Cabinet appointments: What prompted President’s brutal political butchery?

Sunday January 14 2018

President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta addressing the nation at State House, Nairobi on January 5, 2018 when he unveiled his new Cabinet. PHOTO | PSCU 

By KWENDO OPANGA
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Patience should be President Kenyatta’s compass as he painstakingly constructs his government with an eye on assembling a competent, committed and efficient Cabinet to help him carefully and successfully steer MV Kenya home on his final five-year voyage.

But he rushed an announcement about Cabinet-making a week ago on Friday. It exposed discord between President and Deputy President William Ruto over nominees and a President keen to use the Cabinet to build a legacy and a Deputy assembling a team to ensure his rise to power.

It is understandable when President and Deputy disagree over the composition of their Cabinet. But it is worrisome when their fight escalates and turns a marquee government event into a political and public relations fiasco, and invites pressure and ridicule on themselves.

DISTRACTION

By custom established in 2013, Mr Ruto flanks the President at every important function at State House. He was absent not because Cabinet-making is a minor distraction in Jubilee’s organisation of government, but because he was kept out of the loop or opted out in pique.

However, it is gratifying that he bravely and publicly sanitised his discomfiture. This pressure will be a recurring feature of the Kenyatta II succession. As I wrote on October 29, 2016, apart from the much-hyped 2013 pact with the President, Mr Ruto needs a Plan B for his 2022 presidential run.

Indeed, by stating publicly that Cabinet-making is the President’s prerogative and that he needs space to fashion it, Mr Ruto sent the message that he will bide his time and abide by his boss’ decision on the Cabinet to ensure his destiny is in his hands and not the President’s.

The DP understood that President Kenyatta would have his way. W. Craig Blesdoe and Leslie Rigby report that when Lincoln was unanimously outvoted by members of his Cabinet, he closed the meeting by saying: “Seven nays and one aye, the ayes have it.”

SACKED

So President Kenyatta sacked, then claimed he had not fired, an astonishing 13 out of 19 cabinet secretaries (CSs). Then he nominated three out of a possible 15. But, curiously, he did not assign them dockets. And, he announced retention of six, thereby assigning the sextet special status.

The endorsement served as public humiliation of the 13. The import was clear: The six excelled while the baker’s dozen failed the President. Still almost all are sending emissaries to him seeking audience, a second chance or soft landing. They go to offices, but none has his heart in service.

Foreign Affairs CS Amina Mohammed must have felt especially hard done by. She lay down her life for President and Deputy and helped deliver them from heinous crimes-against-humanity charges at The Hague.

They cannot have fronted and campaigned far and wide for a deadwood to become the African Union’s chief executive officer last year. Yet the President lay down the minister for his legacy.

CONSTITUTION

Agitated, Kenya’s women are watching and waiting. Per the constitution, women should make up one-third of the Cabinet. With none of the sitting five retained and none nominated, the President must deliver to this hugely important constituency.

So what prompted this brutal political butchery? When President Kibaki fired his Cabinet of 28 in 2005, he was preparing Kenyans for the ejection of seven ministers who rebelled, and ran against him in a plebiscite on a draft constitution.

In 1962, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan sacked seven out of 21 ministers because he needed to bring in younger talent and fresh ideas to rejuvenate government. Alarmed by a by-election loss, he wanted to regenerate the Conservative Party and kick-start an ailing economy.

DAMAGE

There were consequences. While most Kenyans understood that President Kibaki could not share government with rebels and backed their sacking, the action contributed to the explosion of post-election violence two years later.

The scale of brutality, which ran counter to Macmillan’s gentlemanly ways, turned Westminster and public opinion against the PM. From being fondly called Super Mac, he became Mac the Knife. Ailing, Macmillan resigned 18 months later, the damage undone. Mr Kenyatta wants CSs who will work to give him an enviable legacy. Mr Ruto wants CSs who will herald his march to State House. Both have debts to settle, but the fault line is the 2022-related dues the President or the Kenyattas owe Baringo Senator Gideon Moi or the Mois. Mr Moi wants to be president in 2022. There is Mr Ruto’s casus belli.

 Opanga is a commentator with a bias for politics [email protected]