It was a bare-knuckled tirade in which she branded the Head of State “Kenya’s biggest existential threat,” marking a significant escalation of the factional wars within the ruling Jubilee party that had been simmering for two years.
Since the 2018 truce, President Kenyatta had struck with opposition leader Raila Odinga, to the chagrin of Dr Ruto, the war within the government had raged but the criticism of the Head of State was still somewhat restrained and Ms Wahome’s rebuke was, therefore, uncharacteristically bold.
Alone with a small table in front of her and a few microphones, the address by Ms Wahome wasn’t any other routine political posturing but a development that arguably would ignite a vicious confrontation was evident in that 12 days later President Kenyatta fired two of Dr Ruto’s allies from Cabinet: Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri and Mr Henry Rotich.
It was the beginning of Mr Kenyatta’s ruthless purge that continued in the following days with the ouster of Dr Ruto’s allies from parliamentary leadership positions.
Viewed against these subsequent developments, Ms Wahome’s blunt solo criticism of the President — away from the numerous political rallies — is arguably brazen defiance of the president which added fuel to an ongoing rebellion that catapulted Dr Ruto to the presidency after beating Mr Raila Odinga, Mr Kenyatta’s preferred successor.
In the lead-up to the presidential campaigns, Ms Wahome had at some point been considered as a possible running mate to Dr Ruto, underlining her position within the deputy president’s inner circle.
It was therefore no surprise that after she retained her Kandara parliamentary seat, and following Dr Ruto’s election as President, she – alongside two of her United Democratic Alliance (UDA) colleagues who had also been elected to Parliament, Aden Duale (Defence CS) and Kipchumba Murkomen (Transport CS) – was among the closest allies of the Head of State asked to relinquish their House seats to take up Cabinet posts.
But as newly appointed CS, suddenly, Ms Wahome was facing a rebellion from her home county in Murang’a where her own Woman Representative Betty Maina openly vowed she would seek assistance on water issues, not from her as minister in charge of the docket, but from Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.
Her preferred successor in the Kandara by-election, Injinia Mwaura, was also defeated by Chege Njuguna.
Betty was a close ally of Mr Gachagua and had teamed up with some MPs to defeat Ms Wahome’s candidate in the by-election.
These were pointers that her clout in the new Kenya Kwanza administration was threatened, but it was not clear who was engineering her downfall.
Ms Wahome would after a lull from the local political power struggle get caught up in one of her biggest fights yet as a minister that in the fullness of time has revealed that her position at the high table in government is threatened.
First, Principal Secretary Kiprono Ronoh, her junior in the Water, Sanitation and Irrigation Ministry, reallocated a Sh1.3 billion water project that had initially been earmarked for Mt Kenya without consulting her.
In her own admission, CS Wahome said in a letter to the PS: “The request for the reallocation was not made in consultation with the relevant implementing waterworks development agencies and my concurrence was also not sought.”
The CS would on September 1 write a scathing letter to the PS accusing him of insubordination for engaging Ethics and Anti-Corruption over claims of corruption and governance issues touching on Athi Water Works Development Agency Chief Executive Officer Michael Thuita without her concurrence.
But on Friday evening, the CS realised his PS had the backing of State House on the matter after Head of Public Service Felix Koskei ordered the suspension of Mr Thuita from the agency.
“What the suspension means is that Wahome is no longer an insider at State House because such decisions are never made at the ministry level,” says Macharia Munene, a professor of History and International Relations.
He adds: “It means a lot of things if she was not consulted. You may also need to look at who the PS is and how close he is to State House and the President.”
Mr Thuita has since resigned.
In a statement last evening, Ms Wahome protested against perceptions of inaction in the matter, saying she had only waited for investigations to be completed.
“I have not in any way failed to cooperate with the EACC as alleged by mainstream media reports and the exercise of my discretion not to suspend Eng Thuita until the requested information is availed to me did not in any way prejudice investigations,” she said.
She acknowledged receiving Mr Koskei’s order to suspend Mr Thuita, and the move by the water agency boss to resign.
Prof Macharia says the infighting among state officers is also a sign of a power struggle within the Kenya Kwanza government.
“Some feel they are no longer valued in this administration. What is happening between Ms Wahome and the PS is not an isolated case. It is a generic problem. A PS cannot defy a minister without the support of the State House,” he explains.
Governance expert Javas Bigambo says what is happening shows that the President is willing to sacrifice some of his loyalists to ensure service delivery.
He says the suspension of Mr Thuita is an indictment on CS Wahome for trying to protect officers accused of graft allegations against the President's directive.
A statement issued by State House on the suspension of the CEO stated: “The inordinate delay in taking action on the part of the board of directors and the ministry is undermining the government’s war against corruption."
“The President, while he may have had foot soldiers in politicians like Wahome during the campaigns, now needs more foot soldiers like PSs to be his eye in the running of ministries,” says Mr Bigambo.
“The President does not need to get information from the CS but people at the centre of running the ministries. You remember he said some of his ministers are clueless about what is going on in their dockets,” he adds.
And while speaking at State House when CSs and their Principal Secretaries signed performance contracts in August, DP Gachagua warned CSs and PSs that it was no longer about political friendship with the President.
"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," Mr Gachagua said.
"I want to urge you today when he (Ruto) is here, please perform because the President has a performing contract with Kenyans, and it is your performance that will assist him to fulfil that contract," he added.
Mr Gachagua’s statement had been prompted by the President’s dissatisfaction with how some of his Cabinet Secretaries were running their ministries.
President Ruto had scolded some of his ministers for being clueless in their dockets on the day he locked out CSs Kithure Kindiki (Interior) and Moses Kuria (Trade) out of State House for turning up late for the signing of the contract.
“You are the PS or the minister and you don’t have information, how do you run a ministry, a department, or a parastatal if you have no information? That is the highest level of incompetence,” said the President.
Mr Kuria has lately found himself on the receiving end of the powers-that-be, and his sidelining by the Americans — Katherine Tai, a top US trade official, declined to meet him in Nairobi, forcing the Kenyan government to delegate to another official- has deepened his woes. And during Dr Ruto’s recent trip to the United States Mr Kuria was left behind with presidential advisor Adan Mohammed leading the trade delegation.
In the run-up to the August polls, Mr Kuria was a loyalist and key player in Dr Ruto’s campaigns. But he is currently in the eye of a political storm with some of the President’s men calling for a Cabinet reshuffle seen as targeting him and others.
Mr Kuria has since been forced to relocate from the posh Two Rivers Malls, where he set up his Ministry offices, back to the official ministry headquarters at the NSSF Building. There were reports that Mr Koskei made the order for his relocation. When asked by the Nation about the relocation recently, Mr Kuria retorted: “That is none of your business.”
In a recent interview, Mr Kuria said he chose the location so as to offer investors a world-class ambience.
“I visit many countries and I know the environment which the investors enjoy in those particular countries. I benchmark with many countries and I am going to give investors an environment that ranks equivalent to what the other countries do,” Mr Kuria said.
Some of the lawmakers allied to the ruling alliance said that some of President Ruto’s ministers were engaging in political jostling at the expense of service delivery.
“When he comes back, he should call his Ministers to order because some of them have become politicians. The President may need to rearrange his house because it is clear which ministers are performing and which ones are not doing anything,” said Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei.
Mr Gachagua, who was the first to reprimand Mr Kuria, has since come to the defence of the embattled minister.
“As a leader from this region (Mt Kenya), I will not allow anybody to harass Kuria. I think some people don’t understand this region. We talk differently and say different things but if our interests are threatened, we always put our differences aside and speak in one voice,” Mr Gachagua said.
At the State Law Office, another simmering power struggle between Attorney General Justin Muturi and Solicitor General Shadrack Mose has emerged. Mr Mose is said to be overshadowing Mr Muturi at the State Law Office. Mr Muturi was among the political heavyweights who abandoned Mr Kenyatta for Dr Ruto.
Ordinarily, the AG is in charge and would delegate assignments to the Solicitor General, but it has emerged that the two are both competing to answer directly to President William Ruto.
Public Service Commission (PSC) Chief Executive Officer Dr Simon Rotich has also written to Mr Muturi to stop the ongoing hiring in his office and the State Department of Justice since he has no authority to recruit (see separate story).