Eldoret North MP William Ruto was on Wednesday removed from the prestigious Ministry of Agriculture in a mini-reshuffle.
Mr Ruto, a political rival of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, swapped places with Dr Sally Kosgei and now becomes the minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology.
One of his key allies, Mr Charles Keter appears to have been sacked as assistant minister for Energy and replaced with Kipkelion MP Magerer Lang’at, a strong ally of Mr Odinga, and the ODM deputy chief whip.
In shuffling Mr Ruto, who has been an outspoken critic of the PM, Mr Odinga, who is understood to have wanted Mr Ruto out of the key ministry for a time, is being seen as having had his way and asserted his authority.
The reshuffle comes after months of hints by Mr Odinga that a strong storm was on the way to sweep all “undesirable elements” into the ocean.
The changes might also be seen as a move by Mr Odinga to rearrange his political cards in the Rift Valley by rewarding his allies in a region that was crucial to his election in 2007.
Mr Amos Kimunya, the minister for Trade, will act as Transport minister, the position left vacant by Mr Chirau Mwakwere who was removed in an election petition.
Office of the President sources told the Nation that Mr Odinga and President Kibaki met at the President’s Harambee House office in the morning and agreed on the reshuffle.
A statement from State House announcing the changes was also carefully worded to make it clear that the reshuffle was being made after consultation with the PM, in accordance with the National Accord.
According to the power sharing agreement, Mr Kibaki has a free hand in changing ministers from his own Party of National Unity, while Mr Odinga decides which of his Orange Democratic Movement MPs serves in the Cabinet.
The PM had sent signals that he would deal with ministers from the ODM side who were not toeing the official line.
Responding to the reshuffle, Mr Ruto said it was “not a surprise”.
“They (the President and the PM) know the reasons for the reshuffle,” he said.
The changes were immediately reflected on the State House website.
The reshuffle was being worked on in the morning at Harambee House as Mr Ruto, who is leading the No campaign in the referendum on the proposed constitution, was holding a breakfast meeting with some NGOs on amendments to the draft.
Dr Kosgei, an ally of Mr Odinga in ODM, will now move from Jogoo House to Kilimo House to take over the more powerful Agriculture ministry.
Agriculture oversees more than 30 parastatals, commands a large budget and manages a big chunk of the economy.
Higher Education, on the other hand, hived off from the larger Education docket, is a quieter station, supervising only three parastatals.
In the emerging coalition political culture where ministries are shared between parties, the more parastatals a ministry supervises, the more powerful it is deemed to be.
Parastatals give politicians patronage clout because they are in a position to influence appointments and the utilisation of budgets.
Former Medical Services minister Amukowa Anangwe termed Mr Ruto’s transfer a demotion. Prof Anangwe, said Agriculture was among the most prestigious dockets in government.
“The Agriculture ministry must have been part of the negotiated portfolios between PNU and ODM when the Grand Coalition Government was formed and Mr Ruto’s transfer is indicative of his declining political fortunes,” he said.
The changes might also be seen as a carrot-and-stick move by the two principals to reward those who toe the government line and punish those who do not.
Prof Anangwe said he interpreted Mr Ruto’s transfer as the result of the positions the minister has taken on public issues, including going against government plans to conserve the Mau water tower and his opposition to the draft constitution.
“Mr Ruto has demonstrated a rebellious and combative streak against the principals and this development could have informed the action taken by the President and the Prime Minister,” he said.
President Kibaki and Mr Odinga are supporting the draft constitution while Mr Ruto is fighting it alongside the churches.
He is also opposed to the eviction of squatters from the Mau Forest, spearheaded by Mr Odinga, who is scheduled to visit the Mau today to plant more trees.
Asked whether he considered his transfer a demotion, Mr Ruto said “whatever it is” he will work with the same determination in his new posting.
“It is ok (to be moved). I think I have made significant contribution in the Ministry of Agriculture and I will make my contribution in the next ministry,” he said.
Asked about Mr Keter, Mr Ruto said: “I think they (President and PM) have sacked him.”
President Kibaki rewarded Kaloleni MP Samuel Kazungu Kambi by naming him the assistant minister for Medical Services. Mr Kambi, who has been steadfast in the Party of National Unity (PNU) at the Coast, fills the vacant slot that was left by the resignation of Garsen MP Danson Mungatana alongside then Justice minister Martha Karua.
President Kibaki used the opportunity to also fill the vacant slot at the Ministry of National Heritage when he appointed North Mugirango/Borabu MP Wilfred Moriasi Ombui an assistant minister.
The position was left vacant by Bomachoge MP Joel Onyancha, who lost the seat in a petition and was voted out in the ensuing by-election.