colonial times, appointments and promotions in public service were based on merit. After independence, however, they are influenced by tribal considerations and nepotism, despite the new constitution that is meant to rectify this issue. Consequently, some properly qualified and experienced officers are superseded.
This affects the morale and efficiency of the public service adversely. The same applies to the private sector to a certain extent. To promote efficiency and boost morale in the public and private sectors, all appointments should be advertised and applicants interviewed and selected on merit.

  1. Discipline

No nation can succeed without practising good discipline. Unfortunately, in Kenya, discipline is seriously compromised. For instance, our Highway Code stipulates, inter alia, that motorists should not overtake at road bends or without ample space in order to avoid accidents.

Regrettably, this regulation is often ignored. On many occasions, vehicles on highways overtake at the wrong places, forcing motorists coming from the opposite direction off the road in order to avoid accidents. As a result, sometimes there are head-on collisions leading to severe injuries or deaths.

To ensure safety on our highways the Highway Code should be strictly enforced and those found guilty of breaking the law given appropriate punishment.

Indiscipline is also rampant in our schools and has caused a lot of damage country wide. For instance, there have been cases of students beating their teachers. There have also been cases of students setting school buildings on fire or causing malicious dam age to property.

Before its abolition several years ago corporal punishment was an effective deterrent against indiscipline. To date there does not appear to be an effective replacement. Unless this problem is effectively addressed indiscipline will get out of hand. In my opinion, this matter should be subjected to national debate.

  1. Industrialisation

Industrialisation is the key to rapid social and economic development. In order to expedite the rate of industrialisation, there are some prerequisites. First and foremost is a conducive investment environment. This involves political stability and attractive incentives such as tax holidays and repatriation of dividends without undue restrictions. It also involves reasonable availability of work permits for essential expatriate staff such as managing and financial directors.

The second important factor is the availability of communications and information technology. To quote a case in point, all Asian economic tigers have established sophisticated communication and information technology sectors, supported by a pool of highly trained manpower.

In this regard, it is encouraging to see some of our universities promoting advanced communications and technology. The government in conjunction with the Korean government will establish a high tech university at Konza Smart City.

  1. Prudent Management of Treasury and Public Finance

Management of public funds is the prerogative of the Treasury. It is imperative, therefore, for the Treasury to ensure that the funds are spent prudently, holding officers to whom Authority to Incur Expenditure (AIEs) are issued accountable for any misappropriation or diversion of funds. The Treasury should also release funds to ministries as well as counties promptly in order to avoid delays in the implementation of projects.

It is also necessary for the Treasury to control state borrowing both locally and internationally, the main consideration being the ability to service debts on time. In this regard, we have noted, with concern, the spiralling of public debt during the last few years.

  1. Provision of High Quality Affordable Housing

Some old Nairobi City housing estates such as Kaloleni, Starehe and Shauri Moyo are spread out on valuable land. They should be pulled down and replaced with properly planned low cost houses with water, sewage, playgrounds tarmac roads and other facilities. The estates would then accommodate several times the number of families they house at present. Construction of the houses would also create employment and income for thousands of people.

The city is also littered with informal settlements such as Kibera and Kariobangi, housing thousands of people. The city should initiate joint venture projects with developers to replace shanties with properly planned low cost housing projects and institute long term mortgages for the tenants.

Similar low cost housing projects should be introduced in all counties. For individuals, ambition to succeed, hard work, integrity, emotional intelligence, efficiency and punctuality and good conduct are important pillars of success.

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