Francis Thuita Kimemia – The transition headman

That is how Francis Thuita Kimemia reached the pinnacle of Kenya’s civil service, joining the desirable list of the few career civil servants to have ascended to this coveted post. Before him and his predecessor were such notable luminaries as Duncan Ndegwa, G.K. Kariithi, Jeremiah Kiereini, Simeon Nyachae and Sally Kosgei among others.

The appointment was in an acting capacity, waiting for the verdict of the International Criminal Court (ICC) where Muthaura alongside five other Kenyans had cases to answer. Muthaura had stepped aside along with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta after the presiding judges at The Hague, the Netherlands (home of ICC), ruled that they had cases to answer in relation to the post-election violence triggered by the disputed Presidential polls results from the 2007 General Election. Muthaura and Kenyatta alongside William Ruto, Henry Kosgei, Major General Mohammed Ali and Joshua Sang had been charged with crimes against humanity at the ICC. It was a sensational, global, attention grabbing case.

Coincidentally, the ICC had rubbed Kimemia the wrong way when a dossier attributed to the court’s prosecutor Fatou Bensouda alleged that he had regular contacts with senior Mungiki commanders and supplied the sect with weapons. The sect was alleged to have attacked members of communities who had been opposed to Mwai Kibaki’s Presidency. “These concocted falsehoods sound like a movie. It is sheer madness,” Kimemia said as he pointed out an obvious much ignored fact that he was not in charge of internal security when the post-election violence broke out.

Kimemia became Interior Permanent Secretary (PS) in 2008 long after the Government of National Unity was formed. In retrospect, the ICC had helped elevate Kimemia to the powerful position. A year after the appointment, he proved his mettle and rightfully earned the position. In December of the same year when he was appointed as civil service chief, Kimemia was confirmed to the position.

This was not entirely surprising. In choosing Kimemia, President Kibaki demonstrated his preference for experience and leanings on aptitude in public administration. Kimemia’s longevity and systematic rise in the government within the critical nexus of internal security and public administration are the qualities Kibaki was looking for in addition to a stable lieutenant to effect policy in a hard to navigate bureaucracy.

The appointment to this coveted perch, the highest public service position came 32 years after Kimemia joined the civil service.
Kimemia was born in 1957 in Sobugo, Ol Kalou in Nyandarua County. He graduated with a Political Science degree from the University of Nairobi (UoN). A staunch Catholic, Kimemia was destined to become a priest and had even enrolled in a seminary. Of note is that many who recall Kimemia’s youthful days as a seminarian, remember a pious young man who had already earned the fond and respectable title of ‘Father’ long before ordination. His family, however, could not allow two of its sons to join the priesthood vocation and its solid vows on celibacy.

“My brother and I were in the same seminary and both wanted to be priests and the family was against it,” Kimemia confessed to a local channel, NTV, a few months before he was voted in as Nyandarua’s second Governor. “Catholic priests do not marry, so the family decided that one proceeds and one quits. I was the sacrificial lamb. I am married and we have children.”
Before this appointment, it is instructive to note that Kimemia was an insider in government administrative affairs. He had long stints as a District Commissioner (DC) in Mandera and Kakamega before progressing to serve in various ministries at different middle level civil service positions. These included Under Secretary in the Ministry of State for Education, Assistant Secretary in the Education Ministry and Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of State for Provincial Administration and Internal Security. He also served as a Director of Personnel Administration and as PS for Provincial and Internal Security.
Kimemia became a public figure on 21 April 2008 when he was appointed PS in the Provincial Administration and Internal Security Ministry. The George Saitoti was the Minister at the time.

As the chief bureaucrat of the country’s Interior Ministry and the heartbeat of its administrative structure and security architecture, the holder of this office is constantly in the news. Even though at first Kimemia appeared to be one who preferred to work in the background, the unwieldy nature of internal security matters and the peculiar circumstances of the provincial administration compelled him to eschew privacy and embrace public appearances. Kimemia’s rise to the top of the ministry came at a crucial time just as the country was exorcising itself from the ignominy of the post-election violence. The role of the police during the elections and after had generated enormous heat, pressuring the government to fast-track police and provincial administration reforms.

Instituting police reforms was an elaborate and expensive process estimated to cost some KES 81.4 billion over a period of 4 years. Envisaged in this undertaking was the review of police laws equipping the police, operationalisation of a new police structure, increasing the number of police aircraft, modernisation of the police system, incorporation of technology, doubling the police fleet and instituting the National Police Service Commission, and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) along other critical reform areas.

Kimemia was tasked to marshal this process intended to enhance service delivery and clean up the image of the police to project a responsive service as opposed to the colonial hangover of a coercive force. In 2010 Kimemia stood firm as his boss, Saitoti, named several legislators and businessmen as targets of investigations in a global narcotics trafficking ring.

In March 2011 Kimemia accompanied Minister Saitoti to unveil the new training curriculum for the Kenya Police. The Police Reforms Implementation Committee (PRIC) had developed the curriculum, which recommended a thorough and gruelling 15-month training regimen for the police services. Other partners roped in by Kimemia in the police reorganisation initiative included the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE), several UN agencies dealing with justice, law and order services together with the National Police Improvement Agency of the UK and the Linnaeus University of Sweden. It was one of the boldest steps by the government to transform the police in line with current demands.

In 2011, a year after Kenya promulgated a new Constitution, Kimemia vigorously defended the much-maligned provincial administration. A task force led by law professor Mutakha Kangu on devolution had proposed that the provincial administration be scrapped as it had no place in the new constitutional dispensation governing the country.

Kimemia did not take this lightly.
Fully aware of the significance of the role and breadth of the reach of the provincial administration apparatus in effecting policy from the central government to the grassroots, Kimemia strongly castigated the task force and its proposals. In a rare and yet candid interview with a local radio station, QFM, Kimemia took an untrodden path as a hardliner and bold government administrator who insisted that the entire architecture that defines the provincial administration would not be interfered with.
“Their terms of reference did not entail looking at the Provincial Administration. Internal Security minister George Saitoti wrote to them a letter to that effect, explaining very well, that this issue was being handled from the Office of the President,” Kimemia said, about the Kangu-led devolution task force. “We already have a committee looking at the way we shall operate in the counties. It is not their mandate to say that the Provincial Administration will cease to exist under the current Constitution. It is clear that provincial administration will be restructured in five years.”

Kimemia’s stance remains official government policy 10 years later. The provincial administration has evolved to reflect the contemporary times of regional and county governments and offering the same services.

Along the way to the top post of the civil service, Kimemia had advanced his education by securing a second degree in Public Administration from Moi University and a master’s degree in business administration from the prestigious civil service academy based in Arusha, Tanzania, the Eastern and Southern African Management Institute (ESAMI)/Maastricht University.
The stint at the Interior Ministry was ample preparation for Kimemia as he took up the position of Head of Public Service.
This was a major milestone for Kimemia who had joined the Kenyan civil service in early 1980s. He was a career civil servant who rose to the highest position in the service through sheer determination, loyalty and consistency.

Even though Kimemia was not a stranger to the boardrooms where the levers of power were a common feature, this appointment elevated him to the nerve centre of Kenya’s political power play. As holder of the office that links the civil service machinery to the political power class and the nexus of the citizenry, Kimemia wielded immense influence.

As the Head of the Public Service, Kimemia’s most fundamental duty was to coordinate an elaborate transition management to ensure a smooth transfer of power from Kenya’s third President to the fourth one, in line with the Constitution. Kimemia was the chairman of the Assumption of Office of the President Committee whose main duty was to facilitate the Kibaki succession to whoever would win the 2013 Presidential Elections as Kibaki retired after two successful terms.

Along with this task, he was responsible for assisting in firming up legacy projects of the Kibaki administration. The timing of his appointment just a few months before Kibaki’s retirement was quite revealing. A firm hand was needed to steer the civil service and assure stability as a new administration took over. Kimemia was the man entrusted with the arduous responsibility.
The gruelling task of managing a transition was made more laborious given that at the time the coalition government made up of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and PNU was in place. The outgoing President was from PNU and Prime Minister Raila Odinga came from the ODM. The main contestants in the upcoming polls were drawn from these key partners in the Government of National Unity. As Kibaki was leaving, Odinga was already leading in all the opinion polls as successor. However, Kenyatta, who was a key PNU member, was also running for President irrespective of his ICC tribulations.

This was not all.
A third option was that of a former second Deputy Prime Minister and Vice President Musalia Mudavadi who was said to be fronted by senior civil servants among them Kimemia and security chiefs. The civil service bureaucrats and ‘securocrats’ were reportedly afraid of losing their jobs if either Odinga or Kenyatta were elected, hence propping up Mudavadi who was seen as a ‘safe’ pair of hands. These scenarios with genuine fears of a paralysis in government complicated Kimemia’s job and his team of 16 senior bureaucrats in the civil service alongside the security top brass serving in the Assumption of Office Committee.
“We had principles that guided us even as we worked round the clock,” Kimemia would later tell The Daily Nation.

On 8 April 2013, at the Moi International Sports Complex, Kasarani in Nairobi the country and the region watched as Kimemia’s elaborate handiwork was on full display. The obvious blunders, gaffes and disorganisation witnessed in 2003 as President Kibaki was taking power from President Daniel arap Moi had left the civil service blemished.

But 2013 was different. It was a historic moment, filled with pomp, colour and splendour. The world witnessed a smooth transition ceremony where Kibaki handed over the reins and instruments of power to President Elect Uhuru Kenyatta.
On that day in April, which remains one of the greatest highlights in Kimemia’s public life, he had successfully overseen the archiving of one era of Kenya’s history and the opening of a new epoch. He managed a successful handover as more than a dozen world leaders trooped to Nairobi to witness the grand occasion.

Interestingly enough, Kimemia’s qualities as a tough yet highly organised and methodical civil servant saw him being retained by the in-coming administration. “In order to ensure a smooth transition, we have nominated Kimemia as the Secretary to Cabinet,” President Kenyatta said.

In September 2014, Kenyatta named former Treasury PS Joseph Kinyua as State House Chief of Staff and the new Head of the Public Service.

In April 2015, Kimemia left the civil service. He stepped aside from his post as Secretary to the Cabinet after being adversely mentioned in a dossier released by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC). He had been accused of alleged irregularities in the awarding of a tender while serving as PS in the Interior Ministry in 2006.

Those who knew Kimemia well understood this to be just a retreat and that he would soon bounce back in the public service where his reputation preceded him as a hands-on administrator. He personified the biblical adage in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
They were proven right as Kimemia was later cleared of all charges for “lack of evidence”.

True to their expectations in March 2016 Kimemia re-emerged in the most unlikely of places. The President appointed him as chairman the blue chip State corporation, the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC). Kimemia succeeded Martin Muragu who was retiring. In August 2017 Kimemia joined politics and was elected Governor of Nyandarua County.

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