Eugene Wamalwa: The wily heir of a political lineage

Eugene Wamalwa takes the oath of office on the lawns of State House, Nairobi. Behind him is Head of the Public Service Dr Joseph Kinyua.

When he first contested an elective seat back in 2002, Eugene Ludovic Wamalwa was still in mourning his more politically accomplished elder brother, then Vice-President Michael Kijana Wamalwa, who deployed his oratory skills and Oxbridge accent to win over friends and foes alike and charm his way to the political high table.

And although Eugene Wamalwa, like his elder brother, lost his first election, he emerged triumphant on his second attempt and made his way to the Cabinet, where he has remained, save for a few months’ hiatus, during President Mwai Kibaki’s second term and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s almost 10-year regime.

Born in Kitale on April 1, 1969 to Senator William Wamalwa and Mama Mary Naliaka, Eugene Wamalwa schooled in Kitale before proceeding to Gendia High School in Homa Bay for his A-levels. He later enrolled at the University of Nairobi’s Parklands Campus for a Bachelor of Laws and a master’s degrees in law. In between, he earned an advocate’s training diploma from the Kenya School of Law.

Before joining the public service, Wamalwa had set up a private legal practice whose highlight was in 2001 when he successfully represented Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni in a presidential petition lodged by Kizza Besigye challenging his re-election.

Wamalwa had packaged himself as an articulate conceptual thinker who preferred to remain in the shadow of his more famous elder brother, Michael. Nevertheless, the younger Wamalwa’s taste of electoral defeat when he attempted to succeed his brother in Saboti served to strengthen him for greater feats in electoral contests and visibility at the national level. That is why, a few years later, the Saboti electorate entrusted him with the seat and by extension prepared him for greater things in the Cabinet.

Wamalwa’s clarity of thought and articulation, people management, and good understanding of the dynamics of politics prepared him quite aptly for the ministerial appointments that he has dispensed with admirable wiliness. In fact, one could see it as a statement of President Kenyatta’s faith in Wamalwa that he has been redeployed in various important ministries where he would otherwise be let go. Over the 10 years of Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency, Eugene Wamalwa has served as the Cabinet Secretary, Water, Sanitation and Irrigation; Devolution and ASALs; and Defence, not to mention his maiden stint during Kibaki’s second term as president.

Using the mastery of public address that he had honed over the years, Wamalwa contested and won the Saboti parliamentary seat in 2007. He served the Saboti people in this capacity for a few years. His political star would rise higher when President Kibaki appointed him the Minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs. Wamalwa’s tenure in the ministry coincided with a critical constitutional moment whose implications would spill over to the Uhuru Kenyatta regime.

Coming into the Cabinet at a time when the need to actualise constitutional reforms was a fait accompli, Wamalwa’s notable pitch included delivery on numerous relevant Bills, including the Campaign Finance Bill of 2022 that later morphed into the Campaign Finance Act No 42 (2013) which sought to regulate spending on political campaigns so as to forestall the risks of political campaign funds undermining the economy and national integrity of the country.
Related to this, Wamalwa was at the helm when critical independent commissions, including the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, put in place measures to reduce inflammation of political campaigning that risked driving the country to the precipice of implosion, as had happened in 2007/2008. By focusing on these key areas, Wamalwa therefore contributed to the successful delivery of the 2013 elections that were held in a cloud of uncertainty.

Also important was his role in reforming the nature and form of legal training in Kenya, something that would impact the totality of the legal regime that we operate in. Specifically, on his watch and with his involvement, parliament passed two important Bills, the Kenya School of Law Act (No. 26 of 2012), and the Legal Education Act (No 27 of 2012).

Flashback. With Kibaki’s second term drawing to a close, Eugene toyed with the idea of running for the presidency, but later shelved the idea and instead threw his weight behind the then western Kenya political luminary, Musalia Mudavadi. That marked the beginning of a two year-stint outside the Cabinet for Wamalwa, who returned in 2015 when President Kenyatta nominated him to serve as the Cabinet Secretary for Water, Sanitation and Irrigation. At the new ministry, Wamalwa worked with permanent secretaries Samwel Alima (Water), Aboud Moeva (Irrigation), and Andrew Tuimur as the Chief Administrative Secretary.

Among other accomplishments, Wamalwa’s tenure in the docket of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation included sinking water holes in northeastern Kenya, and launching the Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme with partners from Israel.
In streamlining developments in the water sector, Wamalwa oversaw the operations of different water-related agencies, including the Athi Water Works Development, and the Central Rift Water Works Development, and various state corporations such as the Centre on Ground Water Resources, the National Irrigation Board, and the Water Sector Trust Fund.

As the CS in charge of water, Wamalwa initiated a number of programmes with life-spans that outlived him at the ministry, including the Upper Tana Catchment Natural Resources Management Project, which served Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Tharaka, Embu, Meru, and Nyeri; the Kenya Water Security and Climate Resilience Programme; the Water Sector Reform Programme; the Thwake Multipurpose Water Development Programme; and the Non-Revenue Water Reduction Programme.

All these projects reflect the progressive development that various regimes have been involved in, but in which the Uhuru Kenyatta government played a significant role in actualising. As an example, the Thwake Multipurpose Water Development Programme was conceptualised back in the 1990s among the critical water reservoirs that serve the arid areas of Machakos, Kitui, and Makueni. The point was to solve once and for all the recurrent problems of water shortage in that general area, and to generate hydro-power while at it, all aimed at lessening reliance on the national grid while boosting economic growth, development, and the quality of human life in the beneficiary areas.

Also important was the idea that the dam would regulate water flow downstream on the Athi River, and therefore mitigate the impact of flooding when it rains upstream or drought when it doesn’t. The project, which when completed will pump 685 million cubic metres of water in the region, is aligned to the economic and social pillars of Vision 2030, Kenya’s economic blueprint, and the Medium Term Plan II of 2013 to 2017. Wamalwa played critical oversight, and policy formulation and implementation roles at key moments in the actualisation of this project.
Wamalwa’s tenure at the Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation saw him harmonise a seamless partnership of the three core departments in the ministry –water, sanitation, and irrigation – in order to balance the extreme vagaries associated with want or surplus of water.

Eugene Wamalwa shakes hands with President Uhuru Kenyatta, after being sworn into the Cabinet at State House, Nairobi.

Together, and through programmes implemented by the various agencies within the ministry, Wamalwa oversaw an accelerated implementation of water sector reforms, improved management of water resources in sustainable ways, including better managed of water and sewerage services; improved utilisation of land through irrigation and land reclamation—as in the case of Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme—and generally strengthening institutions in the ministry.

Come 2018 and President Kenyatta reshuffled his government as part of improving efficiency and delivery of government services in his second term of office. In the changes, Wamalwa was deployed to the docket of Devolution and the ASALs, where he served until 2021.

The Ministry of Devolution, now headquartered at Teleposta Towers, traces its origins rather recently to the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution. The State Department of Devolution, which is tasked with the core mandate of the ministry, draws its authority from articles 6 and 10, as well as Chapter 11 of the Constitution. In practical terms, the Ministry of Devolution and ASALs, as it is currently known, also functions based on the framework of the Intergovernmental Relations Act (2012), the County Governments Act (2012), the Urban Areas and Cities Act (2011), and the Public Finance Management Act (2012).

Wamalwa took over this ministry as the Cabinet Secretary following President Kenyatta’s issuance of Executive Order No 1 of 2018 on reorganisation of the government. Wamalwa has since served with the help of veteran administrators, including Tuneya Hussein Dado as the Chief Administrative Secretary, Nelson Marwa as the Permanent Secretary in the State Department of Devolution, and Micah Pkopus Powon as the Permanent Secretary in charge of Arid and Semi-Arid Lands.

This team, under Wamalwa, oversaw the actualisation of critical tasks and initiatives within the ministry, notably the National and County Governments Coordinating Summit, the Inter-Governmental Relations Technical Committee, and the National Government Constituency Development Fund, which was a creature of the National Constituency Development Fund Board, Act No. 3 of 2013. By leveraging their collective experiences and government machinery, Wamalwa and the senior management of the ministry have over the past three years breathed life into the key mandates of the docket, mainly in formulating a workable devolution policy, managing smooth intergovernmental relations, and enhancing capacity building and technical assistance to county governments. This has especially reduced the dissonance that would occasionally emerge between the national and the county governments, especially regarding functions that were not fully devolved.

Related to this is the idea that once devolution was entrenched in the political and administrative infrastructure, the ministry has in recent times guided the devolved units into thinking futuristically about their development agenda, which leverages locally existing resources while linking them to national goals of development. Devolution had reengineered the practice of governance in such a manner that the process of identifying and prioritising development projects would emanate from places where the development would have the greatest impact.

Not only would this accord development projects greater buy-in from the affected residents, it also paved the way for greater involvement of the people through public participation, as envisioned in the Constitution. And given that the funding for such projects would invariably come from the exchequer, such an approach would necessitate a higher degree of interdependence between the national and county governments, if for nothing else but for purposes of planning for the required capital investments and administrative approvals. That, ultimately, would improve service delivery by holding the present leaders accountable for to the people in the future.

This is how Wamalwa gently steered the counties to enlist professional support in preparing county integrated development plans that spanned 2013 to 2017 as envisioned in the Public Finance Management Act of 2012.
Wamalwa’s leadership at the Ministry of Devolution and ASALs has also played a critical role in the management, monitoring, and evaluation of devolution affairs; special programmes; food relief management, and humanitarian emergency response.

Regarding the ASALs department of the ministry, the Wamalwa team has played a significant role in reorienting the public image of the ministry from one that leads in national responses to catastrophes, to one that is proactive in anticipating and solving potential problems before they happen. The ministry does this by coordinating the planning and development of ASALs, implementing of special programmes, and coordinating research for sustainable ASALs resource management.

The Department of ASALs in the ministry also takes charge of development and livelihoods promotion and livestock development, and marketing and value addition of resources within ASALs, enhancing livelihood resilience of pastoral and agro-pastoral communities; coordinating responses against drought and desertification; as well as peace building and conflict management in the ASALs.

All these have been doable by liaising with expertise in the National Drought Management Authority and the National Drought Emergency Fund, both established under the National Drought Management Act, 2016.

Thanks to such interventions, often conducted in collaboration with independent offices such as the Office of the Auditor General and other line ministries, there has been more accountability at the county governments level, with more resources channelled towards development as opposed to being gobbled up by recurrent expenditure.
And although one may Wamalwa’s tenure in these dockets as uneventful, later analysis will show a concerted and focused leader who steered the ministry—and others that he has overseen—to deliver more enduring milestones in the way to steadier economic development.

A more generous appraisal would, in fact, place Wamalwa among the remarkable men and women of the Uhuru Cabinet who wholeheartedly gave their time, inventiveness, and intellect to deliver on the promises that President Kenyatta made to Kenyans on at least three occasions in the areas of enhanced service delivery, improved infrastructure development, and a steadier economic environment to operate in.

It is with the same zeal that Eugene Wamalwa continues to serve in the Ministry of Defence, where has been since the last Cabinet reshuffle of 2021, working with Peter Odoyo as the Chief Administrative Secretary, Ibrahim Mohamed as the Permanent Secretary, among veteran military personnel as senior managers of the ministry whose headquarters are at Ulinzi House.

The Ministry of Defence’s core mandate is to defend and protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country, assist and cooperate with other authorities in emergency situations, and restore peace in any part of Kenya affected by unrest or instability when needed.

As a Cabinet secretary, Wamalwa has leveraged the senior military leadership, its experience and knowledge of the inner workings of this ministry, to offer leadership in policy formulation and advisory, leadership of the Defence Council, the supreme body within the ranks of the Kenya Defence Forces.

It is commendable that Wamalwa joined this ministry at a time when President Kenyatta had largely demystified the operations of the Kenya Defence Forces, once or twice appearing in public in full military gear as the Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces, and assigning some military luminaries greater visibility in the public sphere to oversee entities – such as the Nairobi Metropolitan Services – which are charged with direct service delivery to Kenyans.

This was a strategic move, maybe an act of moral armament aimed at sending the message to Kenya’s enemies that the country has a leader who is willing and able to stake and protect its sovereignty. Coming into office at a time of great uncertainty about local politics and vulnerable to sporadic attacks by extremist elements stationed in neighbouring countries, President Kenyatta had to act fast to stem the menace of terrorism and reassure Kenyans that they are safe on his watch. The military, serving under the Ministry of Defence, took its cue from him and played key roles in the President’s delivery on the two agendas.

Since President Kenyatta’s second term began, there have hardly been any terror-related attacks happening on Kenyan soil anymore; the political climate within the country has also stabilised; and there is no doubt that the country has a decisive and progressive leader behind whom the entire defence machinery can rally, which it has done to lend a hand to the bigger agenda of development.

Given the diversity of thought in the country today, some people think that the growing presence of military personnel – drawn from the Ministry of Defence – in the public sphere where they render services that would ordinarily be in the purview of civilians amounts to an encroachment on civilian freedoms and an unnecessary militarisation of service delivery. And yet, even with such, few can question the fact that such individuals from the Ministry of Defence have, wherever they have been deployed, delivered real and prompt development on scales previously unseen. Not only has this reconfigured the developmental topography of the country; it has also improved service points, especially in Nairobi and other urban centres, and ultimately boosted the quality of life of average Kenyans.

There is little doubt that the Uhuru Kenyatta presidency, through the Ministry of Defence, has succeeded in reorienting public perception of the military while using its personnel to address the troublesome problems of terrorism, poor service delivery in the larger Nairobi metropolis, and in other production-based agencies such as the Kenya Meat Commission. The recent launch of Kenya Shipyard Limited, a state agency managed by the Kenya Defence Force, ought to be considered as part of this reorientation of the public towards the military. The general public now has a different view of what the military, under the Ministry of Defence, does when it is not in Somalia fighting Al Shabaab insurgents, or deployed in peacekeeping missions elsewhere in Africa – which were the key associations of the military in the imagination of many Kenyans.

In all, Eugene Wamalwa has been part of the story of how the Ministry of Defence is implicated in routine development initiatives in the country. With all this, it is conceivable that Wamalwa’s knowledge of and expertise in how government works have grown significantly, which may explain President Kenyatta’s decision to entrust him with such key portfolios that have shaped the legacy of his presidency.

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