There is an air of tension building in President William Ruto’s State House, fueled by a fierce fight for government jobs.
The recent public outburst by Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga over an alleged scheme to shortchange the Mount Kenya region has lifted the lid on the behind-the-scenes palace wars being fought over key government appointments.
While President Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua have projected an image of a good working relationship since they took over the reigns of power, reports of a simmering discord have emerged, with Mr Kahiga revealing that certain individuals have been trying to foment distress between the pair.
Multiple interviews with individuals in the inner circle of the Kenya Kwanza administration indicate that the differences between the two top leaders deepened during the nomination of Principal Secretaries (PS), when they each drew their own list of preferred nominees for consideration by the Public Service Commission (PSC).
The differences occasioned the revision of the shortlist, forcing an addition of 108 individuals to an earlier list by the PSC. PSC had first shortlisted 477 individuals for the plum positions, but revised it to have a total of 585 nominees.
DP Gachagua is said to be pushing for an equal share of slots for his Mt Kenya region in all appointments, causing President Ruto’s allies from regions outside his Rift Valley backyard to miss out on the major appointments made so far.
The recent rejection of Dr Ruto’s ally, former United Republican Party (URP) Secretary-General Fred Muteti to East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), in a scheme hatched by Mt Kenya MPs, gave insight into the root of the emerging strains in the political marriage.
Both President Ruto’s Rift Valley and DP Rigathi’s Mt Kenya regions each got 13 PS nominees out of the 51 names submitted to Parliament for vetting.
Sharing out of the PS positions has since become the basis of petitions filed in court by among others the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) that seeks to quash the list and order PSC to repeat selection of the candidates.
Contrary to pluralism
In the court papers, LSK claims that in the disputed list, “13 nominees are from members of the Kalenjin community from the Rift Valley, and 13 others are from Central Kenya region, to the detriment of the other 40 tribes and communities, contrary to pluralism of the country and depicts regional imbalance”.
A source within the ruling coalition claimed that a faction within the government was behind the court petitions, citing alleged “back and forth and betrayal in key appointments.”
This assertion was given further credence by the decision by the National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula to quickly suspend vetting of the PSs, which had already commenced, contrary to recent traditions of Parliament that have frowned upon injunction of ongoing parliamentary business.
The suspension following a court order is seen to have gone against a ruling by former Speaker Justin Muturi, now Attorney General, directing that the court cannot issue an injunction to Parliament.
The 12th Parliament then resolved that the court could only rule on the legality of outcome of a parliamentary proceeding, but not stop it when already processing a matter.
The reported power struggle is also said to be behind the delay to shortlist candidates for the controversial Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) positions.
The commission closed applications for the position on October 27, but is yet to carry out shortlisting after close to a month. More than 5,000 individuals – mostly politicians and election losers – had applied for the contested CAS positions by the deadline.
Urgency with positions
An official with the commission told Sunday Nation that shortlisting had not started. The official who sought anonymity said there was no “urgency with the positions”.
The Nyeri Governor on Wednesday claimed that certain individuals were fueling discord between Dr Ruto and Mr Gachagua.
“When you hear the little noise, it is because there could be one or two people around him (Dr Ruto) who are trying to portray a wrong picture of him. But I want to tell you as I stand on this pulpit that when Dr Ruto agrees with you on something, he fulfills it. He is a truthful man and we will continue supporting him,” said Mr Kahiga.
“We must make our son (Mr Rigathi) very strong. When fire breaks out, it mostly lands on number two in the office. I don’t know whether you have realised that. Continue praying for him. We must stand with our brother and hold his hand firmly so that he can help his boss (Dr Ruto),” he added, during a church service at New Life Church in Nyeri presided over by the DP’s wife, Pastor Dorcas Rigathi.
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei –a close ally of Dr Ruto – told Sunday Nation that the Nyeri county boss ‘was within his right to speak his mind’ but denied claims that a faction within the government was out to frustrate appointment of PSs.
“I can confirm to you that there is no faction in the government supporting the case by LSK. Those are speculations. The government is intact and all is well. Even the DP spoke a day after the governor made the remarks and corrected him,” said Mr Cherargei.
He was referring to a subsequent public address by DP Gachagua, in which he said that the political marriage between Kenya Kwanza allies was a ‘permanent’ affair.
“We will continue to consult at every level and we hope the court can see sense and rule against the case so that we can have the PSs in office,” added Senator Cherargei.
The reported power struggle that has seen certain regions miss out on key appointments is said to have put the president in an awkward position, and has been linked to the postponement of his planned visit on Kisii region on Sunday.
An analysis of the PS nominee list shows that Kisii, Nyamira, Busia, Migori, Kilifi, Siaya counties did not get even a single PS slot while counties like Bomet, Uasin Gishu, Nyeri, Meru, Nandi, Nakuru, Tharaka Nithi among other Kenya Kwanza strongholds got multiple positions on top of Cabinet Secretary (CS) positions.
The Gusii region, for the first time since independence, missed out on the PS nominations and there are fears the President could face a political backlash should he visit the region before making further appointments.
An MP from Gusii told Nation that the President has indicated that he will visit the region after making CAS appointments.
“The main reason why the visit was put on hold is because a majority of us are in Juba for parliamentary games. The issue of appointments is also there. Hey may come once more appointments are made,” said a first-time lawmaker.
But some of the region’s MPs led by National Assembly Majority Leader Sylvanus Osoro dismissed reports that Dr Ruto could face political backlash if he visits before giving the region some key government appointments.
Mr Osoro said it was not within the right of any group or community to force the president to appoint particular people.
“It is not true. It is the discretion of the President to appoint whoever he deems fit to push his agenda for the country. He is never gagged by any group or community. In any case, a church service cannot be the environment to raise such issues,” said Mr Osoro.
“The president’s diary changes every time. He has some guests from abroad on Sunday morning (today) and he might be late for church. He needs quality time with Omogusi,” he said.
Nyaribari Chache MP Zaheer Jhanda and Joash Nyamoko (North Mugirango) said the President will come to the region at a later date.
“The president means well for the community and he has since given the community a CS. We are very hopeful he will give us more positions since he has promised. The Gusii region got a CS on top of two nominations to the Senate,” said Mr Jhanda.
Mr Rigathi recently told his Mt Kenya backyard to expect more appointments in the near future since they are the ones who voted in the current administration.
At the same time, the DP’s decision to rally Mt Kenya MPs to vote leaders from the region in total defiance against a lineup approved at State House is evidence of the simmering cold war.
His current plan to rally and consolidate Mt Kenya region behind himself ahead of 2027 also appears to be an offensive against the President, who believes to have been voted almost to the last man by the vote-rich basket without much influence by any of the regional leaders.
The State House meeting had settled on former Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar, ex-nominated MP David Sankok, ex-Nandi Woman Representative Zipporah Kering, ex-nominated senator Falhadha Iman Dekow, and former United Republican Party (URP) secretary-general Fred Muteti.
But Mt Kenya leaders ganged up against the State House lineup to vote for Mwangi Maina and former Igembe Central MP Cyprian Kubai Iringo, who were not in the preferred list. They also voted for Azimio’s Kanini Kega.
Mr Iringo was, however, knocked out on the basis of gender, in what saw Ms Dekow sail through despite garnering less votes compared to the former.
Mr Gachagua, while in Tharaka Nithi last week, admitted how he rallied Kenya Kwanza MPs to back former Kieni MP Kanini Kega for the EALA seat while confirming his efforts to consolidate the region.
The admission has been corroborated by some Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition lawmakers, who revealed that a delegation of MPs from Mt Kenya approached them for help in the EALA election.
“There was a delegation that came to us. The brief was that we help them by voting Mt Kenya leaders to EALA so that they could teach their partners in Kenya Kwanza a lesson. Of course they were also to vote for Winnie (Odinga) and Kennedy (Musyoka) in return,” said the Azimio MP, who claimed that the lawmakers from Mt Kenya were acting on instructions of Mr Gachagua. Mathira MP Eric Wamumbi – who succeeded Mr Rigathi in the constituency – told Sunday Nation that while it is true that some of the leaders in the region lobbied for candidates not endorsed at State House, there is no political discord between Mt Kenya and Rift Valley.
Mr Mamumbi admitted lobbying members from across the political divide to vote for Mr Maina.
He also said that the views by Mr Kahiga over an alleged plot to create discord were his personal views that do not represent the general feeling of the region’s leaders.
“There was no meeting with Azimio. What happened was normal lobbying for Mwangi and the others. We agreed as Kenya Kwanza lawmakers to vote the way we did. There was no instruction from anyone,” said the MP.
Jubilee Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni claimed that some of his colleagues from Kenya Kwanza had intimated to him of a scheme to shortchange the region.
“I will not be surprised. He (Ruto) will do reverse psychology for the region for five years,” said Mr Kioni.
ODM chairman John Mbadi and Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi claimed that Kenya Kwanza could be having a hand in the petition challenging the PS nominees list.
“I think the Speaker made a mistake in his ruling because one arm of government cannot interfere with the other arm. What the court can do is to declare the outcome illegal but to not stop parliament. The speaker could be playing politics with the matter,” said Mr Mbadi.
“Ruto will have to make a choice between pleasing those who helped him win and remaining a national leader, which he cannot realise if he is held hostage by people who want to consolidate their ethnic support base,” he said.
Mr Osotsi said Kenya Kwanza government could be having a hand in the intrigues surrounding the appointments. He termed Mr Wetang’ula’s stoppage of PSs vetting as a bad precedent.