Women get fair share in Uhuru Cabinet

Wednesday January 15 2020

From left: Raychelle Omamo, Monica Juma, Betty Maina and Farida Karoney. FILE PHOTOS | NATION MEDIA GROUP


President Kenyatta has once again achieved the two-thirds gender rule in his Cabinet with the latest shake-up.

In the changes made on Tuesday, the President appointed one more woman to the top decision-making organ of the executive.

Former Kenya Association of Manufacturers CEO Betty Maina was nominated to run the Industrialisation ministry where she served as Principal Secretary until September 2019 when she was moved to the Forestry and Environment docket.


At the start of his first term in 2013, Mr Kenyatta had satisfied the requirements of Article 81 (b) of the Constitution, which provides that “no more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender”.

With only 18 Cabinet secretaries at that time, the Head of State had appointed six women.


But later on in that term, men dominated the Cabinet after the then Lands Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu was suspended over corruption allegations in 2015.

With the latest changes, the 21-member Cabinet now has seven women — Ms Maina, Sicily Kariuki (Water and Sanitation), Dr Monica Juma (Defence), Raychelle Omamo (Foreign Affairs), Dr Amina Mohamed (Sports), Dr Margaret Kobia (Public Service and Gender) and Ms Farida Karoney (Lands).

In the latest reshuffle, Mr Kenyatta also sustained his belief in women to be in charge of Defence and Foreign ministries— key dockets that manage the country's territorial integrity and foreign policy.

Mr Kenyatta swapped Dr Monica Juma and Raychelle Omamo as Foreign and Defence Cabinet Secretaries.

It means that the two ministries have been under women since 2013, with only personalities changing.

The shakeup, said the President, was “in line with the strategy I have outlined above and in order to enhance service delivery, make it more efficient and better to the Kenyan people.”

History repeats itself. But for Dr Monica Juma, a return to the Defence ministry could create a sense of nostalgia for a diplomat who began her career in the Kenyatta Cabinet managing Kenya’s territorial security.

She was Kenya’s ambassador to the African Union during the Mwai Kibaki years.

It is the third time she is being moved, the first one failed after an embarrassing verdict from the National Assembly, accusing her of arrogance.

In June 2015, when she was PS for Interior, Parliament rejected President Kenyatta’s proposal that she becomes CS for Cabinet Affairs.

MPs were angered by her ban on them visiting her office, ostensibly to collect ''per diem'' for the weekends.

She had previously been PS in the Defence Ministry.

After Interior, she swapped roles with Dr Karanja Kibicho to Foreign Affairs as PS.

In February 2018, she became CS for Foreign Affairs, after MPs that time approved her, even though opposition members boycotted the vetting.

Tuesday’s reshuffle happened as she left Senegal where she had been presenting President Kenyatta’s message to his counterpart Macky Sall.

In the two years, she is credited with opening up more embassies in Africa — Ghana, Djibouti and Senegal.

She also oversaw the opening of the first diplomatic mission in the Caribbean, in Cuba, where President Kenyatta visited in 2018; as well as an embassy in Bern, Switzerland.

But critics claim that her management style was chaotic. Staff at the Foreign ministry often complained of abrupt changes to departmental heads.

Often, they charged, she ran the HR policy amid her heavy foreign travel schedule, meaning she gave little time to internal staff affairs.

When she shuffled departmental heads last year, she had to publicly deny running her office with an iron fist, arguing that officials at the ministry are posted or transferred based on need.

Externally, some journalists accused her of being unresponsive to questions; fixing them instead in her quarterly press conferences.

She often used those press briefings to deny this, arguing that there were press officers in her ministry.

It remains debatable whether Kenya’s influence rose or fell during her tenure.

For example, Kenya hosted two conferences on the blue economy and population and development.

Last year, Nairobi was endorsed by the African Union to vie for the non-permanent UN Security Council seat.

But it lost out to host the secretariat of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCTA) and that of the Afrexim Bank, despite her championing of pan-Africanism.

With years of experience in academia and diplomacy, Dr Juma is still seen as one of the country’s top diplomats. 

She kept a low profile before she became CS, only opening her Twitter account recently.

To date, she has no official Facebook account though.

Raychelle Omamo

Ms Omamo, daughter of Jomo Kenyatta-era Cabinet Minister William Odongo Omamo, has been in charge of the Defence ministry since 2013.

She had previously served as Kenya’s Ambassador to France, Portugal, Spain, the Holy See and the Republic of Serbia, during the Mwai Kibaki years.

She is still the only woman to have been President of the Law Society of Kenya.

During her tenure as Defence CS, she is credited with proposing, and was now implementing, the welfare policy for soldiers injured in battle.

She is also credited with proposing the inaugural National Defence Policy, colloquially known as the Defence White Paper.

Under the policy, the KDF are supposed to swiftly respond to various threats while preventing them from escalating into conflict, and hence reduce an arms race with neighbours.

It lists Kenya’s dynamic threats to its existence and how the KDF can prepare for them.

The policy, launched in 2017, is supposed to guide routine logistics, maintenance and training of the KDF on modern counter-terrorism techniques, disaster response and related security issues.

But while she is an eloquent policy maker, critics remember her fumbling during national crises such as the Westgate siege in September 2013 and the El-Adde attack of January 15, 2016.

Under her regime, the KDF morphed from an organisation that gives routine press briefings on their battles against the Shabaab to giving scanty or no information to the public.

One of the most notorious cover-ups was on the battle of El-Adde in Somalia when Shabaab merchants of death launched a guerrilla attack on a KDF camp.

The actual number of casualties has never been made public to date.

In joining the Foreign ministry, one of her strong points is that she speaks French and English fluently and could have various contacts in high places.

Her immediate challenge is to ensure Kenya wins the Non-Permanent seat at the UN Security Council in an election due in June this year.

She, with Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki, will also be hoping that the International Court of Justice at The Hague rules in Nairobi’s favour in a maritime boundary case with Somalia, incidentally in June too.