The Cabinet named yesterday is indicative of the careful balancing act President William Ruto had to navigate between rewarding politicians and placing a premium on merit.
When the Jubilee administration took power in 2013, President Kenyatta and Dr Ruto, then Deputy President, emphasised an apolitical Cabinet of professionals and technocrats.
Along the way, however, President Kenyatta slowly started walking back on the principle of meritocracy, finding space for politicians whose support was required or those who needed a cushion after losing elective office.
He went further in the second term by creating the posts of Chief Administrative Secretary, most of which went to election losers.
President Ruto has gone the whole hog reserving most of the key cabinet slots for political loyalists, key dockets for some re-elected MPs who will now have to vacate Legislature seats to join the Executive, as well as figures in his inner circle who were rejected by voters.
The promised post
Also earning Cabinet slots are some of the politicians who abandoned the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party of presidential rival Raila Odinga to join Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance. Most prominent in that last category is Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, who has been rewarded with the promised post of Prime Cabinet Secretary.
Mr Mudavadi’s Western region colleague Moses Wetang’ula has already earned the post of National Assembly Speaker, placing him second in the line of succession behind Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.
Yesterday it was Mr Mudavadi’s turn to get his reward in a novel position that makes him a Prime Minister in all but name and thus a potential rival to the DP in the pecking order.
From the moment Dr Ruto during the campaigns mooted the post of Prime CS for Mr Mudavadi, he was at pains to point out that it would not duplicate or overshadow the Deputy President. He promised to clearly demarcate the responsibilities of both offices and to give the DP specific functions unlike the situation he found himself in as principal assistant to the President but with no specific responsibilities.
President Ruto made good on his promise yesterday by outlining the functions of both DP and Prime CS even before the Executive Order detailing the organisation of the rest of government was published.
Both Mr Gachagua and Mr Mudavadi flanked President Ruto as he unveiled his Cabinet yesterday.
If the list of their respective functions was meant to add clarity to the new arrangement and minimise the scope for rivalry and conflict, it might not quite have achieved the goal.
Contrary to Dr Ruto’s early promises, neither the DP nor the Prime CS have specific Cabinet roles.
Hints that Mr Mudavadi, a former vice-president, was set for a return to the Treasury, appear to have been quietly shelved.
Instead of dedicated dockets, Mr Gachagua and Mr Mudavadi have both been given coordination, supervisory and implementation roles over Cabinet clusters, many of which overlap and, if not handled carefully, could create room for duplication and potential conflict.
This could be especially tricky in a situation where two ambitious leaders warily eye each other as they plot their individual routes to the presidency in the post-Ruto succession.
Whereas President Kenyatta created one ‘Super CS’ Dr Fred Matiangi, to be in charge of overall coordination and supervision, shunting DP Ruto aside, President Ruto has, in effect, created two centres of coordination and supervision. If two hands are better than one, it could be a great move towards enhanced efficiency.
But if not properly managed it could create competing centres of power, potential creating internal rivalries. The result could be that two ambitious politicians are kept so busy that they have no time move around the country building their political bases ahead of their own bids for power.