The refusal by a significant section of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government to heed his call to reduce political noise “since the time for politicking is yet to come” should, in a fluently functioning bureaucracy, lead to sackings, replacements and even restructuring. That cause is not triggering effect is an anomaly that speaks more of an ineffective leader than intransigent followers.
The latest directive by the President to his teams to stop politicking was issued on Friday when he launched the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project in Marsabit County. The directive was underpinned by, yet again, a resolve to ensure his government spurs development across the country.
But who are these that are not working? His ministers, led by Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, claim that they are busy delivering on what they are required to do. CS Joe Mucheru dismisses talk of a division in the Cabinet between those that are working and those that are not. So does the President’s Chief of Staff.
In the context of Kenya’s politics, the compulsion to affirm amity within government is itself significant because it could be superfluous in a situation where the system is working. It is also a contradiction because the President himself has admitted that the system is dysfunctional.
The identity of who is not working resides in the construct of the current government. It was built as an entity of two halves with equal say, even if not equal power, because the presidential staff, flag and responsibility of Commander-in-Chief are bestowed on one individual. If the President’s half of the team is playing, then it follows that Mr Kenyatta is accusing the half allied to Deputy President William Ruto of pulling him down.
This, unhappily for Kenyans that had so much in this team that styled itself as the digital magicians, is what is now playing out politically as team Tanga Tanga and team Kieleweke.
As the overall boss of a team playing against each other in the middle of a very serious game, Mr Kenyatta is in a dilemma. The team will not deliver on the extremely ambitious goals of ensuring food security, setting the foundations to guarantee affordable housing for a majority of Kenyans, building the net to provide universal health care, revving up the manufacturing sector and reducing corruption.
He must get out of this dilemma by being a team manager, not a frustrated bystander. And he must act quickly because he is rapidly running out of time to turn the game around. He must restructure the team and even become a player-manager.
Appointing Dr Matiang’i an associate team manager to displace the principal assistant is not a solution. Dr Matiang’i is a competent performer, but he was not elected by Kenyans to lead the team. He cannot order Dr Ruto around. He can only frustrate him. Dr Ruto can afford to wait out the game and focus entirely on structuring his campaign to be the next President.
Mr Kenyatta really has no alternative but to take control of his team, toss out those he feels are not playing – including his deputy – and use the next 24 months or so to salvage something from his lofty goals.
We are witnessing a distasteful charade now where inside government is an opposite-facing embrace of estranged lovers and outside it a political masquerade of Kenyatta, Raila and Ruto trying to perch on a broken three-legged stool. This must stop.
The President himself must prioritise activities. A CEO who does not chair top leadership meetings has abdicated his role.
It is astonishing that Cabinet can go for several weeks without scheduled meetings. He needs to be in the face of those he has delegated authority to, not address them through the media and intermediaries.
Dr Ruto can also help Kenya and his own profile if he made way and allowed Mr Kenyatta to serve Kenyans. Staying on in a broken relationship hurts both parties. Leaving government and the Jubilee party now will give him enough lead time to fully focus on his campaign and stop cheating that he his is playing in the same team with Uhuru to score for Kenyans.
But it is a rare politician that thinks rationally, which leaves the onus and urgency for acting on President Kenyatta.
It is him who has a legacy to secure, not Dr Ruto. The latter can still bask in the illusion of time.
Tom Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of the Nation Group and is now consulting. [email protected], @tmshindi