For once, President Uhuru Kenyatta gave a speech that genuinely resonated with me. The televised message announcing the cabinet changes carried overly sanguine promises as usual, but Uhuru also struck responsive chords with anxious Kenyans by recognising the failings that we have all been complaining about. While speaking to the challenges that have brought him to the lowest point of his presidency, Uhuru was unusually collected throughout the address.
The speech identified key priority areas needing change, such as enhancing efficiency of public officers through fast-tracking adoption of technology; ensuring accountability in public service, by giving more power to accounting officers over expenditure; guaranteeing accessibility of public officers; and simplifying the review of effectiveness of government projects.
Contrary to my expectation, Uhuru sacked all Cabinet Secretaries who were under suspension for corruption. It might seem Anne Waiguru’s resignation earlier in the week removed the blinkers that had impeded Uhuru’s proper view of corruption in government. A days after Waiguru’s resignation, Uhuru termed corruption a national security threat. Even Cord leader Raila Odinga had commended him, saying Uhuru was “finally waking up to the reality and reporting to duty to confront what he and his administration have long refused to see”.
I was weighing the possibility of the Uhuru presidency being on the cusp of a major change – until the president began naming his new nominees. I once more saw the incongruence between Uhuru’s rhetoric and reality. The entire non-performing cabinet team remained intact. Jacob Kaimenyi, who has presided over rot at the Education ministry, was moved to the no less critical Lands docket. James Macharia moves to the super Infrastructure ministry.
Despite the president’s stated concern for high public wage bill, the reshuffle increased the cabinet to 20 members, and state departments (headed by Principal Secretaries) from 26 to 41. Two nominees for cabinet (Charles Keter and Dan Kazungu) are serving Members of Parliament whose confirmation will trigger costly by-elections – expenditures that Uhuru could have spared us, given that the nominees have no special skill he couldn’t get from other Kenyans.
The reshuffle also damaged national cohesion further. Out of the 20 ministers, 11 are from Gema and Kalenjin tribes, who also have 21 out of 46 PS positions. Since the President, Deputy President, Attorney General, and head of the public service also sit in Cabinet, the two communities account for 15 out of 24 cabinet positions.
This lopsided share of national positions gets worse when one considers the fact that the two tribes also lead the ministries and departments with the most power over government and the entire economy, such as finance, energy, transport, education, defensce, security and planning. Such inequities at the top trickles down the bureaucracy, where it is less scrutinised.
As to Uhuru’s stated goals of promoting accountability and efficiency, well, some of the new nominees have legitimate integrity questions. Creating more departments will see more overlaps of duties and burden the taxpayer.
I have seen from comments on social media that the reshuffle enlarged rather than bridge the gulf between Uhuru and his enlightened supporters. How did Uhuru get his act so wrong? While a lot of folks are citing the poor performance of the ministers retained, a good analysis of this presidency points to distinct dynamics that have contributed to eroding the myth Uhuru created among the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes – his key support base.
No one can deny that Uhuru’s 2013 election campaign showed a high level of dynamism. The first hurdle they overcame was uniting the two tribes, which had fought each other in previous multiparty elections.
Then, despite insalubrious their histories, ICC charges, and so on Uhuru and Ruto created a perception of a new beginning, concretised in a rebellion against the system (which they embody best, but successfully personified as Raila Odinga). Ruto was the dynamo, but the whole Jubilee team memorised ambitious development research ideas generated by ministries over the years and reproduced them point-by-point in the Jubilee manifesto and rallies.
Jubilee energised its base not by sound policy ideas, but cantankerous attacks on Raila, the international community, civil society, the courts – literally everyone seen as standing on their way – but the messages were made palatable to enlightened supporters through the work of BTP Advisers.
It was a state of hyper-politics that couldn’t be sustained once Uhuru and Ruto were in power. BTP advisers, the invisible Kibaki hand, and the contribution of independent supporters who had fought against a Raila presidency for their own reasons, were all gone. As Uhuru came under pressure to deliver, from very early on the establishment forces he and Ruto embodied worked in conflict with each other – Uhuru trying to steady the system through standard ethnic control, and Ruto fashioning his own patronage networks for his current and future survival.
Ruto has felt extremely isolated for much of the time that corruption has been a top national concern. He has had to be investigated by Parliament – over the hustler jet. His chief of staff, Maryanne Kittany, and URP Cabinet Secretaries were suspended for nearly a year. While he has got two key concessions in the reshuffle – Keter, who goes to Energy, and Willy Bett, in Agriculture – his space for manoeuvre is being gradually curtailed.
Concomitant with Ruto’s marginalisation is elite consolidation, through the appointment of novices or familiar names whose careers have been at the service of capitalist class. Tribalism has become more pervasive, as the latest reshuffle shows, and unlike in 2013 when Ruto was blamed for giving more URP slots to Kalenjins, he is innocent in this. Where Kibaki had powerful non-Kikuyu members of his cabinet, the Johnson Sakajas, Onyango Oloos, Mike Sonkos and Chirau Mwakweres who were seen as Uhuru’s closest non-Kikuyu allies play peripheral roles in the Uhuru government.
What the reshuffle has done is accelerate the demise of the myth, perpetuated since the last election, that Uhuru, being already rich, could pursue some form of egalitarian interests.