Kenyan President William Ruto this week named his Cabinet, bringing back politicians into the Executive, a departure from the Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta governments that had technocrats.
Dr Ruto who had the backing of several parties that supported his “Hustler Nation” and “bottoms-up” economic approach, rewarded his Kenya Kwanza base across the country by naming party loyalists expected to support, push for and implement his vision.
Of the 22 Cabinet seats, he appointed more than 10 politicians, and retained only three from the Kenyatta government team, one being Monica Juma, former Cabinet Secretary for Energy, who now becomes National Security Advisor on a Cabinet level position, having served as Defence Secretary.
“I have nominated a new team to serve in the Cabinet and subject to the approval of the National Assembly, shall in due course appoint them to take charge of various ministries and implement the agenda of national transformation,” said President Ruto on Tuesday.
The key dockets of Foreign Affairs, Energy, Trade, Defence, Interior, Water, Roads and Transport, Agriculture have been given to politicians. Treasury and Planning and East African Community Affairs will be led by technocrats.
President Ruto, while officially opening the 13th parliament, told legislators that the country is broke and living beyond its means and needs to rethink its financial state to grow. This explains why earlier, he named former Central Bank governor Njuguna Ndung’u Cabinet Secretary for National Treasury and Planning. (See separate story).
Kenya has in the past 10 years expanded its regional and international diplomatic presence by pushing for peaceful resolutions in regional conflicts through its Building Bridges Initiative, has offered candidates for several continental and international organisations top jobs and even got the rotational UN Security Council Seat.
With this background, Dr Ruto’s Foreign Affairs nominee, Alfred Mutua, a former governor, and former government spokesman in Kibaki’s administration, is a lightweight with big shoes to fill. Dr Mutua studied journalism in India and was known as Kibaki’s “PR man.” His credentials on the international scene are limited.
Mr Mutua takes over a ministry that will make or break the image of Dr Ruto’s government. Regionally, this job is taken care of by the Cabinet Secretary in charge of the EAC, Arid and Semi-Arid Lands and Regional Development.
This docket has been given to a technocrat, Rebecca Miano, the chief executive of the Kenya Electricity Generating Company, where she was the first female CEO. She has no known experience on regional integration.
Related to regional commerce and integration is the docket of Trade, Investment and Industry, whose nominee is fiery politician Moses Kuria, a former MP. Once a fierce defender of Mr Kenyatta, they had a falling out and he joined Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance.
Mr Kuria will have to navigate not just Kenya’s international trade deals but also those that affect the region and need national policies to support such as the EPAs and Agoa.
Close to trade is infrastructure, in this case roads and railway network, particularly the extension of the standard gauge railway to Uganda.
The nominee for the Transport, Roads and Public Works Kipchumba Murkomen, a politician, serving senator and former leader of Majority in the Senate. As a first timer in Cabinet and with an expansive docket, much will be expected of him.
Transport infrastructure was one of the busiest and crucial dockets in the Kenyatta government, with major projects accomplished that changed transport, courtesy of major highways across the country, the Nairobi Expressway, rehabilitation and revival of the national railway network and the SGR, revival of ports and upgrade of county roads. The Ruto government is expected to build on these successes, and pursue regional connectivity to a new level.
Over at Defence, another key ministry in regional harmony seeing as EAC partner states have started sending security contingents to the restive eastern DR Congo, President Ruto nominated Aden Duale, serving Member of Parliament for Garissa Town and former Leader of Majority in the 12th parliament. Mr Duale is not associated with nor known for advocating regional issues. Same could be said of the nominee for Interior, Prof Kithure Kindiki, former Deputy Leader of Majority in the Senate.
Yufnalis Okubo, former registrar at the East African Court of Justice is, however, hopeful.
“If you look at the ministries of Trade, Foreign Affairs and the East African Community which all deal with regional and international affairs, I can only single out Dr Mutua, nominee for Foreign Affairs, who has some experience having been a government spokesperson and worked and lived abroad, and also as a two-term governor of Machakos,” said Mr Okubo.
“Ms Miano’s nomination from corporate Kenya, without exposure to handle regional issues, is the same mistake made with the Phyllis Kandie appointment in 2013,” Mr Okubo said, referring to Kenyatta’s first EAC Affairs Cabinet Secretary.
Ms Kandie was later named ambassador to the EU, in Brussels but also later made Kenya’s representative to Unesco.
“It will be interesting to see how Ms Miano fits in,” said Mr Okubo who has worked in the EAC for over 10 years.
Mr Okubo avers that compared with neighbours, Kenya does not take regional matters seriously.
“Uganda’s ministry of EAC has retained the Permanent Secretary (Mrs Mwanje) for over 10 years. While in Kenya has had more than five different Principal Secretaries in the same ministry since 2013, a worrying trend that shows we have failed to value experience in regional politics,” said Mr Okubo.
Mr Kuria’s immediate assignment will be the ongoing new trade deal negotiations between Kenya and the US.
The other pressing assignment is the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) ministerial meeting to be held December 13 in Washington, DC.