End of honeymoon for President Ruto’s loyalists in Cabinet

President William Ruto with members of his Cabinet at Kakamega State Lodge recently.

President William Ruto with members of his Cabinet at Kakamega State Lodge recently.

Photo credit: Courtesy | PCS

What you need to know:

  • The demotion of some key allies is seen as a warning shot that there is no one who is indispensable in the Ruto administration.

President William Ruto’s surprise demotion of some of his loyalists in a Cabinet reshuffle has been described as a warning shot that there is no one who is indispensable in his administration.

The Wednesday changes affected high-profile individuals who were at the forefront in President Ruto’s 2022 election, including party leaders who entered into a coalition agreement with the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) to back his bid.

President Ruto’s men in Parliament yesterday said the reshuffle was just but a warning shot to non-performers, adding that the Head of State would not hesitate to sack those not helping him deliver on his lofty promises to Kenyans.

Analysts also reckon that the President’s patience with some of the individuals he appointed to critical dockets is fast waning.

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Boni Khalwale likened the reshuffle to shooting in the air instead of aiming the gun at the culprits to send a warning.

He said the changes should serve as a warning to Cabinet secretaries and principal secretaries that should any minister repeat what has forced the President to ‘shoot in the air’, it would lead to an outright sack.

“The message to those who care to listen is that they must know that they are now on their own. I am confident that we will soon see people being sacked instead of Cabinet reshuffles or firing a warning shot,” said Mr Khalwale.

Some of the changes, however, did not come as a surprise as some of the affected CSs were recently involved in open infighting in government and embarrassing diplomatic gaffes.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua recently warned CSs that their continued stay in the Cabinet will no longer be on the basis of their friendship with the President, but on performance.

“Once the President gives you a job, that is the termination of that friendship. The friendship with the President will be based on nothing but performance. I want to urge you today when he (Ruto) is here, please perform because the President has a contract with Kenyans,” Mr Gachagua warned during a State House meeting.

Former Maendeleo Chap Chap party leader Alfred Mutua was one of the biggest casualties, with his Foreign and Diaspora Affairs docket being taken over by Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi.

Despite being a principal in Kenya Kwanza, Dr Mutua has now been relegated to the less influential Tourism and Wildlife ministry. The docket initially had the Heritage department that has since been hived off.

Another principal in Kenya Kwanza Alliance and former Chama Cha Kazi party leader Moses Kuria was also dealt a blow after he was moved to Public Service, Performance and Delivery Management ministry.

Seen by observers as a demotion, Mr Kuria was stripped off the Investment, Trade and Industry portfolio which, arguably, has more clout and budget than his new station.

The decision to move Mr Kuria came barely two weeks after he engaged Mr Gachagua in a public spat after the second-in-command reprimanded him over “arrogant response” to Kenyans on the high fuel prices.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherergei and East African Legislative Assembly MP David Sankok said it is no longer about the role the individuals played in the campaigns but their performance in the realisation of the Bottom-Up economic model.

“The writing is on the wall for non-performers. The President has to deal with non-performers because he will be solely responsible to the people on his delivery,” said Mr Cherargei.

Mr Sankok said: “It is a wake-up call to those serving in the Executive that there is a manifesto to be delivered. The reorganisation is meant to improve efficiency in service delivery.”

But Nominated Senator Esther Okenyuri said Kenyans should not read a lot of politics in the changes since they were done to improve service delivery.

“There is a need to avoid the temptation to needlessly politicise the reassignments. Instead, it is important to appreciate how the new appointees fit perfectly in their new roles,” said Ms Okenyuri.

“The appointment of Prime Cabinet Secretary to head the Foreign and Diaspora Affairs docket obviously speaks to the importance the President and his administration attaches to foreign and diaspora policy as a key driver in the implementation of the ‘Plan’ by tapping a seasoned hand to run the docket.”

But Mr Kuria remained bullish in the face of his demotion, telling off his unnamed detractors. While opening an industrial park in Garissa, Mr Kuria said his stellar performance contributed to the decision to move him from the ministry.

He had on Wednesday night posted random photos of Dr Gachagua on his social media handles without any caption in what stirred debate that he could be blaming the DP for his tribulation.

“I always have a lot of enemies. But I will continue performing, and if you don’t like me... those who are celebrating my reshuffle, I can tell you in the next six months, they will again go to the President to ask for another reshuffle because I will perform well just like I have done in this ministry. If you had problems with me when I was in charge of one docket, you will end up with more trouble because I now have more roles,” said Mr Kuria.

“I have no time for political bickering. Let me tell you my colleagues in the Cabinet, not in bad faith, if you don’t perform I will report to the President. I leave this ministry with my head high and I am a very motivated person. I am very proud. Tomorrow, I had promised the people of Vihiga that I would be there. Let me tell you that I will have to go to launch the industrial park there,” he added.

But pundits opine that Mr Kuria’s days at the Trade docket were hanging by a thread after he missed two presidential trips to the US where in one of them, former CS Adan Mohamed was introduced as the substantive office-holder, although he’s just an adviser to the President.

A few months ago, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai appeared to have snubbed the CS on her tour of the country, but refused to explain why.

Mr Kuria’s place has been taken by Ms Rebecca Miano, who previously headed the Ministry of East African Community and Asals.

Ms Peninah Malonza takes over Ms Miano's former portfolio, while Ms Alice Wahome, who has been embroiled in disputes with Water PS Kiprono Rono, was moved to the more powerful Lands ministry, swapping places with Mr Zacharia Njeru.

Sport CS Ababu Namwamba saw his ministry stripped off the Arts department. The department is part of a newly-established docket of the Ministry of Gender, Culture, the Arts and Heritage, which will be headed by Ms Aisha Jumwa. Mr Namwamba’s ministry now reads Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Ms Jumwa’s transfer also seems like a demotion.

Political commentator Prof David Monda, a lecturer at City University of New York, said the President seems to be transferring incompetence from one docket to another.

“It offers his critics ammunition to undermine the veracity of his claims to lead a clean and professional administration. Many of his Cabinet secretaries are falling short and need to be transferred, some might argue even get fired,” said Prof Monda.

“It also shows a President trying to fix a Cabinet that is lacklustre and incompetent in many respects. Particularly highlighted were the dockets of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Dr Mutua and Moses Kuria’s redeployment appears to be a major demotion from previously high-profile dockets,” he added.

He said the changes also seem to be designed to strengthen Mr Mudavadi’s hand vis-a-vis the Gachagua camp, stating that it reinforces Dr Ruto’s effort to go after votes in opposition strongholds like western Kenya from where Mr Mudavadi hails from.

“It puts loyalists in Mt Kenya and Ukambani in check as ministerial dockets they might have taken for granted are not guaranteed. This reshuffle also keeps senior government officials on their toes because this may not be the only reshuffle going forward between now and 2027.”

Governance expert Javas Bigambo said the reshuffle is a message to top government officials that the President has choices, and that loyalty and performance should go hand in hand.

“The President has fired a warning shot, that his confidence is waning in the workmanship of some people in the Cabinet. He has also sublimely demonstrated that performance matters to him on the margins of loyalty. That's the message from the President to Moses Kuria,” said Mr Bigambo.