Wangusi: The man with a knack for playing hardball
Noah Cheploen and Harrison Kivisu
Outgoing Communications Authority (CA) of Kenya director-general Francis Wangusi is determined to stay in office against the wishes of the board which has already picked his replacement.
After Wangusi’s contract lapsed on August 21, the board chaired by Ben Gituku, with the blessings of ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, appointed legal affairs director Mercy Wanjau to serve in an acting capacity — a move that has been challenged in court.
Upon her appointment, Wanjau directed her “predecessor” to vacate the authority’s houses within 30 days or risk forcible removal. She also informed Wangusi that CA would no longer pay for his private security after August 22.
But Wangusi has vowed to stay put, saying he still has one year to go in his contract.
While the board may be appalled by Wangusi’s refusal to vacate office, media owners, who had a taste of his stubbornness four years ago, may understand where he is coming from.
Wangusi came to the limelight in 2015 when he caused a countrywide TV blackout during the digital migration.
In conjunction with the then ICT Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, Wangusi succeeded in staring down the big boys of the media industry.
For two weeks, leading TV stations such as Royal Media’s Citizen TV, Nation Media Group’s NTV and KTN of the Standard Group switched off their signals to protest what they said was the government’s intransigence in the analogue-to-digital migration process.
The media companies wanted to be given more time to import their own digital set-top boxes but the government declined to extend the deadline. The media owners later budged and joined the rollover to the new technology.
It is for this reason that the news of Wangusi’s impending exit has been received with a measure of relief by some media players who accuse him of high-handedness.
But Wangusi said he was only implementing what all the stakeholders, including media houses, had agreed on.
“The whole process of digital migration itself started on a collaborative framework. We had a taskforce that had all the players including broadcasters, the government and us,” he said in a media interview in July 2015.
He said he had learnt not to personalise issues particularly those that involve public office. “One thing I have learnt is never to put happenings into my personal life. Even if I meet opposition, I think I would just say, keep laughing and then it will disappear,” he said.
Wangusi joined the authority (then called Communications Commission of Kenya) in 2000 as assistant director, before he became Director-General in 2012, replacing Charles Njoroge.
He has experience spanning over 20 years in the ICT sector, which includes serving as Director in charge of Broadcasting and Special Projects and Director in charge of Licensing, Compliance and Standards at CCK.
He also worked at the defunct Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation and as a senior lecturer at the Kenya College for Communications Technology, now Multimedia University of Kenya.
On Tuesday, Employment and Labour Relations judge Byrum Ongaya stopped the recruitment of a new CA boss to replace Wangusi pending hearing of a case filed by the Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek).
Cofek said the recruitment process was conducted in an opaque manner and cannot be allowed to stand. The court ordered that the status quo be maintained and CA barred from recruiting a new director until the case is heard and determined.
The case will be mentioned on September 10.
Yesterday, Gituku stuck to his guns saying Wanjau will remain the interim director general until a new board in constituted. He said Wangusi’s contract ended last Tuesday and he cannot remain in office while earning a pension.
“When you talk about the status quo, it is in reference to the appointment of a new director general. Mercy is simply serving in an acting capacity in line with Section 27 of the State Corporations Act, which guides on how State corporations appoint a new director-general,” said Gituku.
The Kenya Information and Communication Amendment Act 2013, which gave birth to CA, empowers the board to hire the director-general unlike the previous Act which bestowed the power on the ICT Cabinet Secretary.