At least nine Cabinet secretaries are at the centre of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2022 succession plan.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, his Agriculture counterpart Peter Munya, Treasury’s Ukur Yatani and Eugene Wamalwa (Devolution) are pulling political punches as they seek to engineer the direction the country and their regions, in particular, take.
Others are Mutahi Kagwe (Health), Keriako Tobiko (Environment), Joe Mucheru of ICT, John Munyes of Petroleum as well as Raphael Tuju, whom Mr Kenyatta designated Cabinet Secretary without portfolio.
While Dr Matiang’i is at the forefront of rallying the Gusii community ahead of next year’s poll, Mr Yatani and Mr Wamalwa are busy forging a united northern and western Kenya, respectively.
In the Rift, Mr Tobiko and Mr Munyes have been leading efforts to have the Maa and Turkana communities, respectively, cast their vote where the President sways next year.
And in Mt Kenya, Mr Munya, Mr Kagwe and Mr Mucheru are key cogs of the region’s unity bid, with Mr Kagwe, the ex-Nyeri senator, being touted as a possible running mate for leading candidates.
Yesterday, Mr Tuju, who sits in the Cabinet but was not vetted by Parliament, said the CSs were in order to engage in politics and drive the 2022 succession debate.
“I would be very worried if those in Cabinet were completely apolitical as they serve in a political office in a government that serves in a political environment,” said Mr Tuju, whose appointment to the Cabinet mirrors a practice in Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and China’s Chinese Communist Party where officials of the party are in the Cabinet.
“The Constitution has accepted that you cannot bar CSs from participating in politics. It would, therefore, be naïve to imagine a scenario where CSs are not involved in politics.”
He cited the Leadership and Integrity Act, which sets the parameters within which state and public officers should operate, as exempting the CSs from the ban on engaging in political activities, a matter the opposition took issue with, and lost, in 2017 when they argued that ministers were appointed as apolitical civil servants.
“An appointed State office, other than a Cabinet secretary or a member or the county executive committee, shall not act as an agent or further interests of a political party in an election; or manifest support for or opposition to any political party or candidate,” Section 23 of the Leadership and Integrity Act reads in part.
While he pointed out that their influence in politics will vary, Mr Tuju was confident that the CSs’ role in succession politics cannot be wished away.
“The influence of the CSs will depend on the docket they hold, the level of interest they have, their political experience and the area or region they come from. A CS from a minority community, for example, will stick out in that community’s political plans. Take for example, Mr Tobiko. You cannot ignore him in Maasailand,” said Mr Tuju in an interview yesterday.
Mr Tobiko had two weeks ago led a Maasai delegation to meet Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga at Ongata Rongai in Kajiado where those present declared support for the former premier’s 2022 bid, citing what he said were his ideals and fight for the community’s interests.
“There are those asking why us, as government officers, are here in a political event. But we know that bad politics bequeaths bad life and those in government and those outside both suffer. We are here to ensure that we work together and we give our community direction,” Mr Tobiko said in the event.
While it is not clear if all the nine ministers had placed their bet on Mr Odinga, the Kenyatta men have gone out of their way to show disdain for the country’s second-in-command, William Ruto, a man isolated in his own government and now at the mercy of juniors he says disrespects him at will.
In what often looks like coordinated attacks, the CSs have in recent months gone for the DP’s jugular, accusing him of misleading the youth on his hustler nation politics, as well as being a sympathy-seeking politician out to milk his suffering.
Dr Matiang’i, Mr Mucheru, Mr Tuju and Mr Munya have been particularly pointed in their attacks against the DP’s proposed 2022 State House contest policies and manifesto.
“From the problems I have undergone, I will not allow my deputy to be mistreated, belittled and despised like has happened to me as Deputy President. It is not right. It is not fair,” he said recently in an interview with Inooro FM.
For President Kenyatta, his promise in 2013 that the Cabinet will have him and the DP as the only politicians was broken immediately he appointed Charity Ngilu and Najib Balala as Water and Mining ministers, respectively, before he incorporated Mr Wamalwa two years later.
In 2017, he added to the Cabinet Mr Munya, Mr Munyes, Mr Yatani, and Mr Tuju, before bringing in Mr Kagwe last year — all career politicians who had either lost their different seats in the previous poll, or were still in active politics nationally and regionally.
The Head of State broke this promise even further when he created the chief administrative secretary post — which was declared illegal by the courts, and the government given time to regularise it — when he appointed an avalanche of 2017 poll losers, making the senior executive a heavily political affair.
Ahead of 2022, the CSs are looking to sway the political direction of their regions and communities.
On Sunday, Mr Wamalwa asked the Luhya community to wait for his direction on who they should vote for as the President in the next year’s elections.
As Mr Wamalwa was speaking in Bungoma, Dr Matiang’i was meeting Gusii professionals in Kajiado, asking them to vote as a joint unit in 2022.
Mr Yatani, on the other hand, has launched his Upya Movement to target the pastoralist communities of the North Eastern region.
Additional reporting by Brian Ojamaa