Is Kagwe's case that of the stone the builders rejected?

Wednesday March 18 2020
By GAKUU MATHENGE

For the second time, former Nyeri Senator Mutahi Kagwe finds himself playing the role of the proverbial stone first rejected by builders only to later become the cornerstone that holds the structure together.

The first time President Mwai Kibaki appointed Mr Kagwe to the Cabinet in 2005, it was to replace former Internal Security minister Chris Murungaru who was among cabinet ministers Kibaki dropped following the infamous Anglo-Leasing fiasco.

Last Tuesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta dropped Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and replaced him with Mr Kagwe in a manner reminiscent of Kibaki's move.

Interestingly, Mr Kagwe was among a section of Nyeri leaders who snubbed Kiunjuri’s thanksgiving event in February 2016, and which was graced by President Kenyatta. 

The leaders had wanted the Devolution CS appointee to be from Nyeri, where former Infrastructure CS Eng Michael Kamau hailed from. 

Kiunjuri had been appointed after Eng Kamau was dropped from the Cabinet.

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In regional political dimensions, Mr Kagwe’s nomination as Cabinet Secretary for Health is a shot in the arm.

It not only speaks volumes that Mr Kagwe enjoys the confidence of the President, but also pulls him from the political cold and into the inner sanctum of power, and gives him a front-row seat to the Kenyatta II succession battle.

Mr Kagwe left a rich legacy as an energetic and results-oriented Cabinet Minister for Information and Communication. 

He persuaded the Kibaki Cabinet to back modernisation of Internet connectivity in Kenya via undersea fibre optic cables, a move that has since borne results with the expansion and accelerated growth of the information and communication technology sector that has, in turn, become one of the major drivers of the country’s economic growth.

At home in Nyeri, his rise is bound to upset the comfort and plans of contemporary leadership, depending on how he chooses to deploy his newly acquired powers in a county that has emerged as one of the most vibrant bastions of Deputy President William Ruto’s support in the region.

Although both Kagwe and Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina have been vocal in articulating President Kenyatta’s vision of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), they have a mutual aversion for each other, rooted in Mr Kagwe’s suspicions that Mr  Maina may have played a role in aiding Kabando wa Kabando to oust him as Mukurwe-ini MP in 2007, as part of Maina’s proxy wars with Kagwe’s late father-in-law John Michuki.

When Kagwe staged a re-election campaign for the Senate in 2017 with the slogan “Maitho ma Nyiri” (Eyes of Nyeri), it was Mr Maina who would take him on and replace him as the Nyeri senator.

Cabinet Secretaries pack considerable heft with the civil service, especially security services, and often do not shy from using them to run political errands in the local realm, often causing friction and resentment among rivals.

In the Kenyatta II succession realignments, Mr Kagwe has emerged as his own man and no one can accuse him of riding on the shoulders of his late powerful and assertive father-in-law.

Mr Kagwe has been one of the most articulate and consistent pro-BBI voices from the region, especially on the question of reintroduction of the Prime Minister’s position in the governance system, and which President Kenyatta has also unequivocally supported.

In the last meeting President Kenyatta held with the leadership of the region last November at the Sagana State Lodge, Kagwe was the master of ceremonies (MC) in charge of the speakers’ line-up and order at the microphone.

He played the role of eminent elder host of national leadership at the funeral of first Nyeri Governor Nderitu Gachagua in 2017. 

He is expected be a top champion of President Kenyatta’s legacy and succession plans.

“President Kenyatta is not going anywhere any time soon, and there are no competing kingpins to inherit his mantle as yet. 

''Mr Kagwe’s elevation should be viewed as part of the President’s reorganisation of his team of supporters and helpers he needs in accomplishing his legacy agenda,” said political scholar and newspaper columnist Prof Peter Kagwanja.

Kagwe is also a ranking member of senior politicians from the region who Prof Kagwanja described as orphans of the disputed Jubilee Party primaries of April 2017.

“This group includes former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo and former Murang’a Senator Kembi Gitura. The President is cognisant they did not lose in a fair contest and recognises their competence and potential,” Prof Kagwanja said.