How women in Cabinet have performed

Saturday November 2 2013

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism Phyllis Kandie (2L), Defense cabinet secretary Raychelle Omamo (3L) and Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning Ann Waiguru (3R) for the third Magical Kenya Travel Expo at the Kenyatta International Conference Center on October 18, 2013 DIANA/NGILA

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism Phyllis Kandie (2L), Defense cabinet secretary Raychelle Omamo (3L) and Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning Ann Waiguru (3R) for the third Magical Kenya Travel Expo at the Kenyatta International Conference Center on October 18, 2013 DIANA/NGILA  

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed is in the middle of perhaps her biggest assignment as she spearheads a charm offensive to get the United Nations Security Council to defer the International Criminal Court (ICC) cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto.
If the move succeeds, it will be a major victory and a star for her performance six months after she came to office to deal with one of the major issues facing the six-month-old Jubilee administration.

With her appointment to the Foreign Affairs docket, Ms Mohamed was pushed to the forefront of the diplomatic effort against the cases facing the Jubilee leaders.

She is confident of delivering, if her statement on Thursday is anything to go by.


She said she is hoping for a favourable outcome from her efforts because “the situation is entirely different” from what it was in 2011 when the Security Council rejected Kenya’s request for a deferral.

Some observers say Ms Mohamed has been handling the issue steadily and may share some accolades in the push to have the African Union (AU) request the Security Council to postpone the cases for at least a year to allow the two leaders to discharge their mandate, especially in dealing with national, regional and international security.

“The tone, language and finesse with which she has been handling the matter are above others,” Ol Jororok MP J.M. Waiganjo (TNA) said.

“She has been able to push the Jubilee government’s agenda well in the AU and the UN. Her performance has been good,” said Mr Waiganjo, a lawyer and political commentator.

Ms Mohamed had extensive experience in the ministry before climbing the ladder and being appointed minister.

She knows her way around in diplomatic circles, enjoys huge networks and is a close confidant of President Kenyatta.


Her Defence counterpart Raychelle Omamo was getting along in the rather quiet State Department of Defence until the September 21 Westgate terrorist attack.

The calm was shattered when the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) battled the terrorists.

Although she has attended a number of news conferences on the matter, she has left the talking to the security chiefs, leaving lingering questions why the minister, an eloquent and respected lawyer and diplomat, has chosen to remain silent.

Ms Omamo, a former envoy and Law Society of Kenya chairperson, has been overshadowed by the old guard in the department, including Chief of Defence Forces Gen Julius Karangi, who appeared to control the Westgate communication.

It is Gen Karangi and Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku who were visible at Westgate, giving regular media updates. Ms Omamo was seen but never heard.

Although the appointment of Ms Omamo to the docket was part of the Jubilee government’s efforts to satisfy the constitutional ration of women to men and respect regional balance, she may be struggling to fit into the ministry that has traditionally been headed by men.

Having no background in security or defence matters may also work against her.

Prof Frank Matanga of Masinde Muliro University’s political science department said there were many questions about the leadership in the Lands and Defence dockets.

He asked why Ms Omamo remained quiet after the military took charge at Westgate, saying “there was a need for clear leadership from her”.

“The Jubilee government is still young, but that is not an excuse. We should review the ministries’ performance through performance contracting,” he said.


Lands secretary Charity Ngilu is in hot water for creating the office of director-general of lands and appointing Mr Peter Kahuho to the position with the power to sign title deeds.

The position is non-existent in law. She has since revoked the appointment through a Gazette notice.

Mrs Ngilu, an experienced hand in politics and government, has been facing the wrath of Parliament over her handling of matters in her docket.

The National Land Commission is supposed to work in tandem with her ministry, but commission officials have complained of being ignored in decision-making.

Ms Ngilu has in the past fought off allegations of corruption in the dockets she headed in the previous government.

Devolution secretary Anne Waiguru is also in the hot seat as she oversees the rollout of the devolution concept.

Migori women’s representative Dennitah Ghati (ODM) says women ministers had performed above average despite huge challenges in their dockets.

“They were entrusted with huge responsibilities which is good. If they get the right people to work with, I know they will do well.

They are on the right track. We should support and give them time. Their performance shows the country is ready for leadership by women (presidency),” Ms Ghati told the Sunday Nation.

She acknowledged that it has not been a soft landing for the ministers as they are the first to be appointed to the dockets under the 2010 Constitution, but she said they were up to the task.

“Society is very unforgiving towards women.


It is quick to lament when something goes wrong. It has been a delicate balance for women secretaries.

But they are quickly learning the ropes. Let’s give them time and after one year give our score. For now, they are above average,” Ms Ghati said, adding that the women were given sensitive dockets.

Ms Waiguru has been trying to ensure that governors accept to work with the funds allocated to the counties by the National Treasury.

Although the money set aside for the counties is not totally in her control, it is Ms Waiguru’s job to ensure that the funds are distributed and spent.

For Ms Waiguru, the proposal to disband the Transitional Authority (TA) is the other elephant in the room as the issue has drawn mixed reactions from Kenyans, with opponents saying it is meant to kill devolution.

It’s no easy task for the secretary who has won accolades for the launch of Uwezo Fund and the 30 per cent allocation of government tenders to persons with disabilities, women and the youth.

But she runs a brand new docket for which she has had to establish the necessary structures.

She also has to work around turf wars between governors on the one hand and the national government and TA on the other.


For East African Community, Tourism and Commerce secretary Phylis Kandie, things have not be so rosy.

She started on the wrong foot during vetting when some MPs thought her nomination should be rejected.

But Ms Kandie has disapproved her critics by working hard to improve issues in the crucial ministry, whose major mandate is to position Kenya as a favourite tourist destination and increase tourist arrivals and earnings.

For a while, things appeared to be going well for her until a fire razed part of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

This was followed by the September 21 Westgate attack that was bound to scare away potential tourists.

It has fallen on Ms Kandie to defend the country’s image, especially after some countries rushed to issue travel advisories to their citizens.

This would directly affect one of Kenya’s major foreign exchange earners.

Ms Kandie has also been working round the clock to build good relations with other industries.


Of the six women secretaries, it is Environment Cabinet Secretary Judy Wakhungu who seems to face the fewest challenges, at least in the public arena.

Apart from the fight between national and county governments over management of forests, Prof Wakhungu is getting good support from conservationists and independent institutions like Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forestry Service.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta has joined efforts to conserve wildlife.

Mr Joseph Magut, a political scientist at Kenyatta University, says the dockets held by the women secretaries are huge and that some ministers appear not to know their turf well, with some acting like spectators.

Mr Magut said management of ministries sometimes depended on personalities, giving the example of former Cabinet minister Simeon Nyachae who added significant weight to Agriculture when he was moved there during the Moi era.

“The running of ministries needs charisma, drive and network. For instance, Ms Waiguru is said to enjoy close rapport with the President and is connected in high places,” he said, adding that the Devolution secretary needs to establish structures and reduce bureaucracy in her ministry.

Mr Magut said Prof Wakhungu has been handling issues in her ministry professionally and rarely gives a political angle.

“She only announces something when it is already on the ground, for instance, the recent discovery of underground water in Turkana. She also announced a programme to provide water in a good number of counties. She has been clinical and professional,” Mr Magut said.


He thinks the ICC issue has been both a major hurdle and a blessing for Ms Mohamed.

“The crisis has made her close to the President and increased her network internationally. She has been lobbying the UN, and if she surmounts the hurdle, it will be a big plus for her,” Mr Magut said.

The political scientist said Ms Mohamed needs to revamp the foreign service and eradicate corruption and address misuse of resources and overstaffing in Kenya’s foreign missions.

For Ms Omamo, Mr Magut said she needs to find her own footing in the ministry instead of letting the CGS eclipse her.

Ms Omamo further needs to put measures in place to ensure domestic and regional stability.

Asked to rate the women secretaries on their performance, Mr Waiganjo gave a score of 40 per cent.

“The period of time they have served is short. They need to lay down structures. Most of them are new in government and need to identify people to work with efficiently. Some of them are yet to learn the laws guiding their dockets,” Mr Waiganjo said.