President Uhuru Kenyatta made two significant and related statements last week that he must have been acutely aware would be seen as indicators of the success or failures of his presidency — particularly in the war against corruption and the delivery of Jubilee coalition campaign pledges.
His “National Call to Action Against Corruption” statement on November 23, declaring the vice a national security threat, was followed the next day by a Cabinet reshuffle designed to help confront the scourge and ensure effective delivery of government objectives.
As he announced a raft of new measures against graft in his administration and Kenya at large, it must have been at the back of his mind that he was delivering an admission of failure on the back of the landmark State of the Nation address in parliament in March that was supposed to have set down the markers for the anti-graft campaign.
The following day, he announced a long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle that obviously was dictated by growing public discontent over the perception of unchecked corruption and frustration over unfulfilled promises.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis arrived in Kenya for his historic visit, and President Kenyatta pointedly asked for his prayers in the campaign against corruption.
Instead of the usual reflex dismissal of critical groups, the president acknowledged before the Pope that the media, civil society, community and political leaders had identified the fight against corruption as a priority.
That plea from a Catholic president before the global head of the Roman Catholic Church came across as an earnest and plaintive appeal for divine intervention.
It could also signal that the president seriously wants to confront and conquer the monster he now wants placed alongside terrorism as a threat to national security, but finds himself unable to make headway as head of a regime that seems irredeemably corrupt.
The reshuffle finally dropped the six Cabinet Secretaries who had been forced to step aside over graft allegations since the March State of the Nation speech, including Anne Waiguru of Devolution and Planning, whose stubborn resistance to public pressure crumbled when she threw in the towel a few days before the reshuffle.
The powerful Ms Waiguru, who had enjoyed public shows of support from the president, became the sixth Cabinet Secretary forced out over corruption in their dockets following on Kazungu Kambi (Labour), Charity Ngilu (Lands), Davis Chirchir (Energy), Felix Koskey (Agriculture) and Michael Kamau (Transport).
President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto would have been aware that the overall reshuffle, and the individuals they picked as replacements for Ms Waiguru and the other five Cabinet Secretaries, would be assessed on what it signalled for the war against graft and re-energisation of a government that currently seems to be drifting aimlessly.
In regard to the new Cabinet appointments, there was little to inspire confidence as the usual game of political rewards seemed to have been given just as much, if not more, priority than competence and integrity.
Notable political nominations were those of former Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiunjuri who takes the critical Devolution docket Kericho Senator Charles Keter as Cabinet Secretary for Energy and MP for Malindi Dan Kazungu who moves up to head the Ministry of Mining.
Mr Kiunjuri’s nomination has provoked the most interest. He will inevitably be measured against Ms Waiguru who enjoyed unmatched power and a high profile in charge of the expansive Planning and Devolution Ministry that has now been split into smaller chunks.
Devolution by itself is still a challenging docket given the constant jurisdictional disputes and funding feuds between national and county governments. But while Mr Kiunjuri’s predecessor came across as haughty and contemptuous of the politicians who ultimately put her in her place, the new nominee may be better able to engage his political friends.
Still Mr Kiunjuri’s credentials may well be called into question, but then he leads his own fringe party, the Grand National Union, that needed to be brought fully aboard the Jubilee coalition. The former assistant minister for water had been cooling his heels as chairman of the Athi Water Services Board till his elevation.
Another openly political nomination can be seen in Mr Kazungu. The Malindi MP become the second opposition legislator, after Interior Secretary Joseph Nkaissery, to be poached for the Cabinet from Raila Odinga’s opposition Cord coalition.
If geopolitics dictated that the dropped Mr Kambi, also a former MP, be replaced by a fellow coastal, Mr Kazungu who has been closely associated with a rebellious Cord grouping led by his Kilifi county colleague Gideon Mungaro, fit the bill.
Then there is Mr Keter, a close ally and South Rift Valley point-man for Deputy President Ruto.
He got the cash-rich Energy Ministry that under another Ruto acolyte, Mr Chirchir, gained a dubious reputation for sharp practices designed to fleece the public across all divisions of the energy sector.
Those three appointments, in particular, will serve to call into question the value of the Cabinet reshuffle as a signal of new commitment to the fight against corruption.
They overshadowed the nomination of respected managers such as Joe Mucheru in ICT, Cicily Kariuki in Public Service, Youth and Gender, Willy Bett in Agriculture and Dr Cleophas Mailu in Health.
President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto seemed to be aware that appointment of their political hacks would not be too impressive, and hence the wide-ranging strategy to fight corruption announced a day before the Cabinet reshuffle.
Like the State of the Nation address in March, it may turn out more a public relations ploy unless followed by real action, including the jailing of culprits, removal from office and confiscation of assets of corruption.
One message that that strategy seemed to be sending is that with the expanded list of Principal Secretaries mandated to tackle graft in their respective ministries, the finger of blame when things go wrong should not be directed at Cabinet Secretaries.
Unless this new move is clarified, it will leave CSs as overall heads of their dockets, with PSs as the fall guys where corruption is uncovered in the ministry.
SOURCE: THE EAST AFRICAN