Inside Ruto’s kitchen cabinet: The men and women who have President’s ear

William Ruto

President William Ruto (left), Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua (right) and members of the kitchen cabinet.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto has crafted a tightly-knit team of trusted allies comprising security chiefs, financial and economic experts, IT gurus and business moguls to help him shape his legacy.

The President, whose campaign mantra centred around the bottom-up economic approach, within his first 100 days, insiders in his government have revealed his formation of a “kitchen Cabinet” to help him drive his agenda.

Kitchen Cabinet refers to a group of unofficial — although some may hold official titles — advisers to the holder of an office, who are considered to be unduly influential.

In his team, President Ruto has incorporated individuals he trusts in prime positions, including Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki, Interior Principal Secretary Raymond Omollo, and unnamed officials from the National Intelligence Service and the Kenya Defence Forces.

Apart from the National Security Advisory Council, which exercises supervisory control over national security agencies, the President is also said to rely on the counsel of select security chiefs on matters policy regarding internal and external affairs. Prof Kindiki, for instance, whose docket concerns internal security, is a close ally of the Head of State, and had been poised to be his running mate in the August 9 elections before Dr Ruto settled on Mr Rigathi Gachagua. Insiders say that it is based on his closeness to the President, having served as his advocate, that Prof Kindiki was elevated to the powerful position. Dr Omollo, a former CEO of the Lake Basin Development Authority, is also a longtime ally of the president, and is said to have been a major asset to him in the Nyanza region during the campaigns.

Also in the team of President Ruto’s confidants are Deputy President Gachagua and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, whose experience on economic affairs and international links the President is banking on. Mr Mudavadi, who accompanied the President on overseas trips to the West during election campaigns, is currently in the Head of State’s delegation in the United States for the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit.

The summit which started on Tuesday, December 13, ends today. It offers an opportunity for African leaders to shape the continent’s partnership with the US in a range of sectors including trade, the economy, security and political relations.

Mr Mudavadi dropped his presidential ambition and threw his weight behind Dr Ruto in the run-up to the last election, giving his run a fresh impetus and sprucing up his national image. Mr Gachagua, apart from being the principal assistant to the President, is also tasked with administration and coordination of devolution and inter-governmental affairs, making him a key cog in President Ruto’s administration.

He oversees implementation of Cabinet decisions across all ministries and state departments and coordinates inter-governmental relations between the national and county governments, including chairing the Inter-Governmental Budget and Economic Council (IBEC).

Prof Macharia Munene, a lecturer at the United States International University (USIU) argues that even though a kitchen Cabinet may consist of government officials, it is never officially formed. “It just comes into being at the whims of the president.  It is informal, although some members might have official titles. It is a group of people that the president trusts and with whom he can relax,” Prof Munene says.

Other senior personalities in President Ruto’s inner circle are; Chief of Staff and Head of the Public Service Felix Koskei, State House Comptroller Katoo Ole Metito, Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) board chairperson Mary Wambui Mungai, her Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) counterpart Anthony Ng’ang’a Mwaura and business magnate Joshua Kipchumba Chepkwony of Jamii Telecommunications.

Mr David Ndii, who chairs the President’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), former National Bank board chairperson Mohammed Hassan, who also sits on the economic advisory team, Dr Augustine Cheruiyot, the head of the Economic Transformation Secretariat, Dr Nancy Laibuni, as well as National Assembly deputy speaker Gladys Boss, the President’s long serving aide Farouk Kibet, ICT and Digital Economy principal secretary John Kipchumba Tanui and the

Head of State’s private secretary, Mr Reuben Maiyo, are also touted as his close associates.

Prof Winnie Mitullah, an associate research professor of development studies, argues that kitchen Cabinets are for “micro-management” and through their networks, one is likely to have a deep state surrounding the President. Prof Gitile Naituli of Multimedia University of Kenya says a kitchen Cabinet is useful for crosschecking facts and should consist of individuals who give honest opinions devoid of biases.

“An intelligent President will always have such people he trusts. Not just ‘yes’ men, but people he can crosscheck facts with because there will be many advisers but you come to the kitchen Cabinet and crosscheck.”

He, however, warns of a possible danger of a kitchen Cabinet — that one may end up creating a Cabinet of “people who know you well and only try to interpret your thinking thus ending up telling you what you want to hear but not the truth of the matter.” In crafting his kitchen Cabinet, President Ruto seems to have involved key people in his administration, but leaving out majority of his official Cabinet members.

By virtue of his office Mr Koskei, the Chief of Staff and Head of the Public Service, interacts with the President almost on a daily basis, putting him in a critical position to shape government agenda. A former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Mr Koskei now wields immense powers, being the custodian of the Kenya Public Seal and other instruments of the state.

As the administrative head of the Executive Office of the President, he also coordinates the principal secretaries’ committees and transmits executive directives and presidential proclamations to ministries, state organs, state departments and state agencies for their information, implementation or other action.

Mr Metito, the State House comptroller is an experienced career civil servant who also served as the minister for Internal Security and MP for Kajiado South. His elevation to the position followed his failure to clinch the Kajiado gubernatorial seat, losing to Joseph Ole Lenku of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

Mr Metito’s role, which includes running State House affairs, makes him a key asset of the President.

Businesswoman Ms Mungai (CAK board chair), and Mr Mwaura (KRA board chair) who served as ruling party United Democratic Alliance (UDA) elections board chairman, are also confidants of the President who have earned his trust, thus securing their positions in the critical State agencies.

The two, as well as the business magnate, Mr Chepkwony, are said to have the ear of the President and were pivotal in financing his campaigns, thus wielding immense powers in this Kenya Kwanza administration. Dr Ndii, Mr Hassan, Mr Cheruiyot and Dr Laibuni are key advisers on the economy and vital in driving President Ruto’s economic agenda. Dr Ndii says that the CEA, which he chairs is an “executive agency, same as in the US”.

Ms Boss, according to insiders in Dr Ruto’s circles is his eyes in Parliament and a key adviser on legislative affairs. She played a key role for the President at the Bomas of Kenya during the presidential vote tallying, coordinating the agents and ensuring the requisite result forms were provided for verification with the electoral agency’s forms.

A lawyer who worked from behind the scenes, she is said to have played a key role in the upholding President Ruto’s win by the Supreme Court. She also served as the Judiciary registrar in the past. Mr Kibet, a longtime aide of the President known in Dr Ruto’s political circles as “Mr Fix it,” wields immense powers in his administration. Mr Kibet, usually seen seated on the second row from the President at public functions, is so powerful that at one time Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, a close ally of the President said that even the Deputy President “needs his express authority and permission to see the President”.

“This is a very important person. People just hear of Farouk and think he even has an office among the floors of the President’s office. But his office is where he is.”

“In fact, I even think his office is that of the President because you cannot reach the President if Farouk says ‘no’. Even the DP, my friend here, to reach the President, Farouk must say yes,” the MP said at a public function attended by Mr Gachagua in Uasin Gishu in October.