Factors behind high drama, delay over Uhuru Cabinet composition

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) is received by his deputy William Ruto on arrival at JKIA from an official to South Africa. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Against the backdrop of a Cabinet nomination impasse, a combination of various interests —regional, ethnic, gender and political among others —   have taken advantage of the situation to lobby.

  • The push for “electoral justice” by Nasa has encouraged external actors like the EU Parliament and the US ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec to call on the President and Raila Odinga, to enter into dialogue.  

  • In crafting his new team, the President said he would retain only six CSs with a statement from State House hours later clarifying that the remaining 13 CSs had not been sacked.

On January 5, President Uhuru Kenyatta named a nine-member Cabinet and promised to announce a complete list of his Cabinet “over the next few weeks.”

Fifteen days after he made the pronouncement, and 53 days after he took the oath of office for a second and final term, the high drama over Cabinet composition plays on.    In 2013, it only took him 14 days to name his first Cabinet, and on his 34th day in office, the 16 Cabinet Secretaries (CSs) were sworn in.

Against the backdrop of a Cabinet nomination impasse, a combination of various interests —regional, ethnic, gender and political among others —   have taken advantage of the situation to lobby.

While he told the country that he was prepared to get to work immediately he took office on November 28, it has not only been 53 days since he took the oath, but President Kenyatta, in the height of irony, also failed name a CSs for the four key sectors he singled out as key in his legacy-driven second term. He had named manufacturing, health care, affordable housing and food security as his Big Four plans—but were not in the first list of nine Cabinet slots.

Meanwhile, the related push for “electoral justice” by the Opposition has similarly encouraged external actors like the European Union Parliament and the American ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec to call on the President and Opposition leader, Raila Odinga, to enter into dialogue.

STRONG SIGNALS  

Recently, Senate Leader of Minority and Nasa co-principal Moses Wetang’ula gave the President startling unsolicited advice to form an all-inclusive Cabinet that includes individuals from the Opposition. This triggered questions on whether Nasa had finally recognised Mr Kenyatta as the President—or was sending strong signals that it was ready for dialogue.     

While Mr Wetang’ula has since claimed he was quoted out of context and further reiterated that Nasa does not recognise the Kenyatta presidency, the exclusion of Water minister Mr Eugene Wamalwa from the partial Cabinet announced on January 5 has left many, especially in Western Kenya, scratching their heads.

Mr Wamalwa is not only a close ally of President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, but is also seen as the face of the populous Luhya community in Jubilee. Political watchers, therefore, believe that if Mr Wamalwa were to be sidelined, he would only be replaced by another high-profile figure from the region.

In crafting his new team, the President said he would retain only six CSs with a statement from State House hours later clarifying that the remaining 13 CSs had not been sacked.

Political scientist Adams Oloo thinks that by leaving in limbo all key CSs from the communities where the four Nasa principals — Mr Raila Odinga, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Musalia Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula — draw their support from, the President could have been passing a subtle message that there was a window for the opposition. 

DISAGREEMENT

But following days of reported disagreement over the list between the President and his deputy on the Cabinet formation and the dialogue issue with Jubilee, Nasa strategist David Ndii has come out to firmly state that the opposition has no role in the delays in naming the full Cabinet and “we do not want to be part of that mess because we are not bargaining with Jubilee over this matter”.

Internally, however, some Jubilee hardliners are pushing the president to be more assertive and name the 13 other ministers without giving further hints of an opposition inclusion.

Leader of Majority in the National Assembly, Aden Duale declined to be drawn into discussion on the apparent friction over the Cabinet list, arguing that it was a sole prerogative of the President.  However, he explained that his parliamentary work was not affected by the delay “since 70 per cent of my work includes direct consultation with the Executive and so far so good”.

The Garissa Town MP said that the President still had one more month to come up with a Cabinet list: “There is no hurry in doing this. After all we (Parliament) are on recess until February 14.” 

Nonetheless, the Majority Leader points out that crucial and urgent tasks await the new Cabinet, including approval of the second supplementary budget and several pieces of legislation like universal health care and food security.

“There should be no panic over the perceived delay because the Speaker (Justin Muturi) and I, plus the relevant vetting house committee, are ready to dispense off with this matter within 14 days once the Executive hands over the list of (Cabinet) nominees,” Mr Duale told the Nation.

DIALOGUE

Except for independent Kenya’s second President Daniel arap Moi who delayed the appointment of a Vice President for three months after the 1997 General Election and President Mwai Kibaki, who appointed a partial Cabinet in 2008 following the post-election violence in a gesture to accord dialogue a chance, previous administrations have since assembled the Cabinet without much delay.

Dr Oloo, attributes the delay to key internal and external factors. The presidency, he argues, is only but a politically correct terminology. Otherwise in reality the differences in terms of authority and roles between a President and Deputy President, as spelt out in the Constitution, are major. Dr Oloo, says the impasse on the Cabinet formation may well be an internal matter of disagreement between the President and his deputy.

Unlike in 2013, when the two politicians formed a coalition government of The National Alliance (TNA) and United Republican Party (URP) outfits, the dissolving of the affiliates and subsequent formation of the Jubilee Party means Mr Ruto may have lost a major bargaining chip ahead of the 2022 elections.  

“There is no much room for (Mr) Ruto to flex political muscle because there is only one political party, one party secretariat and one party boss. Yet still, during a second term, the President is normally not beholden to individual interests of other players,” says Dr Oloo.

NO RIFT

The DP has, however, previously conceded that there is only one boss within the Jubilee Party fraternity – the President – and further denied existence of a rift between him and Mr Kenyatta. In a recent widely circulated tweet, Mr Ruto urged Kenyans to “avoid useless political debates about positions including 2022” and “allow the President the space to perform his constitutional duty to assemble the team for us”.

Besides collapsing TNA and URP parties into one, President Kenyatta also brought on board new outfits to bolster his presidential bid, including Kanu and several other smaller parties. The President may  be persuaded to include individuals from such entities into his Cabinet, causing delays.

The much talked about inclusion of Baringo Senator Gideon Moi in the Cabinet, for instance, appears to irk Mr Ruto and his allies, despite the warm embrace by President Kenyatta’s side. The Kanu Chairman hails from Rift Valley region as the DP, who is keen on taking charge of political situation in the region.  

While in public, the Jubilee Party leaders maintain theirs is not a “nusu mkate” (coalition) arrangement, in the corridors of power it is generally acknowledged that the President and the DP loosely “share” positions and power, especially in various public appointments.

PARTIAL CABINET

It was, therefore, ironical that by naming a partial Cabinet, President Kenyatta seemed to be reading straight from President Kibaki’s Grand Coalition rule book.

The naming of the Cabinet for Kenya’s quintessential “war time” political marriage of convenience between President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) and Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) was notoriously difficult.

Mr Ruto appears to be confronted with similar dilemma as Mr Odinga. The Deputy President may have been absent when the President named his partial Cabinet, something seen as a “disagreement”, but his backers still want to portray the image of a loyal deputy serving at the pleasure of his boss—which flies in the face of reality as analysts have pointed he has more clout than Vice Presidents of old.

Yet still, some pundits claim Mr Ruto “cannot be undermined” and that he is firmly in charge of his political destiny with his 2022 presidential bid on the radar. Having played a central role in the presidential campaign and personally wooed key political players, the DP is personally under immense pressure to deliver on promises he may have made to these individuals over Cabinet slots.

The next few weeks could be decisive as political watchers wait to see if those perceived to be Mr Ruto’s allies are incorporated into the Cabinet – but also how the Opposition will react to the new Cabinet and whether it will seal Nasa’s political fate by co-opting some of its members.

 —Additional reporting by Patrick Lang’at

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