Uhuru’s trusted lieutenants: Six star Cabinet secretaries
The aborted reshuffle at the Health ministry last week has fuelled debate over possible restructuring even as members of the Cabinet and top civil servants resume duty at the end of their 11-day recess granted by the Head of State.
And the pendulum has turned on the so-called Last Six Standing ministers who have graced President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Executive structure since his ascendancy to power in 2013.
Uhuru has warned his ministers over talk about a possible reshuffle but his courtiers have not stopped insinuating that changes in the Cabinet are looming and that it was only a matter of time before the President strikes.
The speculation was also heightened by his remarks a fortnight ago that he will appoint more young people to his Cabinet.
“When I hired you, I never announced it in the media. I will also not announce in the media when I want you out. So, ignore what is being said out there and serve Kenyans.
I will be keen on your track record and nothing else,” the President told the 85 officials who attended the virtual meeting on July 7.
The six are CSs Amina Mohamed of Sports, James Macharia (Transport), Fred Matiang’i (Interior), Adan Mohammed (East African Community), Raychelle Omamo (Foreign Affairs) and Najib Balala (Tourism) have the peculiar recognition of being the survivors of all of Uhuru’s intermittent purges since he took over power seven years ago.
In the eyes of many Kenyans, Matiang’i ranks as the first-among-equals and is the most powerful minister in Uhuru’s cabinet.
Though not a darling of human rights activists and civil rights defenders, Matiang’i is a visible figure with immensely voluble presence in his modus operandi.
He was first appointed as Minister for Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) in 2013.
He later moved to Education where he left a mark after stamping his authority against cheating in national examinations. He also acted as Lands Minister for some months after the sacking of current Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu over graft-related matters.
He served as Education Minister until 2018 when he was replaced by former University of Nairobi vice-chancellor George Magoha.
Closeness to president
His sterling performance derived from a brook-no-nonsense approach and notable closeness to the President has left him to be described as Chief Minister or Super CS, especially after his appointment to chair a Cabinet sub-committee that coordinates all government ministries, a move seen as clipping the power and influence of beleaguered Deputy President William Samoei Ruto.
His detractors perceive him as among a crop of leaders being groomed for higher office in the countdown to the Uhuru succession in 2022.
Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi offers a thumbs-up for the former University of Nairobi literature lecturer, saying he is among the few visible members of Uhuru’s cabinet.
“Matiang’i is among, if not, the best performing ministers. If you asked anyone on the streets out there to name for you the 22 members of the current Cabinet, the first one will be Matiang’i and maybe one or two others.
The rest are strangers to Kenyans. No one knows who they are, how they look like and what they do,” Wanyonyi said.
The legislator observed that one of the missing links in the current constitutional arrangement is having CSs appointed from outside parliament, a void that has created a huge disconnect between the government and the citizenry.
“People like Balala, (Peter) Munya and (Mutahi) Kagwe are able to understand the feelings of the electorate because they have represented people in Parliament. Matiang’i is an exception.
Though he has never been a Member of Parliament before, his performance stands out. You cannot say the same about his colleagues.
Which is why we are insisting that should we have a referendum before 2022, we must have a clause stipulating members of Cabinet must be drawn from elected Members of Parliament,” Wanyonyi stated.
Until early this year when she was moved to her current docket, Omamo had distinguished herself as the only CS not to have been transferred for all the time Uhuru has been President. She had been serving as Defence CS since 2013.
Raychelle is a daughter of a Kanu era Minister William Odongo Omamo and a former chairperson of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK).
She previously served as Kenya’s ambassador to France. Her late father who went with the sobriquet Kaliech (elephant), was a long-time political nemesis of the Odinga family whose Patriarch Jaramogi Oginga Odinga he frequently fought with and represented his Bondo parliamentary days whenever the Kenya’s Opposition politics was under house arrest.
Omamo is largely a reticent and behind-the-scenes actor. However, her exit from Defence is reported to have elicited night-long celebrations among the top military cadres at the Department of Defence (DoD) where her relations with the senior soldiers was said to have been less than lukewarm.
She has taken a noticeably low-key position at Foreign Affairs where she has been overshadowed by the more outgoing PS Kamau Macharia and CAS Ababu Namwamba who are the more visible and expressive faces of the demanding ministry.
Amina, a respected diplomat with overflowing international credentials in her basket was first appointed to head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from where she is remembered for her shuttle diplomacy in which she sought to lobby the global community against a criminal case then facing President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and four others.
She was later transferred to the Ministry of Education to replace Matiang’i who had been redeployed to his current docket.
She did not last there for long as she was early last year relocated to take over from the now disgraced Rashid Echesa.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretary-General Dr Mukhisa Kituyi is one of the persons who have always had praise for Amina’s industry and dedication to national duty.
“She is a person who understands geo-politics at a global level and the horse trading that goes with it. She is an upright person and an excellent servant,” Kituyi told this writer sometime back.
Apart from her stint at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as Kenya’s Permanent Representative, Amina has previously served as Under Secretary-General of UN Habitat and also as the PS in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs during the regime of retired President Mwai Kibaki.