In public, Dr Karanja Kibicho walks with the confidence of a big cat. He rarely speaks — and leaves it to his boss, Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, who like him, exhibits a no-nonsense public posture.
Behind the scenes, Dr Kibicho is, without a doubt, the super Principal Secretary, chairing the powerful National Development Implementation Technical Committee, which was formed by President Uhuru Kenyatta through Executive Order Number 1 of 2019 dated January 21.
With that, he has the administrative networks of the national government on speed dial and is Mr Kenyatta’s Mr Fixit. With new powers at his disposal, and support from State House, Dr Kibicho has been an insider in the war on corruption and the reorganisation of the Kenyatta II State.
The January 21 executive order also elevated his boss, Dr Matiang’i, to the supervisory role of government programmes and projects, thus whittling down Deputy President William Ruto’s powers — and denying him a chance to go around the country in the guise of opening and supervising projects, while laying ground for the 2022 elections.
That the duo of Dr Kibicho and Dr Matiang’i has, ever since, emerged as the most powerful Jubilee technocrats is thanks to the lofty position they hold at the Ministry of Interior too, the fulcrum of the Kenyatta Administration.
There is a political price that comes with that — both are loved and loathed in equal measure.
With the Jubilee Party torn into two, Dr Kibicho has turned out to be the punching bag of elements who favour the rise of Dr Ruto as the heir-apparent once President Kenyatta’s final term comes to a close.
In the last two general elections, and before he seemed to have made an about-turn, President Kenyatta had rallied voters in Mr Ruto’s backyard to support him with the promise that he would hand over to his deputy.
Although Mr Kenyatta has not succinctly indicated that he has shifted from that position, his recent political moves indicate a waning of confidence in a Ruto presidency — opting to maintain a studious silence on political developments that may shape his presidency.
When he recently spoke at the Kasarani stadium, and without naming names, he promised those writing him off in his Mt Kenya backyard a battle royale.
The rise of Dr Kibicho from a chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in 2010 to one of the most-coveted positions in President Kenyatta’s government is partly attributed to his resolute tendencies.
“When it comes to loyalty, he has no two sides. He is resolute and confident,” said a confidante who has worked with him.
Ever since independence, the Interior ministry has been the citadel of powerful public servants — the likes of James Mathenge, Wilfred Kimalat, Hezekiah Oyugi, and Zakayo Cheruiyot — with the provincial authority, now under Dr Kibicho, as the centre of rural authority and internal security.
For that, this makes Dr Kibicho one of the most informed public servants on matters security — managing the inner workings of the national government at a time when President Kenyatta fears that he could turn out to be a lame duck administrator in his final term.
While the President intended to use his final term to build his legacy around the Big Four agenda of food security, affordable housing, manufacturing, and affordable healthcare; the rush by DP Ruto to start an early political campaign seems to have detracted the politicos within Jubilee from their manifesto — and focused, instead on the post-Uhuru realignments, much to the chagrin of Mr Kenyatta.
Without Jubilee politicians, President Kenyatta has now turned to technocrats, the likes of Dr Kibicho, State operatives and intelligence services to manage the government and politics.
More so, he has banked on Orange Democratic Party leader Raila Odinga, whose absence from opposition politics — thanks to the truce he signed with President Kenyatta, has quietened the opposition ranks but divided the Jubilee Party from within. Within Mt Kenya region, Dr Kibicho has been criticised by local leaders, in support of Dr Ruto’s bid, who accuse him of waging a war against the deputy president by using elders — amorphous groupings that have emerged in various counties.
The most vocal critic has been Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, who has accused Dr Kibicho of using a confidential vote in his ministry to do politics and proposed to have it scrapped by Parliament. Dr Kibicho has not spared the critics either, daring them to go ahead.
“If they feel it (the expenditure) is not useful for our country they can scrap it. We have no problem. They can do as they please,” Dr Kibicho told the Nation last week. “Let’s see how far that gets.”
Whether that is a mark of confidence or arrogance depends on whom you ask. But those who know Dr Kibicho say that though he is a man of few words, he never minces his words.
With no love lost between Dr Kibicho and supporters of Dr Ruto, it was not surprising that he was thrown at the centre of the narrative that some Cabinet secretaries from Mt Kenya region were plotting to assassinate the Deputy President.
Monday, the CSs, led by Peter Munya, went to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations but left without recording a statement. Reason? There was still no complainant.
That alone exposed the soft-belly of Jubilee Party. But that Dr Kibicho finds himself being fried in the Jubilee pan is the hallmark of the confusion within the party and how the Kenyatta succession has reached the end of the tether.
He did not wish to be drawn into this discussion; opting to keep quiet.