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Francis Kimemia: The astute pitfalls evader

Francis Thuita Kimemia was the Secretary to the Cabinet during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first term. He was literally positioned for the job by President Mwai Kibaki’s administration when he was strategically confirmed as Head Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet on 22 December 2012 after acting for almost a year.

Ambassador Francis Muthaura stepped down in January 2012 after the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges ruled that he had a case to answer arising from the violence triggered by the disputed 2007 General Election. Muthaura’s exit paved the way for Kimemia who was confirmed just three months to the 4 March 2013 transitional elections.

Previously, Kimemia worked as Permanent Secretary for Internal Security. The designation of Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet was a compounded powerful post that put whoever held it just a heartbeat away from the President. After the elections in March 2013, Kimemia was retained by the President as Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet. The position of Secretary to the Cabinet is anchored in the 2010 Constitution.

The Secretary to the Cabinet arranges the business of the Cabinet and keeps minutes of its meetings. The holder of the office conveys Cabinet decisions to the appropriate persons or authorities. The position is responsible to the President for ensuring that the appropriate authority concerned with a Cabinet decision takes action and for this purpose, he/she maintains a register of all Cabinet decisions made and action(s) taken.

Kenya’s Cabinet is made up of the President, Deputy President, Attorney General and Cabinet secretaries. Kenya’s 2010 Constitution allows a maximum of 22 ministries. As opposed to the pre-2010 constitutional regimen, a Cabinet Secretary (CS) is no longer a Member of Parliament (MP) and has to be vetted by a Parliamentary committee before being appointed.

The 2013 elections ushered in Uhuru’s first term and a new order at the Cabinet office. In May, Parliament’s Administration and National Security committee approved Kimemia’s appointment as Cabinet Secretary after disregarding recommendations by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission against his appointment, arguing that they were based on suspicions. Under the new Constitution, the Cabinet Secretary is an autonomous position with its own secretariat and functions. For the first time in Kenya’s history the nominee to the position of Cabinet Secretary was vetted by Parliament.

The anti-corruption commission had accused Kimemia of blocking the suspension of a former Kenya Airports Authority Managing Director and a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their mishandling of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Greenfield Terminal Project, and the purchase of the Tokyo Embassy property respectively.

The Parliamentary team ruled that the decisions made by the Cabinet on the matter were beyond Kimemia’s control. In its findings, the Committee said Kimemia had the necessary qualifications and vast experience in the public service that qualified him for the position of Secretary to the Cabinet.

Indeed, Kimemia had risen through the ranks, having started as District Officer and rising to Permanent Secretary and now to his current position as Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet. “Mr Kimemia has never been implicated in any known scandal during his official capacity,” the report said in the findings.

During the vetting, the Committee said, Kimemia, who would later become the Governor of Nyandarua County, exhibited impressive knowledge on issues touching on Public Service and was keen on making positive proposals on how to move the country forward. The Committee further said he had been involved in major reforms in the Civil Service, including police reforms and performance contracting.

A shy-looking and reserved government bureaucrat-cum-administrator, Kimemia started off serving in the Uhuru government as Head of Public Service and Cabinet Secretary until Joseph Kinyua was appointed to take over the role of Head of Public Service in September 2013.

The Presidency and Cabinet Affairs Office, as previously constituted, was charged with the organisation and coordination of government business, initiating policy and organising activities of the Cabinet and its committees. It provided policy advisories to public agencies and other stakeholders and served as a secretariat to the Cabinet.

Following the signing of the National Accord of 2008, after the disputed 2007 General Election, supervision and coordination of government business was assigned to the newly-created Office of the Prime Minister while the Presidency continued to provide the overall strategic leadership and policy direction to the entire government. Since independence, up to and during the National Accord era, the Permanent Secretary to the President, Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of Public Service (PSSC/HOPS) headed the office. The Head of the Public Service in the capacity as Secretary to the Cabinet headed a secretariat that directly supported the President in the execution of Cabinet mandate and other functions.

Under the new Constitution, the Cabinet Secretary is an autonomous position with its own secretariat and functions. For the first time in Kenya’s history the nominee to this position was vetted by Parliament.

Kimemia was the first holder of the Cabinet Secretary position after it was separated from the Public Service arm, and was retained by the Uhuru administration mainly for “continuity”. In April 2013 while unveiling his first Cabinet, the President said: “In order to ensure a smooth transition, we have nominated Francis Kimemia as the Secretary to Cabinet.”

Kimemia said in an interview that one of his main roles was following up the implementation of the government agenda. “You have to isolate issues and issue progress reports on what has been implemented,” he said.

Managing the Cabinet agenda is crucial for a new government and with the experience from the Kibaki administration, Kimemia became a key cog in the transition and setting up of the new government. “There were new people in government and most of them came from the private sector, and therefore needed induction on how government works. They needed to understand that the Cabinet is guided by collective responsibility. That’s how we began to form a culture in the new administration.”

He says the transition was smooth and ideological alignment was easily achieved among Principal secretaries (PSs) and Cabinet secretaries (CSs), most of them drawn from the private sector. The challenge was fitting the now 18 CSs in government down from 45 ministers in the previous administration.

Kimemia came in handy since he understood how government works and helped the President and Deputy President William Ruto put together the right structures for the new government. He was the chairman of both the transition committee and handover process and so quickly became the nerve centre of Uhuru’s government.
During the first days of Uhuru’s Presidency Kimemia said he would sit with the President to set up the government agenda. “The government must continue operating even during transition and must work even without a Cabinet,” Kimemia said. “The President says what he wants and as Cabinet Secretary you see how that should be implemented.”

Kimemia spent about two years guiding the transition process and helped structure what became the foundation of Uhuru’s government. “You must set structures and systems of administration such that the government runs even when the political environment is toxic. That’s why despite the President having issues with his deputy, government functions were barely affected.”

When Uhuru took over government, Kimemia says there was no major overhaul except in parastatals. He says the President picked “very good” ministers who hit the ground running. “Uhuru has a sixth sense in picking people to work with. He is gifted in spotting good people,” said Kimemia, who also sat on the committee that picked the CSs.
On 25 April 2013, President Kenyatta appointed an 18-member Cabinet to start off his first term. Most were new faces with a sprinkling of known people from the political class. The Cabinet comprised the following: Fred Matiang’i (Information, Communication and Technology (ICT); Henry K. Rotich (The National Treasury); James Wainaina Macharia (Health); Ambassador Amina Mohamed (Foreign Affairs); Adan Mohammed (Industrialisation); Anne Waiguru (Devolution and Planning); Davis Chirchir (Energy and Petroleum); Ambassador Raychelle Omamo (Defence); Engineer Michael Kamau (Transport and Infrastructure); and Phyllis Chepkosgey (East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism).

Others were Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi (Education); Felix Koskei (Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries); Prof. Judi Wakhungu (Environment Water and Natural Resources); Dr. Hassan Wario (Sports, Culture and Arts); Najib Balala (Mining); and Charity Ngilu (Lands, Housing and Urban Development.

The first Cabinet meeting was held on 6 June 2013, chaired by the President, where he set the agenda for his government. Uhuru asked CSs to work towards delivering on the promises made by the Jubilee Alliance during the campaigns.

“You must take charge of your ministries, work as a team and get down to the business of serving the Kenyan people who are anxious to see the government deliver on its promises,” the President told the meeting at State House Nairobi.

Uhuru listed key areas where more focus should be placed: government service delivery, economic empowerment, social cohesion, poverty alleviation, food security, better and enhanced national security, implementation of the Constitution, including support for devolution, improved access to health and education.

As the President spoke, Kimemia took notes although he was the author of the script the Cabinet chair was reading. “As Cabinet secretaries you must be accessible to the public. This also applies to staff who work under you. We are all accountable to the people. You are responsible for your docket and staff who work in your ministries must deliver services to the people,” the President said.

The Deputy President also attended the Cabinet meeting. It was agreed that 14 Bills would be republished, while ministries would come up with the needed Bills to enable the government legislative agenda to be anchored in new policies and interventions needed to transform the country.

Barely two years after being inaugurated, some CSs were implicated in corruption, marking the beginning of the end for a good number of them.

On 29 March 2015 Ngilu, the Lands CS, stepped aside following a directive by the Head of State that all officials of the county and national governments named by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) report on graft step down pending investigations.

Ngilu was under investigation for links to a cartel that was responsible for the fraudulent acquisition of land through her ministry. She was accused of receiving kickbacks after the overvaluation of pieces of land purchased by the national government.

Koskei (Agriculture), Chirchir (Energy), Kazungu Kambi (Labour) and Kamau (Transport and Infrastructure) were suspended in March 2015 as they were under investigation over graft. Waiguru, CS for Devolution and Planning, was subject to investigations in a scandal involving the loss of KES 790 million by the National Youth Service (NYS).
She resigned as CS on 21 November 2015, stating that the decision had nothing to do with charges against her but rather medical issues and a doctor’s recommendation.

On November 22, 2015, the President announced his first Cabinet reshuffle, dropping the five CSs linked to corruption. He appointed Dan Kazungu (Labour), Charles Keter (Energy) and Willy Bett (Agriculture). Mwangi Kiunjuri, a former MP, made a debut to Uhuru’s Cabinet, replacing Waiguru as Devolution and Planning CS. Macharia was moved to the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, taking over from Kamau and was replaced by Cleopa Mailu as CS for Health. The appointments keenly respected the pre-election political agreement to share posts between Uhuru and Ruto.

Of the original 18, only 6 — Matiang’i, Macharia, Omamo, Mohamed, Mohammed and Balala — served to the end of the President’s second and last term in office.

Kimemia was loathed and respected in almost equal measure. He was as controversial as it gets. In February 2014, he accused the US development agency, USAID, of funding anti-government protests in Nairobi. Kimemia had then claimed the National Security Advisory Committee had evidence that USAID had given money to two activists who had organised demonstrations in the city, but US ambassador Robert Godec dismissed the claims.

As Uhuru firmed up his hold on government, and with Public Service part of the job gone to Kinyua, Kimemia’s public standing continued to wither under the Jubilee administration.

The sacking of Kimemia as Secretary to the Cabinet by the President on 17 April 2015 ended a long Civil Service career of one the most powerful personalities in both Kibaki’s and Uhuru’s administrations. Kimemia’s powerful Cabinet position went to Interior PS Monica Juma, a career ambassador and former university lecturer.

Two weeks before he left the Cabinet, Kimemia had stepped aside to allow for investigations after he was flagged by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission over alleged graft. His exit from government opened a new door in politics.

He is among former Cabinet insiders who stepped aside due to corruption but ended up being elected in the 2017 elections. Kimemia became the Nyandarua County Governor, Waiguru became Kirinyaga County Governor while Ngilu was elected Governor of Kitui County.

What may have seemed a bleak and abrupt ending to Kimemia’s splendid career in Public Service ended up with a coveted gubernatorial position.

Joseph Ole Lenku: Reluctant warrior

President Uhuru Kenyatta interacts with Joseph Ole Lenku at the Mombasa Agricultural Society of Kenya (ASK) national show.

Often coming across as lost and perplexed during press conferences, it seemed as if Joseph ole Lenku, the former Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government, would much rather have been somewhere else, not answering questions about his docket. Hardly surprising considering he was a most unlikely pick for the position.

Virtually unknown before his dramatic unveiling — the appointment came long after his colleagues had been named — the nation was as stunned as the nominee himself. The career hotelier told a Citizen TV interviewer in 2019 that he never expected to be appointed to the Cabinet because he had applied to be a Principal Secretary and had even been shortlisted.

“I was called to State House and I was hoping that the President would confirm my appointment as PS. But in an interesting turn of events, I was appointed CS for Interior. I think that drama is in the public (domain),” Lenku told the interviewer.

The former General Manager of Utalii College, the oldest hospitality training school in the country, was speaking long after he had been relieved of his duties following a series of terrorist and bandit attacks that had rocked the country during his tenure as CS.

How then did a virtually unknown individual without any of the charisma or authority that would be expected of the holder of such a critical government docket get appointed?

A closer look at the nominee’s pedigree and the constitutional requirement that Cabinet secretaries were meant to be apolitical presents some hints. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s headhunters must have been looking for a clean broom, so to speak; someone without any baggage, to clean up a docket that had for years been characterised by endemic corruption. They must also have considered Lenku’s rich lineage of leadership. His father was Senior Chief Lenku ole Mpaa, whose family Uhuru had interacted when Jomo Kenyatta (Uhuru’s father) was President. Uhuru knew Lenku, his junior by seven years, according to the former CS.

“People asked, ‘How did the President know that this person comes from a leadership lineage?” Lenku said during the press interview.

In 2015, during Mpaa’s funeral, the connection between the two families was revealed. In his eulogy, Uhuru noted that Mpaa was a man of enormous influence and outstanding ability among his peers. Lenku’s father was one of the wealthiest Maasai leaders of his time, with more than 2,000 head of cattle, as well as a respected leader of the Ilterito age-group of the Maasai community. Lenku’s mother, Sentema, also hailed from a powerful Maasai family.

A government official’s admission that he was appointed to a position he did not expect and was unsure about managing was a first in Kenya’s history. Yet Lenku was also speaking from both sides of the mouth because he stiffly resisted earlier attempts to have him resign. He would also later claim, incredibly, that he went to State House and asked the President to relieve him of his duties because the pressure was too much.

Lenku’s appointment had been heavily criticised — especially after the terrorist attacks and the CS’s handling of them. Kenyans wondered why the President had appointed someone with neither the experience nor the communication acumen required to manage such a crucial docket.

Lenku was fired barely 16 months after his appointment following a series of attacks in Nairobi, Mombasa, Mandera and Turkana counties that were blamed on dysfunctional relationships between the country’s security agencies.

He would then blame his sacking on what he termed an “online massacre” of his character. The online criticism followed the CS’s responses to one attack after another. For instance, after the Westgate Mall terrorist attack in September 2013 that left more than 60 people dead and another 200 wounded, Lenku irked Kenyans when he issued a statement about the thick black smoke seen emanating from the building that had come under attack — he said the smoke was the result of the terrorists burning mattresses. The CS did not seem aware that the Kenya Defence Forces had dislodged the police and were bombing the mall to smoke out the terrorists.

When the President was later asked to describe his worst regret, he answered that it was taking too long to reorganise security systems in the country and this had led to rampant insecurity.
“It took longer than it should have to do the reorganisation that we did in the security forces. I would say that we should have done that a little earlier,” he stated.

While Lenku had Mutea Iringo, an experienced administrator, as his Principal Secretary, it did not help matters that Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo came across as being just as clueless as his boss. Kimaiyo would exit with Lenku in December 2014, when the President sacked the latter and replaced him with the more experienced and respected Joseph Nkaissery.

But Lenku would have the last laugh when, barely three years later he achieved the incredible feat of ousting the University of Edinburgh-educated David Nkedianye as Governor of Kajiado County in the 2017 General Election. On the campaign trail he was known to announce himself as the “burning mattresses” guy or the cook who would bake a cake for all Kajiado residents to eat to their fill – in reference to his detractors’ caricaturing of his career in hospitality and failed tenure as Interior CS.

“When I went into politics, people would ask, ‘Is this the Westgate guy?’ I was advised by my friends to stop introducing myself like that because I already had a bad image as a failure. But my story would not be complete without mentioning faith, courage and family support even during the Westgate crisis,” Lenku said.

Despite the sensitivity and severity of the situations he had to handle as CS for Interior, it was not all gloom and doom. There may have been consensus about his public display of failure, but Lenku did oversee important security sector reforms during his time in office, including a crackdown on drug trafficking, changes in the police force, including an increase in its budget, and the decentralisation of security.

And after the Westgate attack, Lenku oversaw the implementation of a new security system dubbed ‘Nyumba Kumi’ (10 homes), which was based on the broader idea of community policing.

Some of his reforms were, however, unpopular. For instance, it was during his tenure that the government proposed amendments to the security laws that would allow the tapping of citizens’ phones and restricted media reporting on terrorist activities. The Opposition, led by Raila Odinga, and civil society groups cried foul, saying the Security Laws (Amendment) Act 2014 infringed on civil liberties provided for in the Constitution.

The Bill included clauses that could drastically curtail press freedom in Kenya when it came to reporting terrorist attacks and matters of national security, and stated hefty penalties for anybody found guilty of violations.
The International Press Institute (IPI) voiced concerns that the measures would remove several checks and balances on the President’s authority and expand the monitoring powers of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) without providing proper oversight.

In February 2015, five judges — Isaac Lenaola, Mumbi Ngugi, Hedwig Ong’udi, Hillary Chemitei and Joseph Louis Onguto — declared the seven sections of the Bill unconstitutional for violating the freedom of expression and the media guaranteed under Articles 33 and 34 of the Constitution. The sections were expunged.

The CS also kicked up a storm in March 2014 when he announced that all refugees outside of the designated refugee camps must be relocated owing to rising security challenges in urban centres. Kenyans were told to report any refugees found outside the camps to the authorities. The government also promised to deploy an additional 500 police officers in cities “to enhance security and surveillance”.

In what was dubbed ‘Usalama Watch,’ Kenyans of Somali descent were profiled, with thousands arrested and others forcibly relocated to Somalia or expelled. The operation went against Kenya’s responsibilities as a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, which states that member states should not allow changes to laws that would infringe on the safety and rights of refugees at a time when they would face danger if forcefully returned to their countries of origin that are still unstable.

Having re-invented himself and winning the Kajiado governorship, Lenku demonstrated some robust leadership skills, such as when he took the war to land cartels that had turned the lives of many Kajiado residents into a nightmare. In one of its most landmark decisions, the county government under his charge introduced new validation processes in order to authenticate land ownership and stop the innocent from being dispossessed of their property. Then there was the time he came to the rescue of 26 women traders who were almost jailed in Tanzania for allegedly being in the country illegally. The governor points to his winning of the governorship as well as his “achievements in the county” as a vindication of his capabilities.

Born in October 1970, Lenku’s early years, like those of other Maasai boys of his time, revolved around livestock and life in the bush. The long hours spent herding goats and calves on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro under extreme weather conditions —the scorching sun of December to March or the pounding rains of April to September every year — taught a young Lenku a lot about hardship. No doubt the lessons would come in handy when he faced the storms of his adult life.

It was David Lovatt Smith, a conservationist and former warden in Amboseli National Park, who nudged Lenku’s father to allow him to go to school if he wanted the boy to be a chief like him. It was then that he began his education at Lenkisim Primary School in Kajiado South. He moved to two other primary schools, Ilbisil and Nkama, before settling in D.E.B. Loitokitok for his Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) exams.

Lenku proceeded to Nakuru High School where he obtained his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education qualification in 1990. Instead of joining Kenyatta University, he opted for Kenya Utalii College where he got a diploma in hotel management in 1995. Thereafter he went to the University of Nairobi for a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing and a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management. He also received numerous certificates from different institutions, including one for project management from Greece’s OTE Academy and another from the Centre for Corporate Governance in Nairobi.

When he graduated from Utalii, Lenku worked in corporate sector management, beginning at the prestigious Serena Hotels as an assistant lodge manager for two years. In 1998, Lenku moved to the Serengeti Serena in Tanzania where he developed training standards for the food and beverage departments and for which he got commendation from the top leadership of Serena Hotels.

In 2002 he resigned from his job with Serena Hotels to run for the Kajiado South parliamentary seat.

“My boss at Serena, Jan Mohammed, advised me against abandoning a lucrative job and going into politics. He released me halfheartedly and told me I was free to come back because I was going to fail. Indeed I lost, but I did not go back because I was too embarrassed,” Lenku would later say.

He lost to Geoffrey Parpai, a Democratic Party stalwart who also worked in government in the early years of President Mwai Kibaki’s administration as the Minister for Public Service.

Only time will tell what Lenku, the reluctant government warrior, will be remembered for — the fire he faced as CS for Interior or shrewd politics that saw him triumph when Kenyans would have expected otherwise.

Kazungu Kambi: An affable political punster

Samuel Kazungu Kambi is a member of Uhuru Cabinets’ dramatic and cacophonous ilk. The former Kilifi County MP and grassroots mobiliser with a long, uproarious laugh and folksy charm was a farceur politician, jerky in oratorial grasp when expressing himself in English and seemingly out of place in Jubilee’s first Cabinet filled with men and women of notable expertise.

The idea was that those appointed to the Cabinet would devote their full attention to their ministerial responsibilities, as opposed to the past, when ministers were expected to fulfill their political responsibilities as well as represent their constituencies in Parliament.

While some politicians became Cabinet Secretaries in the Uhuru Administration, the men and women in these positions were mostly technocrats.

There was also a vibrant mix of the cerebral and the brawny, the reserved and the dramatic, the mellifluous and the cacophonous. Gardens with multicolored blossoms are said to be a riot of colour. Given the diverse composition of Uhuru’s Cabinets, we can safely say that his key aides, including Kazungu Kambi, represent the most diverse range of career backgrounds.

Samuel Kazungu Kambi is a member of Uhuru Cabinets’ dramatic and cacophonous ilk. Kazungu, a former Kilifi County MP who served as Cabinet Secretary for Labour and Social Protection during the Jubilee administration, was a bit of an outcast.

Former Assistant Minister for Medical Services in President Kibaki’s and Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Grand Coalition Government, he joined the Cabinet in mid-2013 after a failed bid to become the first governor of Kilifi County.

Kambi was not one of the favorites for the job because circumstances were not in his favour at the time. But then, most of Kambi was essentially political, and to make matters worse from the coastal region, a bloc that had voted against the incoming Jubilee administration.

Najib Balala, another regional politician, had already been appointed to the Tourism post by the President. The President’s ministerial folio still had gaps that needed to be filled in order to have a Cabinet that projected the face of Kenya with a complement of no more than 22 Cabinet Secretaries, as required by the Constitution.

But fate would still favor the ‘Little Whiteman,’ as his first name means in Giriama. Kambi, an affiliate of William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP), which had teamed up with Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) to romp to power in 2013, joined Balala, the former MP for Mvita in neighboring Mombasa, to become the President’s men in the Cabinet from the Coast.

As the President staggered his appointments, Kambi was among the last to join Cabinet. When President Uhuru Kenyatta took office, he filled 16 of his initial 18 Cabinet slots, leaving two open as he sought qualified candidates for the crucial Interior and Coordination of National Government portfolios, as well as Labour.

Kambi joined the Cabinet in June 2013, along with Joseph Ole Lenku, whose tenure was also brief. Lenku was the first CS to be dropped in 2014, as the country experienced increased insecurity and the apparent mishandling of the 2013 Westgate Mall terror attack.

According to analysts, Uhuru Kenyatta appears to have prioritised political considerations over technocratic endowment and appeal by appointing Kambi, a farceur politician, jerky in oratorial grasp when expressing himself in English, as Cabinet Secretary for Labour, Social Security, and Services in 2013.

For the man with the long, uproarious laugh and the folksy charm seemed out of place in Jubilee’s first Cabinet, which was filled with men and women of notable expertise in a variety of professions. Even in the case of Balala and Charity Ngilu, two hard-core politicians, the country benefited from long and stable ministerial records dating back to President Kibaki’s first term in the 2000s.

Kambi, a grassroots mobiliser, was seen as an asset in assuaging the restive Mijikenda from the Coast, who felt marginalised by successive administrations and had voted nearly unanimously for Odinga, Kenyatta’s opponent in the 2022 General Election.

Kambi joined Uhuru’s Cabinet after his failed governorship bid and was rewarded for overcoming the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) wave on the Coast.

Kambi’s tenure as Cabinet Secretary, however, was far shorter than his laughter. By the time he was asked to resign in 2015, he had become more well-known for his public antics than for his contributions to the Ministry he was supposed to oversee.

During his vetting by the Parliamentary Vetting Committee, as required by law, after being nominated by President Uhuru Kenyatta to the Cabinet, he amused the country by pledging that he would lead from the front on corruption, implying the opposite of what he really meant.

“When it comes to corruption, I lead by being in front. Not from being behind.” MPs laughed. He was saying the exact opposite of what he meant. Despite his goofs and apparent inability to steer such a critical docket, Kambi got a resounding nod by Parliament that commended him to serve as Cabinet Secretary.

“He has never been dismissed from office for contravention of the provisions of Article 75 of the Constitution which deals with the conduct of State officers that are adversely mentioned in any investigatory report of Parliament or any Commission of Inquiry,” the Parliamentary Committee on Appointments said while approving his nomination.
Despite the flaws revealed during his vetting, his approval and subsequent appointment to the Cabinet were well received in his home county, confirming President Uhuru Kenyatta’s wisdom in selecting him.

Various Coast lobbies, including mainstream Muslim groups, noted that the appointment would be strategic for the Jubilee team on the Coast, as it would aid in wooing the Mijikenda.

“The Mijikenda are the majority in Coast and the inclusion of Mr Kazungu is appealing to the community and may help Jubilee get support come 2017. I now urge Kazungu and Balala to put their political differences aside and work together for the benefit of the country and Coast,” Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council (Kemnac) chairman Sheikh Juma Ngao said.

Kazungu Kambi engages in a conversation Governor Alfred Mutua at his office in Machakos county.

Despite this approval, Kambi continued to engage in unconventional behaviour unbefitting of his high office, frequently attracting fierce opposition from the leaders of the trade unions with whom he had frequent dealings.
The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) and the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) were among the organisations that questioned his fitness to hold the position as soon as he took office.

In court, a petitioner also questioned Kambi’s academic credentials, claiming that allowing Kambi to continue serving as Cabinet Secretary would jeopardise good governance and constitutional disciplines of suitability and competence.

However, the case was dismissed because it violated Kambi’s fundamental rights under the constitution.
“The CS does not hold an elected post but was appointed by the President. Appointments are different from election,” High Court judge Justice David Majanja ruled.

The unions, led by veteran workers’ rights defender Francis Atwoli, Cotu Secretary General and Knut Chairman Wilson Sossion, were quickly on Kambi’s case, pressing the Jubilee administration to keep their promises to the workers, including increased pay.

Knut issued a strike notice less than a month after taking office, demanding full implementation of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed with the government in 1997. Kambi dismissed KNUT’s demands that the government implement a 1997 agreement requiring the government to improve teachers’ living conditions.

“KNUT does not have a case and I would advise them to get a (new) collective bargaining agreement. Going to the streets does not solve the issue but coming to the table solves almost all the issues,” Kambi said.
But Sossion was unsatisfied with Kambi’s response, noting that the new administration had gone back on its promise to implement the agreement.

At some point, when the minister became adamant, he attracted opprobrium from Sossion who remarked: “I think we have a wrong minister, I think we need a more literate minister in the office,” remarks that would be met in equal force from Kambi’s own acerbic mouth.

The minister’s choicest attacks were, however, spared for Atwoli with whom he had an uncanny semblance in mien and perhaps also, substance, save for the latter’s surprisingly eloquent though oftentimes hilariously rendered statements. Some pundits averred that President Kenyatta appointed Kambi minister of Labour seeing him as a befitting match for the ebullient, cantankerous and often unkempt Atwoli. The two—predictably—clashed from the word go, their unabated fights lasting throughout Kambi’s short-lived tenure.

In 2014, the two went after each other over a multibillion project by the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). The project, dubbed Tassia II, was a Ksh5 billion real-estate investment by the parastatal in Nairobi’s Embakasi district.
The two leaders feuded over its procurement after it emerged that a Chinese company had been awarded the contract for the project.

“I now want my good friend (Atwoli) to tell us what his interests were for him to issue these statements while he had been given the opportunity to say why this project should not go on,” said Kambi while pushing the project. While vowing an absence of personal interest in the project, Atwoli asked for the sacking of the CS, arguing the tender for the project had been inflated and questioned its award to the Chinese firm.

Atwoli petitioned President Kenyatta to appoint a “competent Cabinet Secretary to the Labour docket.” “What we are requesting is for the President to sack this man (Kambi),” said Atwoli.

On February 7, 2015, Kabete MP George Muchai, also Atwoli’s deputy at Cotu, was shot dead on Uhuru Highway in Nairobi by unknown people. Later, Atwoli would sue Kambi for allegedly defaming him. He demanded Ksh500 million from the minister for allegedly linking him to the murder of Muchai. The case was later dismissed in 2015 for lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, the squabbles continued. “I have retired from the board of trustees (of NSSF) today Mr Francis Atwoli and Mrs Jackline Mugo who have served in the board for 15 and 11 years, respectively,” he would say in one of the numerous press conferences he called to ‘sack’ Atwoli.

The latter would counter that the minister did not have the “slightest authority to whatsoever under any known law of the land to retire me or any representative of the Kenya Federation of Employees (FKE).”
Kambi was invoking the NSSF Act 2013 that stipulates that no member can serve for more than two of the three-year terms, to which Atwoli replied that he was starting his new term under a new law, and that he had six more years to go.

He added that in any event, if the minister wanted to reform NSSF he could not touch the independent representatives and could only work with the government appointees including the chairman.

Not one to be bogged down, Kambi marched on. And there was never a dull moment during his tenure. He could shout in interviews, throwing words and figures that did not make sense, without batting an eyelid. “The Kenya rural electrification programme has been electrifying the country, averagely about 300 people per year. But if you look at this budget, it is about 1.5 people who are going to be electrified,” he told one television interviewer in his characteristic high pitch, leaving the country at a loss as to what numbers he really meant, with some joking that he might have been talking about electrocution.

These theatrics ended in 2015 when President Kenyatta asked ministers accused of corruption to step aside. Five ministers, Kambi among, them left. The other CSs were Michael Kamau of Transport, Charity Ngilu of Lands, Felix Koskei (Agriculture) and Davis Chirchir (Energy).

The Ethics and Anticorruption Commission (EACC) accused Kambi of pushing for the NSSF Tassia II project despite clear indications that the board of trustees had not approved the upward review of the project’ cost from Ksh3 billion to Ksh5 billion.

Kambi was succeeded at NSSF House, the headquarters of the Ministry, by Phyllis Kandie whose docket of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism was reorganised to become East African Community, Labour and Social Protection.

To keep the ethnic balance in the Cabinet, President Kenyatta brought in Dan Kazungu, then ODM MP for Malindi Constituency and put him in charge of Mining.

After a four-year stint in the cold, President Kenyatta nominated Kambi to the Land Commission. And once again he lit up the Parliamentary Vetting Committee with his never-dying theatrics. During his vetting for the Land Commissioner job in 2019 he broke into a prolonged hearty laughter when he as was challenged for reading from notes known as ‘Mwakenya’ in street parlance, while responding to questions. After his long laughter that infected the whole Committee, he proudly explained that he wrote the notes himself.

That explanation was needed because Kambi’s lack of expressive prowess in English had been long noted. Indeed, even his reading of the notes scribbled on the palm of his hand, were laboured and hardly coherent. Kambi incredibly, told MPs that he was now studying for a PhD in Finance and Management and went ahead to struggle to read—again—from some notes what his dissertation was all about.

When asked to explain his research area he said rather incoherently: “It includes econometric (sic) and econometric basically involve (sic) solving phenomenon (sic) problem (sic) using statistic and mathematic or algebraic (sic) to solve this problem as a method.”

Earlier, explaining away his 2013 gaffe on corruption he said, “What I meant was if I am found guilty, I should not only be taken to court, but I should be shot,” he said, then went back to his line on being an academic. “I am an academician my brother,” he said, proudly. In all these gaffes, Kambi was not just unbothered, but actually appeared to enjoy it all, laughing uproariously for a very long time.

A man who did not see or hear anything he did not want to laugh at, Kambi went ahead to enjoy himself noisily for the rest of the vetting session, forcing Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka to warn that the House was becoming a house of comedy.

Born 60 years ago at Kwademu in Kilifi, Kambi dropped out of Standard Three because his parents could not pay fees, but would later go back to school “because of his passion for education.”

He blames debilitating poverty for his checkered education and credits it for helping him rise against all odds to the highest decision-making organ in the government.

Kambi told the Parliamentary vetting committee that despite schooling breaks in between he attended Mbooni Boys’ High School and Kilala School in Machakos where he completed his O Level certificate in 1987. A manager at the Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation from 1987 to 1992, Kambi holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Development Studies and a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from University of Eastern Africa, Baraton.

In spite of the drama that characterised his two-year tenure as CS, Kambi, whose Principal Secretary was Ali Noor Ismail, prides himself on his LinkedIn page for raising the NSSF revenue per month from KES 400,000 to Ksh. 1.2 billion by the time he left in 2015.

Kambi is also credited for the reviving National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) and was instrumental in the establishment of the National Employment Authority vide an Act of Parliament that seeks to connect job seekers with employers.

He also says he enhanced the growth of the National Cash Transfer Programme, a support scheme for the elderly and the disabled. Thus, Samuel Kazungu Kambi was one of the few odd ones out in a Cabinet that was highly technocratic. In appointing him to the Cabinet, President Kenyatta walked a tight rope in a task that requires more nuances beyond the narrow letter of the Constitution.

Mutahi Kagwe: PR guru turned Covid-19 slayer

Mutahi Kagwe briefs the media on measures to fight the spread of Covid-19 accompanied by Head of the Public Service Joseph Kinyua and other Government officials.

On 14 January 2020, His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta reshuffled his Cabinet and nominated Mutahi Kagwe to take charge of the Ministry of Health. This was barely one month after the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in China. As the rapid spread of the disease began to cause alarm across the world, Kenyans’ attention was fixed on Kagwe to see which direction he would take against the disease’s onslaught.

The new Cabinet Secretary (CS) was sworn in on 28 February 2020 and he subsequently assumed office as the Jubilee government’s fourth Health CS. He took over from Sicily Kariuki, who had been transferred to the Ministry of Labour. On the same day that Kagwe was sworn in, the President issued Executive Order No. 2 of 2020 that occasioned the establishment of a National Emergency Response Committee (NERC). The Executive Order addressed, to some extent, the rising anxiety about Kenya’s preparedness to combat the coronavirus that was fast crossing borders and claiming lives. Aside from facilitating the establishment of NERC, the Executive Order subsumed the Cabinet’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Health and the Inter-Ministerial Technical Committee on Government Response to the Coronavirus Virus Outbreak into NERC. Kagwe was named chairperson of the newly created committee.

Among other key roles, Uhuru tasked the commission with: (1) coordinating capacity building of medical personnel and professionals for quick and effective response to suspected cases; (2) coordinating national and county government health facilities for isolation and treatment; and (3) ensuring surveillance at all ports/points of entry in Kenya.

The work began immediately for the NERC chairperson. His first statement, aimed at preparing the country psychologically for the impending pandemic, was made on 5 March 2020 during a meeting with the Council of Governors. In an attempt to rally the county heads to ensure adequate and proper preparation, he told them that the onset of the coronavirus in Kenya was “a matter of when, not if”. Kagwe set the whole country on alert mode with his statement. Indeed, the level of awareness and anxiety would be revealed about a week later, when a video of a plane allegedly landing from China on March 11 appeared on social media platforms.

The video elicited strong reactions from members of the public, prompting Parliament’s Departmental Committee on Health to summon key members of NERC, including Kagwe, CS for Transport, James Macharia, and Principal Secretary (PS) for Interior and National Government Coordination, Karanja Kibicho. Kagwe assured the House and Kenyans at large that the government was sufficiently prepared to handle any coronavirus cases. He exuded confidence when he announced NERC’s strategies for building the capacity of health workers and facilities to respond to the virus. He also explained that even before creating NERC, the President had directed that an isolation and treatment facility be put up at Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi and that all Level 5 and referral hospitals should follow suit.

Kagwe was no stranger to the demands of public service, having previously served in President Mwai Kibaki’s Cabinet as Minister for Information, Communication and Technology (ICT). He returned to the Cabinet during Uhuru’s tenure under the 2010 Constitution, a new dispensation in which the bulk of Cabinet secretaries was drawn from non-political individuals. Kagwe made a comeback after losing his Senate seat in Nyeri County in the 2017 General Election, bringing with him the experience he had acquired during his stint in Kibaki’s Cabinet.
Kagwe was also a Member of Parliament (MP) for Mukurwe-ini Constituency (2002–2007), during which time he chaired the powerful Parliamentary Committee on Finance, Trade, Tourism and Planning. This no doubt boosted his qualification for a seat in Uhuru’s Cabinet when the time came.

While heading the ICT docket under Kibaki, Kagwe spearheaded the construction of the Transitional East African Marine System (TEAM), the first fibre optic project in East Africa, which heralded the dramatic digital revolution experienced in the country. It was also during his tenure as the ICT minister that Kenya’s flagship mobile money transfer platform, M-Pesa, was launched. The transformative platform quickly set the pace for economic growth and development.

Having been awarded the prestigious Elder of the Golden Heart honour for his exemplary service, Kagwe’s appointment to the Health docket in 2020 seemed a masterstroke of sorts.

On 12 March 2020, Kenya confirmed its first case of the coronavirus. The newly-appointed Health CS announced that the case was a Kenyan citizen who had just returned from USA through the United Kingdom on 5 March. The CS informed the public that the case was being managed at the Infectious Disease Unit at Kenyatta National Hospital. Meanwhile, the National Influenza Centre Laboratory, an important facility at the National Public Health Laboratory, was activated and resourced to lead the fight against the virus. In his calm but exacting manner, which would prove vital as the government began to provide daily updates about the spread of the disease, Kagwe assured the country that the government had put measures in place to curb any spread in Kenya. As most countries began to close their borders, Kenyans became increasingly worried about their relatives still stuck in foreign countries, including China where the disease originated. Kagwe again expressed confidence in the government’s preparedness to ensure that Kenyans all over the world remained safe.

The World Health Organization’s requirement that all countries provide daily updates on new cases of Covid-19 made Kagwe a regular fixture on national television. He spoke passionately each time, explaining the government’s efforts to fight the disease and rallying Kenyans to strictly follow the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health. He was soon christened “the Covid CS” and people began to joke that whenever he appeared on national television, even children would frown as they waited with bated breath for new details on the fast-spreading virus.

Within no time, international observers had taken note of Kagwe’s hands-on management of the crisis. In one of its articles, The Wall Street Journal singled him out as a voice that provided hope and helped the world adjust in response to the pandemic. The article described him as an unlikely coronavirus hero. “Kenya’s unlikely coronavirus hero is Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe, a businessman with an MBA who had been washed out of elective office. In politics, Mr Kagwe was seen as a technocrat; too ordinary and emotionally distant. In his coronavirus briefings, these traits became assets,” read the article, further stating that his calm demeanour and emphasis on facts earned him an 8/10 rating on crisis leadership.

The Covid-19 pandemic tested global health systems to the limit. In Kenya, citizens looked to the government’s policies on health as grounds to test the resilience of the national health system. Under the banner of ‘Continuing the Transformation’, the 2017 Jubilee Party manifesto shared the dream to build a healthy nation and a productive workforce. The manifesto recognised the close link between health and economics, promising to reduce healthcare costs that were quickly driving many Kenyan families into financial crises.

The government had also promised to extend free, high-quality primary healthcare to all Kenyans by continuing the drive towards universal healthcare coverage. The President’s target was to get more than 13 million Kenyans on health insurance through the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) by 2022. There were also plans to increase access to health facilities at community level, scale up the Managed Equipment Programme and establish a cold chain system for the delivery of drugs and vaccines. Other government efforts included reducing maternal and child mortality rates through free maternal delivery services in public health facilities. The Ministry of Health also made strategic interventions to implement the rolling out of the Universal Health Coverage pillar of the Big Four Agenda (the others being Food Security, Affordable Housing and Manufacturing) and waged war against malaria through awareness campaigns and distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets. The government managed to significantly reduce the incidence of malaria from 31 per cent to 18 per cent.

The devolution of health services was another landmark legislation in Kenya’s healthcare system. The 2010 Constitution envisaged this as a step towards building capacity across the country as county governments were given the responsibility to manage health facilities, promote primary healthcare, and coordinate disease surveillance and response at county level. The national government retained the role of policy making, financing, monitoring and evaluation, education, and management of national referral hospitals and agencies such as the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA). Despite teething problems with the devolution of health services, many counties have since made significant progress towards establishing standard health facilities, developing comprehensive healthcare standards and creating strong healthcare workforces.

It is against this background that Kagwe readied the resources at his disposal to combat the coronavirus, which was already ravaging some of the world’s most advanced healthcare systems. China, the United Kingdom and USA had rapidly become red spots on the Covid-19 statistics map. These were no ordinary times and extraordinary measures beckoned. Under Kagwe, the Ministry of Health consistently issued directives and guidelines to help curb the spread of the virus, including the strict observance of hand and respiratory hygiene, social distancing and isolation where necessary. The government also moved quickly to close schools, businesses and markets, and reintroduced new measures for public events and the use of public transport vehicles. When some individuals, institutions and businesses were slow to take up the crisis measures, Kagwe’s voice rang out, warning that if the country chose to treat the disease normally, it would in turn treat Kenyans abnormally.

Riding on his background and experience as a media practitioner, the CS worked with his ICT counterpart to create a comprehensive media strategy. The Media Council of Kenya joined in to launch a one-stop-shop portal for media professionals to ensure the availability and dissemination of accurate and timely information on Covid-19. The government invested heavily in awareness campaigns and by June 2020, about KES 3.77 billion had been spent on advertising and other awareness creation strategies as Kagwe rallied his team to adopt a ubiquitous presence across almost all media platforms to make sure accurate information on the virus was being disseminated at all times. This strategy would eventually encompass a meticulous tracking and certification system once vaccines started being administered in the country.

Inevitably, the strict Covid-19 prevention measures led many countries into socio-economic crisis. With markets, businesses and offices closed, millions of people lost their economic footholds and faced the very real threat of starvation and death. The Government of Kenya under President Kenyatta proved resolute and decisive in the crisis by maintaining close coordination with key stakeholders — both local and international — thereby attracting donations in cash and kind to aid the fight against Covid-19. Kenya became one of the icons of hope in Africa with regard to leading the war against the virus. During a virtual conference dubbed KUSI Ideas Festival in December 2020, sponsored by the Nation Media Group, the President called on his African peers to embrace collaboration and partnership in the war against the pandemic.

Back home, he had taken several measures to cushion the population against the economic and social impacts of the disease. Just four months after Kenya recorded its first case of Covid-19, the President rolled out his 8-point Economic Stimulus Programme worth KES 53.7 billion. Among other things, the stimulus targeted infrastructure — KES 5 billion was set aside for the rehabilitation of access roads, footbridges and other public infrastructure. This was partly to ensure that accessibility was not a hindrance to the government’s emergency response to Covid-19 in terms of medical supplies or relief food.

The Ministry of Health also benefited from the stimulus programme as the President secured the services of an additional 5,000 healthcare workers to enhance the Covid-19 response capacity. Some KES 1.7 billion were also set aside to expand the bed capacity in public hospitals. Medical research and development institutions such as KEMRI also received critical financial support to speed up the search for local solutions in the war against Covid-19.
Thanks to the government’s coordination with KEMRI, Kenya was among the first African nations to secure deals that would see vaccines arrive in the country. These and similar efforts went a long way in ensuring that Kenya was able to slowly wind its way out of the extreme danger stage of the disease and allow for a phased reopening of the economy.

Kagwe’s most visible legacy at the helm of the Health docket shone through during one of Kenya’s darkest times. Once the country began to come out of the Covid-19 woods, his attention switched to the recovery of the devastated healthcare system and preparatory measures to mitigate any future unprecedented crises.

Since assuming office in 2013, Uhuru’s agenda for healthcare had pointed towards providing countrywide access to affordable healthcare. Under the Universal Health Coverage agenda, launched on a national scale in February 2022, he elaborated his vision for investing in public health facilities, thereby increasing the number from 4,429 to 6,342 in 2022. In Nairobi County alone, the President commissioned five new hospitals in the slum areas of Gichagi, Gatina, Tasia, Mukuru Kwa Rueben and Mukuru Kwa Njenga in July 2021.

The Ministry of Health also worked with KEMRI and KEMSA to develop the Kenya Essential Medicines List, Kenya Medical Laboratory List and Essential Medical Supplies List to ensure the availability of essential medicines and supplies in the country.

Outside of the country’s capital, Kagwe had proved himself to be the perfect arbitrator at the height of a healthcare crisis in Kisumu County following months of industrial action by medical workers, travelling to the lakeside city to help resolve the matter through an amicable and pragmatic solution.

Mwangi Kiunjuri: A gift of words and a law unto himself

Deputy President William Ruto and Mwangi Kiunjuri at a function in Lari on January 29, 2020.

When he started out as a politician, Festus Mwangi Kiunjuri was seen by many as a mere political rookie. But this would turn out to be a great underestimation of his prowess as things evolved over the years. Politics was always Kiunjuri’s passion. In university he was a fiery student leader, which probably shaped his future political exploits in a significant way.

Kiunjuri studied for a Bachelor of Education degree at Egerton University and graduated in 1994. Although he taught for a few years after graduating, his thoughts were fixed on something else. After a while he bought an old lorry and ventured into the transport business in Nanyuki Town, working as both owner and tout. He operated from the Nanyuki main bus terminus where he spent most of his free time discussing politics with the locals. It was from here that he started entertaining the idea of plunging into national politics.

Because he was quite well known in Nanyuki, he gained the trust of many locals in the area. He not only spoke their language but also mixed freely with them despite having a university education. This may have come easy for him because of his humble background. His father worked at a dispensary in the Kahurura Forest area in Kieni, Nyeri County, as a dresser while his mother was a housewife who engaged in peasant farming. Their meagre earnings were often stretched to the limit. In fact, Kiunjuri, the 11th out of 12 children, wore his first pair of shoes when he got to Standard Four. By age 10, it had become increasingly clear to him that he had to take his destiny into his own hands.

Born Kiunjuri Festus Mwangi on 29 April 1969, he attended Kahura Primary School and later joined Dr Kiano Boys School and Kangema High School for his secondary and high school education respectively. Throughout his years in school, he was known for working hard as he was determined to make a difference in his life. As a university student he sold clothes and vegetables on the side. He sourced the vegetables from Kinangop, where they were cheap and abundant, and sold them in Githurai in Nairobi. This helped him fund his education. The transport business was just another demonstration that he was not afraid of hard work. Add to that his oratory skills and eclectic mastery of the Gikuyu language — no wonder the Nanyuki locals saw in him a budding leader. And Kiunjuri did not disappoint.

However, older and more seasoned politicians in Laikipia dismissed him as a greenhorn and a mere transport tout who had no chance of ever breaking into their sphere. It was quite inconceivable to them that a tout could end up as a Member of Parliament. At the time, the Democratic Party was widely popular in the Mt. Kenya region and these political bigwigs wanted Mwai Kibaki, the party chief, to intervene so Kiunjuri would not carry the party ticket. But they had underestimated Kiunjuri’s resolve, which turned out to be a grave mistake.

Kiunjuri was a joy to listen to when he had the microphone. He was as brutal as he was humorous. Later, he responded to his detractors thus: “When I won the DP ticket (in the primaries), wealthy men wanted Mwai Kibaki to hear none of it. When they took their grievance to him, Kibaki told them that if Nanyuki had so many touts, it was only fair that one of them should represent them. That is how I became an MP.”

Kiunjuri threw his hat into the political ring in 1997. His opponents had the financial muscle while he was as poor as they come. He could not even afford the KES 50,000 required for nomination and ended up selling off his lorry to raise the funds. Through sheer tenacity and dogged determination, he ploughed through the tough political landscape with admirable panache. The people of Laikipia East Constituency rewarded him by electing him to Parliament on a Democratic Party ticket. He was only 28 years old.

So good was he at expressing himself that in 2017 the Speaker of the National Assembly, Justin Muturi, remarked: “I once told the President, ‘If there is one person we can count on to spread the word to our people, on condition that he speaks neither Kiswahili nor English, it is Mwangi Kiunjuri. This guy has a gift. Give him a microphone and let him speak in Gikuyu. Mr. President, that guy is good.’”

In Parliament Kiunjuri distinguished himself as a fearless debater, mercilessly battling more seasoned politicians. In 2002 and 2007 he was reelected to Parliament, by which time he had distinguished himself as a political heavyweight in the Mt. Kenya region. The man who had been grossly underestimated at the start of his political career had become the force to reckon with in Central Kenya’s politics. He was the chairman of the Grand National Union (GNU), the Organising Secretary of the Democratic Youth Congress and Chairman of the Democratic Youth Initiative. During his first term as MP he served as Vice Chairperson of the Parliamentary Investment Committee.

A calculating politician, Kiunjuri was longer on charm than smarts. He belonged in the category of politicians who could galvanise crowds by incandescent rhetoric without actually offering any means by which to actualise his promises. He did not have to — his oratory skills and powers of persuasion appeared to be all he needed to light up his political career. However, these qualities lost their charm in 2013, when he vied to become Governor of Laikipia County on a Grand National Union Party ticket. At the time he was swimming against the political currents as Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) party had become a strong force in the region. He lost the contest to little-known Joshua Irungu, the TNA candidate. Kiunjuri was later to say, “I was winning the Laikipia seat a few days to the election. Then Uhuru landed with his red choppers. From there things went south very fast.”

But his defeat was not fatal. There was still something in him that made him abidingly relevant. Uhuru, who was elected President in 2013, could not ignore his political clout. He fished Kiunjuri out of the political wilderness in 2015 and appointed him Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning to replace Anne Waiguru, who had headed the ministry since 2013. His star was on the rise again.

This was not the first time Kiunjuri was joining government, having served during President Kibaki’s tenure as Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the Ministry of Energy and later, the Ministry of Public Works (from 2002 to 2013). And before his appointment to Uhuru’s Cabinet he was Chairperson of the Athi Water Services Board.

After Uhuru’s reelection on 26 October 2017, Kiunjuri was appointed Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation. At the time, his relationship with the President was thought to be quite close given the fact that upon his reelection the President dropped quite a number of Cabinet secretaries but retained Kiunjuri. It is not known at exactly what point this relationship soured but on 14 January 2020, the President fired Kiunjuri and replaced him with Peter Munya. Political observers opined that the writing had been on the wall for some time as he had been fiercely criticised for his handling of the Agriculture docket.

It became abundantly clear that the President had lost faith in his Cabinet Secretary the day he rebuked him in public for paying maize cartels at the expense of farmers. A visibly annoyed Uhuru warned the CS that if he continued to pay the cartels, swift action would be taken against him. He was sacked shortly afterwards.

At one point during Kiunjuri’s tenure, when the country was ravaged by locusts, he asked members of the public to take photos of any insects suspected to be locusts and post them on social media platforms for official identification by his ministry. Kenyans responded with characteristic humour — they branded Kiunjuri the locust while others wondered, after his sacking, “Now that Kiunjuri has been sacked, to whom shall we send the photos of the locusts?”
Kiunjuri reacted with bravado to his sacking. He called a press conference shortly after and declared that he had been expecting the axe to fall on his head for some time. Claiming that he had had to endure humiliation, he described his time at the Ministry of Agriculture as walking on hot coals, but promised to be back.

“I have faced many challenges in my life journey. What I have never failed to do is to try. I have courage, determination and faith knowing it will be bumpy and challenging. We shall overcome. I shall remain as I have always been throughout my political career — independent, principled and firm. I urge my supporters to remain faithful … do not cry for me. Make no mistake I am not going anywhere. I will continue to serve this country. The cooking spoon has broken but the ugali must still be cooked. If a cow miscarries today, it will give birth again tomorrow.”

Kiunjuri’s departure from the Cabinet was also thought to have been occasioned by his stand on a number of issues. Widely thought to be Uhuru’s likely successor as the political kingpin of Central Kenya, an ambition he did a poor job of hiding, he was accused of openly challenging his boss’s supremacy in the region. In addition, at a time when the President appeared to have fallen out with the Deputy President, William Ruto, Kiunjuri was accused of being a Ruto sympathiser. This accusation had a ring of truth to it as Kiunjuri openly associated with what became known as the ‘Tanga Tanga’ movement spearheaded by the DP.

In 2017, Uhuru, with his eyes firmly fixed on promoting the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and building his legacy through the Big Four Agenda (under the pillars of Food Security, Affordable Housing, Manufacturing and Universal Health Coverage), implored his Cabinet secretaries to stay away from politics and help him achieve his goals instead. But Kiunjuri appeared bent on defying his boss — he went around Mt. Kenya to insist that the BBI blueprint must cater for the region’s interests. At one point he caused shockwaves when he convened a press conference at Parliament Buildings, which was attended by over 40 MPs, and openly defied the President’s stand on the BBI.

Kiunjuri knew the BBI and the Big Four Agenda were the President’s pet projects. None of that seemed to matter.
Political observers believe Kiunjuri was the architect of his own fate. Indisputably, he was a man who dreamt big and was admirably self-driven. But he also had an exaggerated sense of self-importance. For instance, when he was first appointed as Assistant Minister, he furiously called a press conference and dismissed the appointment as being too junior for him. He had apparently expected a full ministerial position. A few days later he ate humble pie and accepted the position.

His days at the Ministry of Water and Irrigation came to an abrupt end when he engaged in a public spat with his boss, Charity Ngilu, whom he accused of engaging in corruption. President Kibaki promptly fired him and replaced him with Ferdinand Waititu.

His defiant forays in the Mt. Kenya region against Uhuru were also not a new thing, having done the same against Kibaki when the latter was the undisputed political champion in the region. Small wonder then that he was fired from government, not once but twice, by two different administrations.

Willy Bett: The ultimate sector insider

Willy Bett with president Uhuru Kenyatta when he presided over the Nyeri ASK in 2017.

Willy Kipkorir Bett’s academic qualifications, professional preparation, and work experience made him one of the best picks to oversee agriculture, the backbone of Kenya’s economy.

Agriculture was a key pillar of the Jubilee administration’s Third Medium Term Plan, and the administration had come up with the Big Four Action Plan, often referred to as the Big Four Agenda, to accelerate delivery of projects and programmes in the sector under the pillar of Food Security and Nutrition.

The other three pillars are Affordable Housing, Universal Health Coverage, and Enhancing Manufacturing, the latter mostly depending on the success of agriculture.

And while the ministry had started on a reformist path, with ambitious projects such as the one-million-acre Galana Kulalu irrigation scheme being launched, graft allegations soon marred some of them. In 2015, 170 senior government officials suspected of corruption were asked to step aside. Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei was one of them.

Koskei, who had been mentioned in relation to alleged illegal allocation of sugar import permits and cultivation of a 100-acre piece of government land, would later be cleared by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission ( EACC) for lack of evidence.

This is the gap that Willy Bett was tapped to fill, arriving at Kilimo House, the Ministry of Agriculture’s headquarters, straight from the Kenya Seed Company, where he had been Chief Executive Officer between 2009 and 2015.
He had also been a member of the boards of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), the Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO), and the Seed Trade Association of Kenya (STAK), three institutions that are instrumental in the development of the agricultural sector.

The holder of a bachelor’s degree in economics and sociology and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in marketing, Bett comes from Nandi County, one of Kenya’s most important breadbaskets.

All these credentials gave Bett an enviable insider knowledge of the workings of agriculture in the country.
At the helm of the Kenya Seed Company, Bett notes on his LinkedIn page, the company’s “financial performance grew significantly… from a turnover of Ksh2.9 billion in 2011 to Ksh5 billion in 2015. Profits grew from Ksh50 million in 2011 to Ksh434 million in 2015.”

It was also under his stewardship that Kenya Seed adopted mobile technology to protect its products and customers from counterfeiters. The text message-based system allowed its products to be authenticated via a label on the seed bags with a scratch-off panel that revealed a unique code. When the code was texted to a toll-free number, the reply would indicate the genuineness or otherwise of the product.

Thus, his appointment to the Cabinet in 2015 was greeted with ringing endorsement. The Daily Nation reported that sugarcane farmers in western Kenya were thrilled and were looking up to the new CS to turn around the dwindling fortunes of the sugar industry.

And in the early months after taking over the docket, he did not disappoint. One of the crops he promoted enthusiastically was cotton. In his tours across the country, he noted that the government was keen on reviving the industry, which was, until the late 1980s, a major foreign exchange earner for Kenya.

Research by the ministry had revealed strong local demand for lint and was convinced that investment in value-addition would place Kenya in a strong position to export clothing and textiles to the US under the preferential African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). During the promotion, farmers were also to get training and access to credit facilities.

It was also during Bett’s time at the ministry that the Kenya Horticultural Council (KHC) was launched in July 2017 to help the industry comply with domestic and international quality standards and other market access requirements. These include horticulture standards for flowers and ornamentals.

The minister also tried to expand the bounds of Kenya’s farming, as traditionally known, declaring in 2016 that the Ksh300 million Goldox Donkey Abattoir in Chemongech, Baringo County, owned by two Chinese nationals, Lu Jing and Lu Donglin, an export slaughterhouse of donkey and horse meat, was allowed in Kenya following the amendment of the Meat Control Act in 2012 that classified the two as food animals.

The slaughter of donkeys was, however, later banned, with the government citing increased theft of the animal for sale to licensed slaughterhouses.

Bett also promoted fish farming. In July 2017, the government disbursed Ksh46 million for the upgrading of two fish landing beaches on Lake Victoria and the promotion of fish cage farming. While this was itself a creative way of enhancing the lake’s fish business, traditional fishermen and environmentalists were not amused and called for a more sustainable way of exploiting fish resources in the lake.

No wonder that in 2022, the government olled out the Sustainable Activities in Water Areas (SAWA) project on Lake Victoria to promote fish cage farming and develop regulations for cage installation to protect breeding grounds and navigation routes. This, the government figured, would forestall conflicts between cage fish farmers and regular fishermen.

Research by the Kenya Marine Fisheries Institute (KMFI) at the time showed that Lake Victoria, then home to 6,000 cages, had a capacity to absorb 25,427 fish cages in an area of 62,132 square metres, with an annual production capacity of over 10,000 tonnes of Nile perch and tilapia fish. KMFI further called for regulations to stop haphazard installation of cages, which also affect navigation of the lake.

It was during Bett’s term that the government introduced a crop insurance scheme to cushion farmers against losses linked to adverse weather conditions. The scheme was tested in Bungoma, Nakuru, and Embu counties and was subsidised at a cost of Ksh300 million. While the jury is still out on the success of the scheme, its initiation helped to inculcate an insurance culture in farmers.

The appointment of Bett, a Nandi like Koskei, conformed to a tradition long-established by Kenya’s presidents of not tinkering with the restive ethnic arithmetic in Cabinet reshuffles. This was all the more pronounced during President Kenyatta’s first term when he, in all but name, shared power with his deputy, William Ruto.

And it is through the DP that Bett came to the Cabinet. If there was any doubt about Bett’s closeness to DP Ruto, it was banished when the latter turned up as his best man during his private wedding held on April 25, 2018 in Karen, Nairobi. Among the guests were Bett’s former Cabinet colleagues, Phyllis Kandie and Prof Jacob Kaimenyi.

By the time of Bett’s appointment to head the agriculture docket, the government had spent more than Ksh25.6 billion on a fertiliser subsidy programme, reaching 1.5 million farmers. Bett sought to expand the project to increase the areas covered and credited it with a growth in maize production from about 35 million bags to 42 million bags annually.

His predecessor, Koskei, had overseen efforts to revitalise coffee farming and exports through a debt waiver of Ksh9.5 billion to farmers, development of the Coffee Kenya mark of origin for brand visibility, removal of the 4 per cent ad valorem levy and the establishment of the Commodities Fund to support 100,000 coffee farmers at a cost of Ksh2.6 billion.

Detailing the successes of his ministry, Bett said he had picked up from where Koskei had left off, and cited other initiatives such as subsidised fertiliser, mechanisation of farming, and livestock insurance. Sadly, it later emerged that the fertiliser subsidy programme had been hijacked by powerful cartels in the agriculture sector and State officers, who stole and repackaged the input to sell as regular fertiliser.

Over 10,000 bags of fertiliser imported by the government were stolen in 2016, much, of it before reaching the market, leading to the suspension of 22 managers at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), which handled the storage and distribution of the commodity, as investigations were started.

Whereas his forward-looking strategies while he was CEO of the Kenya Seed Company earned Bett a reformist image in the eyes of many farmers, he would quickly discover that the agriculture docket can be a poisoned chalice.
Away from the corporate-style PowerPoint presentations and cocktails, big money interests with tentacles in the administration retained control of the lucrative trade in sugar, maize, and fertiliser.

A staple of most Kenyan families, maize, like sugar, is a highly politicised crop, going back to the Moi and Kibaki administrations. Bett’s political godfather and Deputy President William Ruto was quite familiar with this scenario. In 2010, Dr Ruto, who was Agriculture minister, was suspended by then Prime Minister Raila Odinga over corruption allegations, but Kibaki rejected the move. At the time Kibaki and Odinga were in an uneasy coalition government that became etched in people’s memory as “serikali ya nusu mkate”.

Bett’s star in the ministry he had worked most of his life started dimming when MPs accused him of lying about the state of food security. He would also be accused of importing maize at the expense of local farmers, allegations he denied.

In February 2019, an ad hoc committee of the Senate released a report accusing him and then Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich of being responsible for flooding the local market with maize imports that distorted the prices of the commodity.

“The crisis that led to the influx of duty-free maize was a ploy by both the public and private sector players to profiteer from distortion of the maize value chain. The Gazette Notices No 3575 dated April 13, 2017, No 6398 dated July 3, 2017, and No 7248 dated July 27, 2017, were open-ended and done without any valid reasons and justification,” said the committee in its report.

The report recommended that Bett, the former Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Development, be prosecuted for his alleged role in the matter. This was never followed through.

Luckily for Bett, the report came just a couple of weeks before the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. At the time, the Jubilee leadership needed to close ranks following a divisive presidential contest in 2017, and it came as no surprise when the ad-hoc committee’s report was shelved.

But while Bett was to escape prosecution, he had found himself in the cold in January 2018, having been left out of the list of new Cabinet secretaries named by President Uhuru Kenyatta at the start of his second term.
Having left the Cabinet under a cloud of graft allegations, Bett’s close friendship with Deputy President Ruto would again prove to be a godsend as he soon found himself appointed as an envoy.

In February 2018, the National Assembly approved Bett’s nomination as Kenya’s envoy to India, alongside similar postings for his former colleagues, Dan Kazungu (Tanzania); Phyllis Kandie (Belgium and the European Union); Prof Judi Wakhungu (France); Dr Cleopa Mailu (Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Geneva); Prof Jacob Kaimenyi (Kenya’s Representative to Unesco); Hassan Wario (Austria); and former State House Comptroller Lawrence Lenayapa (Netherlands).

In his new role, Bett also became the High Commissioner-Designate to the Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, and the Republic of Singapore, all combining to make a juggernaut of a mission.

Yet even before his exit from the Cabinet, Bett had had his fair share of goofs.

For instance, in August 2016, he told guests at a State House Summit on Agriculture that the country had sufficient food reserves, contradicting claims by maize millers who insisted that there was a serious shortage of maize. The biting hunger that followed would embarrass the government as it turned out the millers were right.

During his stint as Agriculture CS, Bett reappointed Dr Nathaniel Arap Tum (now deceased) to the board of the Kenya Seed Company. Interestingly, Dr Tum was himself a former CEO of Kenya Seed, but was forced out in 2003 amid claims that in 2001 he had irregularly transferred ownership of the company to private hands. However, Dr Tum had fought the allegations in court and won, but his appointment still raised eyebrows.

The 2001 deal diluted the state’s shareholding in Kenya Seed through the Agricultural Development Corporation, with majority going to private owners, but the government reclaimed ownership of the firm in 2003.

During Kenyatta’s tenure, Kenya made great strides in the march towards Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) crops, beginning with the approval of GM cotton, which he saw as the path to industrialisation. Besides the political goodwill, which was given right from State House, President Kenyatta also placed Prof Hamadi Boga, biotech scientist and an avowed supporter of GM technology, at the centre of the ministry as Principal Secretary.

Key officials at the department of industrialisation have also been instrumental in the GM push. Progress on GM maize has, however, not been made, with the train getting stuck at the trial stage.

As minister, Bett had to allay concerns that the government was opposed to research in the crops, saying there was a need to be sure of the impact of any research before it is cleared to proceed. “The research on GM maize was not stopped,” Bett said, even as he added that government was not satisfied with the way the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), which was spearheading the research, wanted to handle the process.

“This is what raised alarm over the field trials. Kenya has not reached that level as the government doubts there is a proper mechanism in place to prevent things like cross-pollination which can contaminate conventional maize,” Bett told journalists in 2017.

His response came at a time when scientists were trying to convince the government to support GMO research in the country and lift the ban on consumption of locally produced GM crops.

The GM maize varieties at KALRO’s Kitale and Kiboko confined field locations are resistant to the stem borer, which is responsible for up to 20 per cent of maize loss. The variety is also drought-tolerant, and scientists bet on it to combat Kenya’s dire food insecurity. Kenya in 2010 banned importation of GM products over health fears even though research has not found the food, which is consumed in many parts of the world, harmful.

Thus, besides his maize importation troubles, some pundits point to Bett’s unenthusiastic support of GM as another reason President Kenyatta was not keen on reappointing him in 2018. Whatever the case may be, there is no doubt, looking at Bett’s qualifications and experience, that he was a perfect pick for a sector he understood inside out. His failure to win reappointment in January 2018 denied the country a fuller evaluation of his contribution to President Kenyatta’s legacy and the country’s development.

Dr Cleopa Kilonzo Mailu: Swallowing bitter pills

Dr Cleopa Mailu seemed ideal for the job of Health Cabinet Secretary – he had the right academic credentials and training as a medical doctor. Apart from a history of several high-level jobs, both at home and internationally, he had worked for Nairobi Hospital, which is among the top medical facilities in the country and in the region, lately as its CEO.

He represented the high calibre of leadership and management expertise President Uhuru Kenyatta was looking to tap to not only enhance service delivery, but also to solidify his legacy during his first term, which was due to lapse in about two years, and set the foundation for his second one.

And the appointment seemed just right, coming in the wake of corruption allegations that had swept out of office several Cabinet secretaries and senior civil servants. Dr Mailu was tapped to replace James Macharia, who had been redeployed to Transport in the reshuffle.

Indeed, when Dr Mailu took up the appointment announced in December 2015, he set off on the path of corporate bigwigs who leave huge salaries in the private sector to try their hand at public service. Few of them understand that the foundation of their new big jobs is often set in politics, a murky and unpredictable world that only a few “outsiders” have managed to successfully navigate.

Born in 1956, Mailu credited his success to a difficult childhood in a 2013 interview with The Standard newspaper ”My early life was full of struggle. I lacked most basic things. I remember changing schools three times between Form One and Form Four,” he told The Standard. He lost his father in 1973 but got a lot of support from his mother to further his education.

“I remember I got a zero out of 20 in CRE while in Form Three. I walked home and proudly placed the papers on the table. A neighbour saw the papers and asked my mother whether I was still interested in learning,” said Maiu in the interview.

“My mother answered inthe affirmative, “He can still do well.”

He exuded confidence during his vetting by MPs before his confirmation as he talked about his 12 years at Nairobi Hospital and his Ksh5 million salary a month, and didn’t appear to imagine that his new job might be for a short time, and full of trouble while it lasted, and that he might soon need a soft landing in the more familiar world of diplomacy.

Dr Mailu served as Cabinet Secretary for two years, just like his predecessor and successor Sicily Kariuki, a testament of how hot Kenya’s Health portfolio is. It seems it was the right job, but coming at the wrong time.

He was among the first-term Cabinet members replaced in February 2018 and redeployed to head diplomatic missions as President Kenyatta started his second term. The other Cabinet secretaries dropped from the government at the time were Prof Judi Wakhungu (Environment), Dan Kazungu (Mining), Phyllis Kandie (Labour), Hassan Wario (Sports), and Willy Bett (Agriculture).

Dr Mailu’s tenure at Afya House, the nerve centre of Kenya’s health affairs, was generally controversial. A reputed corporate manager, his arrival at the Ministry of Health could not have come at a worse time. In just two years, he took more flak than his predecessors who had served longer, and probably more than all his working life.

The health docket is key in both government ranking of portfolios as well as in terms of its role in matters of life and death. It gets huge budget allocations and thus is always on the radar of civil society and investigative agencies. Every Health minister or Cabinet Secretary has almost always found trouble or scandal to deal with.

The promulgation of the new Constitution in August 2010 effectively ushered in devolution as the highest form of decentralisation in Kenya. The health sector was the largest service sector to be devolved under this new governance arrangement, giving county governments control over healthcare. The sector is big, and so are its troubles when they emerge.

For almost a year, it was smooth sailing for Dr Mailu until October 2016, when it came out that top Ministry of Health officials had stolen more than Sh5 billion in a scheme involving diversion of funds, double payment for goods and services, and manipulation of the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMIS). According to the report, widely publicised in the media, the scam was executed through payments of millions of shillings to phony suppliers in the financial year 2015/2016.

Dr Mailu found himself in the thick of things. Whether he knew about the deals or they were executed before he came in remains unclear. But the bulk of the blame was placed on the desk of his Principal Secretary, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, the accounting officer.

Nonetheless, the CS appeared for questioning before the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), a dark moment for any government official keen on preserving his reputation. It was confirmed that Dr Muraguri was the one at the centre of the Afya House scam after he was secretly recorded threatening a journalist in an effort to kill the exposé.

The EACC investigated the alleged misappropriation of funds by ministry officials, but no one was arrested or jailed.

Dr Mailu later denied claims that billions of taxpayers’ shillings had been lost. The case remains unsolved to date.
In March 2017, Dr Muraguri was transferred to the Lands ministry in a mini-reshuffle that seemed to target mostly PSs who were seen to be working at cross-purposes with their CSs. Dr Muraguri was replaced by Julius Korir from the State Department of Industry and Enterprise Development. Dr Mailu and Dr Muraguri did not get along. Their differences spilled out into the open during the doctors’ strike which started in December 2016. Dr Mailu complained that his PS was insubordinate and had ignored his orders to negotiate with the striking doctors on behalf of the ministry.

Dr Mailu’s management skills and patience were put to the test during the 100-day doctors’ strike, one of the longest industrial action by doctors and nurses in Kenya during which patients suffered as union and government officials engaged in a battle of wits.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) called off the strike on March 14, 2017 after signing a return-to-work agreement with the Council of Governors and the Ministry of Health. Under the deal, doctors received an additional Emergency Call Allowance plus a new Medical Risk Allowance of Sh20,000 a month, backdated to January 1, 2017.

Dr Mailu defended himself from accusations of playing arrogant with a delicate issue. “We were dealing with union officials who wanted to take advantage of the situation to fleece the government,” he told the Defence and Foreign Relations Committee in February 2018 during his vetting for his new diplomatic appointment as Kenya’s ambassador to Switzerland and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

Painful as it was, the strike opened a new chapter in the profession’s relationship with the government and injected new life into a sector that had become synonymous with industrial action. “We just could not meet what the health workers were asking for. But that also got us to come up with legislation that will help this country. In future, we will never witness such strikes,” he told the committee.

It took the intervention of the President and multiple other players, including the Law Society of Kenya, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions, and the Inter-religious Council to end the strike. This put Dr Mailu on the firing line as it appeared he had lost control of the situation.

“It is regrettable that it took so long and we cannot begin to fathom the extent of the pain that Kenyans suffered. Those 100 days will remain black in the history of medicine in this country and that is not a record we want to keep,” he said.

Dr Cleopa Mailu, with the then acting Commissioner for Refugee Affairs Kenya Mr. Kodeck Makori, ready to deliver Kenya’s statement at 70th Session of the Excom in Geneva.

Despite all controversy and bad publicity that came with the strike and the infamous Sh5 billion Afya House scandal, President Uhuru Kenyatta in December 2016 honoured Dr Mailu with an Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart (E.G.H.), the highest presidential honour in Kenya. It came in the thick of the doctors’ strike and sparked an uproar among Kenyans who saw it as a reward for failure.

A pronouncement of the Ministry of Health, in a statement issued in December 2017, rattled merrymakers in Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa. Dr Mailu banned the importation, manufacture, advertising, and sale of shisha in Kenya. Shisha includes tobacco products that may be flavoured and which are consumed using a single or multi-stemmed smoking apparatus that contains water or other liquid through which the smoke passes before reaching the smoker and whose syrup tobacco content includes molasses, honey vegetable, glycerol and fruit flavours, including apple, grape, lemon, and mint.

The argument was that shisha had encouraged peddling of hard drugs. Unscrupulous entertainment joint owners would infuse outlawed drugs into the mix and pass if off as shisha to beat law enforcers. Kenya became the fourth country in East Africa to prohibit shisha, after Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Yet shisha is still widely sold in the country, especially at nightclubs, and is popular among socialites and sportspersons. The pronouncement was not backed by an effective enforcement mechanism.

It was during Dr Mailu’s tenure that the quest for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) gained momentum. The government integrated UHC as a goal in the national health strategies, the Health Policy goal, and the Kenya Health Sector Strategic Plan theme.

The Universal Health Coverage programme was started after President Kenyatta took office in 2013 with the launch of the highly acclaimed free maternity programme dubbed “Linda Mama”, which currently benefits over one million women annually.

To ensure the successful implementation of UHC, the government has been pumping investments into health infrastructure and development of a digital health platform to support the effective monitoring of the sector.

A key achievement on this front during Dr Mailu’s tenure at Afya House was the launch of the e-portal, Port Health Services, in April 2017, after the Ministry of Health established an electronic portal to improve processing of import and export health certificates. The paperless information system dubbed Port Health Services e-Portal has enhanced service delivery and improved processing of port documents to just 12 hours from six days. The system – which is integrated with other government agencies, including the Kenya Trade Network Agency (KENTRADE) – serves as a platform for all ports of entry to share information.

Dr Mailu oversaw an intensified campaign to accelerate access to adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities in all counties to end open defecation in Kenya (ODF) by 2020. By 2017, and over a period of three years, Kenya had increased the number of ODF-free villages from 1,231 in 2014 to 5,434 in 2016.

The target was to make 69,299 villages in the country open defecation-free by the year 2020. “In the spirit of ‘leave no one behind’, we call upon all county governments and implementing partners to end open defecation in their counties by the end of year 2017,” he said. That target has yet to be attained, two years past the deadline.d
On November 1, 2016, a medical team from the College of Health Sciences of the University of Nairobi (UoN) and Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) successfully separated conjoined twins.

The girls – Blessing and Favour – were born joined at the sacral region of the lower spinal cord. They were separated by a team of 60 doctors with various specialties after a 23-hour surgery. The entire process cost more than Sh160 million. Despite the huge financial implications, it was a heart-warming story in a ministry steeped in controversy.
It also marked a medical milestone in Kenya, being the first such successful surgery in the county. Other than South Africa, very few successful separations have been performed in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr Mailu assigned a team of health workers to monitor the twins after their discharge from hospital to aid their recovery and assist the family in rehabilitating them. They remain a beacon of hope in the country’s healthcare system. If only the ministry itself can undergo such a milestone surgery to separate it from its twin troubles of controversy and corruption!

Given his short stint, Dr Mailu did not do much in terms of transforming the sector nor leave behind legacy projects. Looking back, he arguably sees more bitter pills than doses of success. He handed over the docket to Sicily Kariuki, who served between 2018 and 2020 before passing the baton to Mutahi Kagwe.

Davis Chirchir: Brief dazzle of a tech showman

Davis Chirchir takes the oath of office
during his swearing in ceremony at State
House, Nairobi.

The Jubilee campaign that propelled Uhuru Kenyatta to the presidency was remarkable in many ways, the most striking of which, arguably, was its sensational projection of its leadership as youthful, savvy, and digital.
Its competitors were thereby cast as older, analogue, and more or less clumsy and not prepared for the brave new world of technology, and a millennial generation fast coming of age.

It was this sensational characterisation that lent Jubilee the appeal that proved to be a decisive edge in mobilising the younger voting demographic. In power, Jubilee took trouble to stay true to this acquired and charming description, and a lot of its signal interventions visibly aligned government services and activities with information and communication technology (ICT). Government websites went up and many ministries, departments, and agencies found themselves in the uncharted territory of new media. Huduma Centres sprouted all over the country as government services were taken online and records digitised.

It was natural, therefore, that those government executives who proved fluent in the ways of technology would become celebrities in their own right, and many members of the Cabinet did their best to keep up with the new culture. At 6’4’’, Davis Chirchir literally towered over many of his colleagues in this respect.

However, it is his being totally at ease with all things technological, not just in deployment, but also in understanding how they function, that made him a star of sorts. Ever armed with an iPad and MontBlanc portfolio, Chirchir was always eager to present all sorts of data, in graphical and other formats, and to explain what they meant.

Chirchir had an additional facility; confident articulation and an easy, almost insouciant command of statistics, mathematics, and computing concepts and vocabulary. The sum total of this was that he was able to comfortably engage all stakeholders regardless of depth and intricacy of subject matter, and to rise to the most rarefied conceptual stratospheres as well as plumb the most fundamental depths of foundational material.

He was appointed Cabinet Secretary for Energy and Petroleum on April 25, 2013. This ministry had had its share of superstar ministers before Chirchir, including Raila Odinga. It had also had more staid, workmanlike leaders. The key denominator of their perceived power was the reach of the impact of the ministry on everyday life in Kenya.

Electricity supply fell under it, as did its politics. Fuel products, including petrol, diesel, and kerosene, also fell under this ministry. Geopolitical dramas and their impact on barrel prices were transmitted instantaneously into every Kenyan household in the form of shortages and price hikes. Fluctuations in the water levels in the hydroelectric dams, as well as the striking of new geothermal wells, similarly struck at the heart of macro-and microeconomic prospects.

Power generation and transmission had proven to be politically significant affairs. Politicians seduced voters by promising electric power connections, and their rivals subsequently sent them home by harping on failure to deliver the power.

Petroleum exploration was looked upon as the silver bullet that would relieve Kenyans of the high cost of living by driving and keeping prices down. Through relentless conditioning, Kenyans had become reflexively aware of the connection between the cost of energy and the cost of living, from fares to the price of food and everything in between.

They had also become aware that by virtue of its reach the energy sector commanded colossal revenues, which made it monumentally attractive to carpetbaggers, wheeler-dealers, and assorted shadowy operators. The Ministry of Energy was the domicile of several spectacular scandals involving tens and hundreds of billions of shillings.

Lack of transparency and weak legal frameworks, combined with a sophisticated international operating environment, had enabled foreign and local parties to commit Kenyan tax revenues to dubious schemes that provided no returns. Energy sector contracts were inevitably controversial, be it in terms of parties, sums, or durations involved.

The Energy ministry could, therefore, be said to be highly visible with serious potential to engulf a Cabinet executive in serious legal and political trouble. But under Jubilee, it was going to be that and more.

Chirchir took up the leadership of the Ministry of Energy in time for Jubilee to launch and implement unprecedented ambitious expansion in every important dimension of the sector. It had pledges to connect all Kenyan households to electric power. At that time, only 2.5 million households enjoyed the privilege.

The government had also pledged to double the geothermal power generating capacity, rehabilitate hydro power plants, invest in wind and solar power, and ensure that all parts of the country that were classified as off-grid were brought into the system. Commercially viable oil deposits had been struck in Turkana county, and extraction required the construction of oil pipelines and a crude refinery. The oil products pipeline was also overdue for expansion to distribute a greater variety of products and reach more parts of the country.

Chirchir took up the daunting assignment with gusto and panache. His technical fluency empowered his ministry staff and reassured sectoral stakeholders. He was reputed to maintain up-to-date graphical representations of all the salient works his ministry’s departments and agencies were undertaking, and his visitors would be able to track developments throughout the country, thanks to his superb technical presentation skills.

Confiden and articulate, Chirchir also distinguished himself with an impeccable sense of occasion and penchant for the spectacular. The inevitable groundbreaking, official launch, and such other events that took place in his ministry in their dozens were ample opportunities for Chirchir to stage grand state ceremonies and offer a precious platform for the President to expound his developmental politics. The memorable presidential events outside state visits and public holidays are arguably Ministry of Energy functions, and that is chiefly due to Chirchir’s masterful stewardship.
The CS’s technical master accrued from decades of diligent application. He graduated from the University of Nairobi with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Physics in 1985. Preparatory to launching a career in the telecommunications sector, Chirchir proceeded to complete a Post-Graduate Diploma in Tele-traffic Engineering at the KP&TC Central Training School in Mbagathi, Nairobi.

He thereafter joined the Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KP&TC) to work in the technical department. In this vast conglomerate service and regulatory functions, Chirchir rapidly rose to become the director of technical services. At the advent of liberalisation, when the government broke up the conglomerate to facilitate divestiture and privatisation, the corporation splintered into Telkom, whose mobile telecommunications subsidiary was Safaricom, Postal Corporation of Kenya, and Communications Commission of Kenya, now Communications Authority.

Chirchir remained with Telkom as the director of technical services, managing and coordinating the deregulation and liberalisation of telecommunications and postal infrastructure services in the country. He helped develop the 1997 Postal and Telecommunication policy statement and the Kenya Communications Act, 1998, which repealed the Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Act, CAP 411, and abolished the monopoly of the KP&TC. Chirchir also worked in the process that coordinated the sale of the government stake of 49 per cent to a strategic equity participant.
He thereafter joined the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC), the predecessor of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) as a commissioner between 2009 and 2011.

Here, he acquired skills and experience in large-scale corporate management, strategy development, policy making, and governance, which combined his acquired technical experience with election management on a nationwide level. He also oversaw the introduction and development of several ICTs, including biometric identification of voters, electronic transmission of results, and other modern ICT applications that have transformed election management.
When his term expired after the IIEC was disbanded, Chirchir devoted his capabilities to political party development and management. Among the founders of the United Republican Party (URP), the party’s strong technological orientation was a legacy of Chirchir’s.

When URP merged with The National Alliance to form the Jubilee coalition, Chirchir receded behind the scenes to manage election operations, and was later appointed the chief agent of the presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta. It may be said that his interview for his job as Cabinet secretary was longer than most.

In his State of the Nation address in March 2015, President Kenyatta resolved to imbue the war on corruption with new impetus by purging his government of elements considered to be tainted with graft. He therefore called upon his officers who had been mentioned in scandals or against whom there existed allegations of corruption to step aside until they were cleared of wrongdoing. Kenyatta directed that investigation of the allegations against them be completed within 60 days. Davis Chirchir was named as having been implicated in a procurement scandal as a commissioner with IIEC. He relinquished his Cabinet position and was replaced in November 2015 without any report, adverse or favourable, having been furnished. Kenyatta had constructively terminated a shining star in his Cabinet. In his relatively brief tenure, Chirchir made off-the-beat places national focal points: Olkaria, Turkana, Ngamia, Hoima, Lokichar, Loyangalani and many others became synonymous with transformational events as Chirchir charged relentlessly forth under his campaign, memorably tagged “Powering Freedom”.

The interventions he pursued in these celebrated excursions were intended to advance Kenya’s resource sustainability and low-cost energy supply leadership. They encapsulated energy development, delivery, and its effective utilisation in order to strategically position and differentiate the country as a low-cost destination for global firms’ sustainable competitive advantage.

During his short stay in the Cabinet, he nevertheless scored significant, if not impressive, accomplishments. They include massive boosting of national energy self-sufficiency through the development and delivery of 280 megawatts of geothermal power to the national grid. This was accompanied by the development of the 400 kilovolt Olkaria-Mombasa transmission infrastructure, which saved consumers Ksh1.7 billion annually in transmission losses.

The overall quality and reliability of electricity supply throughout the country was also improved. Furthermore, rural electrification was expanded and complemented with an aggressive last-mile component to connect power to nearly six million additional households. Chirchir’s tenure also facilitated power exchange with neighbouring countries to support the development of regional trade in electricity, beginning with the development and provision of links.

The government’s participation in geothermal risk mitigation and investment in formative development culminated in the reduction of electricity costs to consumers. In 2014, Kenya was in the global top three suppliers of clean green energy and to date remains in the top 10 on account of the geothermal development and utilisation breakthroughs.
The state corporation in charge of electricity generation, KenGen, saved the economy Ksh17.85 billion through discounts of US cents 3.8 per kilowatt/hour to electricity consumers. This saving was due in large part to the availability of Ksh519 billion in concessional funding for planned capital projects arising from a rights issue that was made possible when Chirchir oversaw the restructuring of Ksh19.46 billion debt off-balance sheet by converting it to equity.

Dan Kazungu: A calm and committed man of action

President Uhuru Kenyatta presents the Mining Act 2016 to Dan Kazungu at State House, Nairobi on June 13, 2016

One of the distinguishing features of Uhuru Kenyatta as President is how he gave youthful leaders big positions in government. Among the youthful leaders to grace Cabinet meetings was Daniel Kazungu Muzee who represented both the youth and the coastal region that holds a special place in Kenya’s post-independence self-awareness.

More critical is the fact that Kazungu was tasked with the Ministry of Mining, which was later expanded to include petroleum. Given Kenya’s experiments with extraction prospects on the one hand, and the well-beaten paths of agriculture and tourism as the drivers of our economy, the significance of mining as a possible alternative could not be overstated.

Not only could an established mining sector boost the economic prospects of the country in the long term, but it could also offer immediate respite for many a Kenyan weighed down by a heavy tax burden — tax being the main financier of government expenditure. This broad expectation informed the wider remit of Kazungu’s brief, when the President appointed him in 2013 to serve as the Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Mining.

Born in 1970 in Malindi in the coastal belt, Kazungu attended Kwale High School — a powerhouse in secondary education in the whole of the former Coast Province — before proceeding to Moi University for a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Science, a qualification that he later augmented with an MSc at the same institution.

Like many Kenyans of his generation, Kazungu first ventured into the world of formal employment, working for established firms such as Fintech International, Microsoft, Compaq, Mecer, IBM and Lenovo Corporation East Africa. Kazungu did well in the tech-world and perhaps his excellence is what prompted the President to consider him for appointment as CS. As is usual in such matters, the Fourth Estate began digging into Kazungu’s previous life of. As print journalist Alphonce Gari, noted in a section of the Kenya media, Kazungu, was recognised as among the top achievers among global employees of IBM, and had received special mention by the IBM Global Chief Finance Officer at an investor briefing at the New York Stock Exchange.

Three fundamental factors influenced Kazungu’s life and permeated his political outlook and performance at the Ministry of Mining. One, he was born a few years after independence when the excitement of freedom had given way to the challenges of running a country where the landless, expected the government to provide relief of sorts. This was especially the case in the coastal region that, in a sense, is a symbol of land debates in Kenya.

The land question has a multifaceted impact on social and economic constructions of success, which leads to the second influence on Kazungu’s life and performance. Growing up in a large land-deprived family, Kazungu experienced the pangs of poverty at a very personal level. At 14 years old, Kazungu lost his father, who had five wives and 15 siblings. His late uncle Mzee Thomas Mwambire (his late father’s cousin) left him with words that ring in his mind till today:

“I know your mothers, brothers and sisters are in pain, sad, struggling and hurting. But you have a choice. To either always think about them, their suffering and your sad loss and keep on crying and eventually fail in your exams and all of you go down, or go to school, apply yourself to the best of your ability, excel in school, succeed in your career and lift up yourself, your mothers and family as well as your community.” He chose the latter and his experience sharpened his sense of industry and awareness of the routine struggles that many families in similar circumstances experience. More importantly, the experience of growing up in such socio-economic conditions and the eventual success in the corporate world taught him important lessons about how personal striving and industry can turn around ill-fortunes to abundant success.

Third, the fact that many established political and cultural leaders from the coastal region had fallen by the wayside, either by natural attrition or by operation of democracy, inspired Kazungu to emerge from corporate boardrooms and offer himself for an elective position. Joining elective politics was neither impulsive nor fortuitous for Kazungu. Rather, it was the logical outcome of a long cherished dream of joining public service in the political realm. According to media interviews that he granted while serving as a CS, Kazungu intimated that wherever he had worked before, it was part of mark timing for the day that he would approach his Malindi Constituency electorate for votes.

During the 2013 General Election, he contested for and won the Malindi Parliamentary seat. The fact that he represented a young and conscientious leadership in the House was not lost on observers and, in 2015, he was appointed to the Cabinet when the President restructured the government. Kazungu worked with Andrew Kamau, who was the Principal Secretary (PS) at the time, and with whom he oversaw the formulation and implementation of policies that would put structures in what was then a relatively young ministry.

While the country has a long history of capitalising on its mineral resources for economic growth and development, the approach in so doing was not always at the level of a whole ministry. It was generally as a department within a mother ministry. However, with the growing realisation of the potential of harnessing mineral resources for greater economic development, the President restructured government to create a ministry specifically addressing the mineral base and its potential in Kenya.

This was, perhaps, following the initial discovery of huge mineral deposits in neighbouring countries, and even the initial reports that Kenya had discovered huge gas and petroleum deposits in Turkana during the tenure of President Mwai Kibaki, – a government in which Uhuru played a critical role. He served both as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in the 2007–2013 government of national unity where Kibaki was President, the Prime Minister was Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi was the other Deputy Prime Minister.

Even before he became President, Uhuru had a deep understanding of the mineral variety and quantities actually and potentially available in Kenya. He therefore saw the opportunity to harness this potential through a well-structured ministry as part of working towards delivery of the promises that he had made to Kenyans during his campaigns. The implementation of the current Constitution began during the second half of Kibaki’s last term in office and extended into the first term of Uhuru’s tenure. For this reason, the President was responsible for imagining a central role of mining in helping achieve the overall objective of national development of a united Kenya, as envisaged in the preamble of the Constitution.

The President needed a versatile and skilled person to oversee the relatively new Mining docket. Someone who had proved his mettle in business-like running of systemic operations. Kazungu fit the bill.

The Ministry of Mining and Petroleum, as we know it today, came into being via the Executive Order No. 1 of May 2020. This included pre-existing legal and policy instruments that would allow and regulate Kazungu to undertake his responsibilities as CS. When he took over the ministry, the only legal document governing the mining sector in Kenya was the outdated Mining Act of 194 crafted by the colonial government at the peak of World War II, and designed to extract Kenya’s mineral resources for the benefit of Britain.

Dan Kazungu with the then Kenya Mining chamber, KMC chairman Adiel Gitari at the mining sectors stakeholders at the Kenya mining chamber offices.

In a record six months, Kazungu worked tirelessly to repeal the 76 year-old law to replace with the much more progressive legislation, and capped it by delivering Kenya’s first mining strategy and policy. It is noteworthy that when Kazungu took over leadership at the Ministry of Mining in 2015, Kenya was ranked by the Fraser Report in early 2016 at position 125 out of 126 countries. A very unfamiliar and embarrassing position for the country. Kazungu would need just one year move Kenya to position 86 out of 126 sampled countries, and the mining sector became Kenya’s third (3rd) highest growth sector after tourism and ICT.

Among the notable instruments he initiated were the Mining and Minerals Policy Sessional Paper No. 7 of 2016, the Mining Act of 2016 and its subsidiary, the Petroleum Fund Act of 1991 (a later version was developed in 2019 after Kazungu had been redeployed to the diplomatic service), and the Explosives Act.

Other relevant provisions that had previously been domiciled in different departments across the ministries include the Geologist Registration Act 10 of 1993 (and its later subsidiary), and different gazette notices that were published to address some more immediate concerns. Kazungu brought all these together as part of entrenching legal and policy structures that govern the ministry’s routine operations. The core of the Ministry of Mining and Petroleum entailed formulation of a policy on petroleum drilling and processing, since at that time there were real prospects that the oil discovered in Turkana and the larger north-eastern areas of the country was economically viable for bulk drilling.

A particular point of attention for Kazungu was, therefore, to plan for and oversee the Strategic Petroleum Stock Management, and management of upstream petroleum products marketing. Kenya was keen to avoid both the ‘petroleum curse’ – the socio-economic and political challenges that ill-planned handling of petroleum related resources visit on countries – that manifests either in terms of regional sectarian bickering that threatens national unity or the phenomenon of the ‘Dutch disease’, where an entire economy over-relies on one economic resource at the expense of others, artificially increasing the cost of living. In short, the ministry was tasked to ensure that the discovery of oil and other minerals did not sabotage the economic structures that were already in place.

To address all these, Kazungu was responsible for designing a long view of oil and exploration policy and capacity development. Other concerns were managing matters of licensing petroleum marketing and handling; working on quality control modalities; and formulating sector specific policies on extractive industries generally.
The ministry also had to develop an inventory of and map mineral resources across the Republic, and maintain the geological data. Such data would also inform records on quarrying rocks and industrial minerals, and management of health conditions and health and safety in mines.

Naturally, these developments could only be done through established institutions within the ministry: the National Mining Corporation, the Mineral Rights Board and the Geologist Registration Board. Under these were the Upstream Directorate, the Mid/Downstream Directorate, the Geological Survey and Geo-Information Management Directorate and the Directorate of Mines.

The departments and units within the ministry are operationalised in three main functions. One was the petroleum function headed by the Commissioner of Petroleum who oversees several functions, among them developing and updating the oil and gas master plan for exploration and development and conducting research to enhance capacity in the petroleum sector.

The second function is mining and geology, which draws its legal authority from Section 17(a) of the Mining Act 2016, and is empowered to promote effective and efficient management and development of mineral resources and the mining sector. The function also takes charge of regulating the administration of mining prospects.

The mining and geology function was under the immediate supervision of the Commissioner of Mining and Geology who, among other things, was tasked with obtaining geoscience expertise and data for government to make the necessary decisions; coordinate the operations in geological, geochemical, seismological and hydro-geological surveys, investigations and mapping. Furthermore, the Commissioner was also in charge of ensuring that actors in the mining sector comply with the existing legal and policy requirements, with the overall aim of ensuring uniformity in the operations of the wider mining sector. Both functions were coordinated by the general administration and support services, taking charge of routine management functions, but also the Central Planning and Projects Management Unit. This, by necessity, would be done in liaison with other line ministries, governmental and non-governmental agencies, including the Kenya Pipeline Company, the Kenya Petroleum Refineries Limited, National Oil Corporation of Kenya, Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, and the National Mining Corporation. Others are the Mining Cadastre Portal, National GeoData Centre, National Environment Management Authority and the African Minerals Geosciences Centre.

By the time he left the ministry, Kazungu had overseen several successful projects in both mining and petroleum portfolios. The government has initiated a project dubbed, ‘The Mwananchi Gas Project’ to manage LPG. This is an initiative by the ministry whose objectives were to: reduce use of biomass and kerosene as the primary sources of household cooking fuels; facilitate access of LPG to low-income households; enhance LPG penetration in the country; and scale-up uptake of LPG from 10 per cent to 70 per cent of Kenyan households. To this end, the ministry procured over 100,000 6 kg cylinders and sufficient accessories to begin rolling out to the affected households.
Other projects include the Development of the National Petroleum Policy; Development of Petroleum Regulations and Guidelines; Development of Kenya National Petroleum Master Plan; Development of Local Content Policy and Regulations; and considering a Cost Recovery Audit.

In the Mining Department, among the ministry’s achievements were the establishment of a geological data centre; a computerised geological resources information bank of the geological survey; a geological survey laboratory to support geological and mineral research for credible and timely mineral-related data; a gemstone value addition centre; a granite processing plant; and upgrading of the online transactional mining cadastre portal. There was also the construction of soapstone processing and value addition centre in Kisii County and establishing a royalty management system.

What all these imply is that the Uhuru government, through the Kazungu-led Ministry of Mining and Petroleum, has put structures in place to place the mining and mineral sectors at the core of national economic development, as envisaged in the numerous policy and legal frameworks.

The burden of all these involves the preparation of the country to meet the logistical and practical needs of big players in the extraction industry — such as Tullow Oil and its petroleum exploration — all within the existing legal and policy frameworks, and using the best practices regionally and globally. The CS took bold steps to ensure that the minerals mined would benefit the whole country and not just a few actors in the sector, most of whom, had no interest in the national good.

He once declared: “Mineral resources belong to the national government. Investors have been forced to stop their operations because of wrangles between them and the community. It is unfortunate that, despite huge mineral deposits in most regions, residents languish in abject poverty.” Keen to negate the impact of sector capture by private practitioners, investors and unscrupulous individuals, he affirmed that “… as a ministry, we will not allow wrangles to continue depriving citizens of the benefits of these resources. The dispute [at the time] has stalled development in the country at large. This is denying the national and county governments revenue worth billions of shillings.”
One of the most remarkable things about Kazungu is that, apart from blazing the trail of academic excellence in a region that has for long been associated with rampant cases of school drop-outs — for cultural and economic reasons —he was the first ever resident of Malindi to be appointed to as CS.

Kazungu extricated himself from poverty and obscurity to become a globally recognised corporate player and, eventually, a key member of the Uhuru’s government. The same attributes account for his deep knowledge of the mining and petroleum sectors, and his successes in leading the policy and structural establishment of a ministry that focuses on a promising, though as yet undeveloped, sector of the economy. Kazungu accomplished all this with little fanfare and through focus on his assigned duties.

Eng. Michael Kamau: The engineer who scaled all government ranks

In the archives of Kenya’s broadcast media houses lies the forgotten record of one of Kenya’s most rousing speeches. It was delivered by the roadside at an airport, and not by a politician, lawyer, preacher, professor or any of the usual suspects. The speaker was a technocrat and an engineer by training.

A people are measured by how they deal with adversity. We fell, but we have risen; we are back on our feet!” he roared.

The events leading to that stirring mid- morning speech had begun days earlier at 5:00 am on 7 August 2013, when Kenyans, and the world, woke up to news that the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) arrival terminal was on fire. The video clips and images on social media were surreal: East Africa’s air transport hub in flames?

JKIA was then processing an estimated 16,000 travellers a day, both domestic and international. As the inferno raged on, the airport’s high-walled design a challenge for fire- fighters, the question on everyone’s minds was: what could have caused the blaze? Terrorists? A bomb? An electrical fault?

Whatever the case, it was Kenya’s good fortune that the man at the helm of the Transport and Infrastructure docket when one of the most remarkable crises of Uhuru Kenyatta’s nascent Presidency struck that morning was Engineer Michael Kamau.

A career civil servant, Kamau joined the public service as an assistant engineer in 1981 and painstakingly rose through the ranks to Permanent Secretary under President Mwai Kibaki, before being appointed Cabinet Secretary (CS) Transport and Infrastructure by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Kamau will go down in history as the first Kenyan to rise from entry-level civil servant to CS in the same ministry.

Here was a technocrat who understood how the government functioned; a civil engineer in an engineering ministry in which he had served at every level for 32 years. With footprints strewn all over the country in the form of national policies, roads, office blocks and mega infrastructure projects, Kamau had the engineer’s knack not just for building things but for tinkering with and fixing broken stuff as well.

Kenya’s international transport system was broken, and there could not have been a man better prepared to manage the resulting crisis. It helped that he had a competent wingman in fellow engineer and former Permanent Secretary Titus Naikuni, who was then Chief Executive Officer of the national carrier Kenya Airways.

While emergency services fought the inferno, Kamau’s immediate priority was to restore order, manage the chaos and reassure travellers, and the world, that the government was on top of things. Above all, not only did the airport need to get back on its feet in the quickest time possible, but also the President was keeping an eye on the salvage mission. Inbound international flights to JKIA were immediately diverted to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and Entebbe in Uganda, as well as Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret airports. A temporary arrivals terminal was quickly set up in tents in the parking lot next to the Presidential Pavilion and immigration equipment installed with the first international passenger flight emanating from Somalia, was received on the same day. Among the passengers on this flight was the Somali First Lady.

In two days flat, outbound international flights had resumed at JKIA. Kamau’s management of the crisis, his leadership and confidence, and the aura of expertise he exuded at every turn did not go unnoticed. Kenyans nodded with respect, rightfully regarding him — one of the only three CSs drawn from the civil service as one of the rising stars of the new government. He is the new John Michuki, they said, making reference to a former no-nonsense Kibaki-era Cabinet Minister whom Kamau admired, as he did the tough as nails former Head of Public Service and long-serving Provincial Commissioner, Simeon Nyachae. Kamau had served as permanent secretary under both Nyachae and Michuki as ministers. What Kenyans could not have known was that two events in the engineer’s past almost curtailed the civil service career of one of the country’s most transformative and illustrious roads and infrastructure chiefs. The man who supervised projects at Moi University, which included the Teaching and Referral Hospital as resident engineer for eight years on secondment from the government attempted to leave the Ministry of Public Works in early 1998. He took a one year leave from the university to try his hand in the private sector. Barely six months into his leave, President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, most likely having noted his potential, sent an emissary who ordered him to report back to the ministry.

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Eng. Michael Kamau and other Government officials during the launch of a road project by the Ministry of Transport.

At the tail end of the Kibaki Presidency, Kamau had considered retiring from the Civil Service as Permanent Secretary to run for governor in his home county of Nyeri but Uhuru, then Deputy Prime Minister and a presidential candidate in the forthcoming 2013 General Election, prevailed upon him to stay put with the assurance that he would appoint him to a senior position in his government if he won. Kamau’s journey to the apex of the Civil Service begun in 1958 in Nyeri, where he was born. He attended Hill Farm Primary School, later joining St Mary’s Boys Secondary School in Nyeri and Nyeri High School for his O’ and A’ levels of education before joining the University of Nairobi to study civil engineering.

After graduation, he was employed by the Ministry of Public Works as an assistant engineer. Later in his career, he enrolled at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, for a masters degree in Engineering and also undertook professional engineering courses at the South Korea Institute of Construction Technology and the Belgian Road Research Centre.

At the Ministry of Public Works, he rose from assistant engineer to engineer, then superintendent engineer, senior superintending engineer, chief superintending engineer, principal superintending engineer, chief engineer, Roads Secretary and, finally, Permanent Secretary in 2007 under Kibaki. The 1990s, described by many as a lost decade for infrastructure development in Kenya were difficult. The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) had led to massive staff layoffs within government ministries, parastatals and agencies. Foreign funding for infrastructure projects was hard to secure and the country was in dire financial straits due to a multiplicity of factors. As a result, Kenya’s infrastructure was in shambles with a dilapidated road network and stalled government buildings littered across the land.

The Kibaki government made special budgetary provision, ring-fenced from bureaucracy and reallocation, for rehabilitation and completion of stalled roads and buildings. The bottlenecks that had previously hounded the tendering of road and infrastructure projects and driven the local contractors and consulting engineering firms to their knees were removed.

Kamau was part of a core team that supervised the completion of stalled projects such as Nyayo Wards, several district headquarters, the Nyanza Provincial Headquarters, and police housing in various parts of Kenya. The Kisii–Chemosit road was a classic example of a roads that had stalled for nearly two decades due to lack of funds that was completed under this scheme. (The stock answer by Roads ministers in Parliament that “the project will commence once funds become available” had been a running joke among MPs and wananchi (citizens) for years during the 1990s!) Kamau also oversaw the construction of roads that would drastically change the face and traffic flow within Nairobi. Rising population and vehicle density had overstretched roads, causing massive traffic bottlenecks in the city.

Most memorable of the roads built during that period are the Thika Superhighway, various missing link roads such as Kilimani-Kileleshwa-Lavington-Westlands road, Runda-Whispers, dualling of JKIA to Machakos turn-off, Eastern and Northern bypasses among others.

It was not just the roads and infrastructure that were in shambles, but the governance of the sector as well. Kamau, therefore, sought to set a legal and policy framework for sound infrastructure development and management of the roads and transport sector. This enhanced efficiency and guided the sector, in addition to forming a sound basis upon which both the Kibaki and Uhuru infrastructure projects rest.

First was the enactment of the Engineers Act which gave the engineering board wide ranging powers as opposed to the repealed Engineers Registration Board Act which had very limited provisions. The new Act empowered the engineering fraternity through its Board to participate in the training of engineers, setting of professional fees and enforcing the engineers’ code of conduct. The Act was driven by the need to stem encroachment of quacks on the industry and halt substandard design and construction work. The World Bank was instrumental in providing grants to assist the work leading to the enactment and also in capacity building of the new board.

Simultaneously, similar work was ongoing aimed at the formation of the National Construction Authority to regulate construction of buildings, especially in Nairobi. City Hall had spectacularly failed to enforce standards due to a myriad of reasons including systemic failure and ineptitude. The collapse of the canopy of the Sunbeam supermarket followed years later by the collapse of a building under construction at Nyamakima area with resultant loss of life, provided the impetus for the need for strict regulation of the building sector at a national level.

Third was the enactment of the Roads Act followed by establishment of the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA), Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) and Kenya Rural Roads Authority (KERRA). This was aimed at bringing in public participation in road development and maintenance of road assets as well as increase the capacity of government to handle roadworks. This was in contrast to the previous unfocused approach to roadworks, lack of ownership, of road infrastructure where the responsibility for urban roads lay with ill-equipped municipal bodies under the Local Government Ministry, while rural roads simply fell through the cracks.

Fourth was to ensure that there would be improved governance in matters relating to road contractors. In this regard, Kamau pushed for the formation of an organization by the road contractors. This culminated in the formation of the Road and Civil Engineering Contractors Association (RACECA). The government was now able to have structured dialogue with the contractors. RACECA was also made one of the nominating bodies for appointment to the board of NCA.

Kamau made further interventions to improve administration in the roads sector which included securing land on the JKIA grounds for the construction of Barabara Plaza, so that the chief executives of KeNHA, KURA and KERRA would be housed under one roof for ease of coordination.

He further argued that this would ensure that the road from the airport to city center would always be in mint condition since the roads CEOs would be the principal users while commuting to the ministry headquarters, parliament and other government buildings located in the city center.

It is against this background that Kamau was appointed CS Roads and Infrastructure by Uhuru in 2013, with Nduva Muli and John Musonik as his respective Principal Secretaries (PSs) for Transport and Infrastructure.
His reform agenda did not stop with his appointment. He championed the construction of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) headquarters and even laid the foundation stone for the new building. This was intended to give KCAA autonomy taking cognizance of the fact that KAA was the landlord of KCAA who were their regulators thus creating fertile grounds for conflict of interest.

In order to enhance governance at Mombasa port, Kamau restructured the port operations by making the managing director Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) chairperson of port stakeholder’s forum as opposed to the MD Kenya Ports Authority KPA who was conflicted as chair of the forum. An international crisis had been simmering even before the newly elected president was sworn into office. Kenya’s landlocked neighbours were up in arms about congestion at the Port of Mombasa and bottlenecks on the Kenyan segment of the northern transport corridor that were causing delays in the movement of transit cargo. At the time, it took two weeks to haul cargo from Mombasa to Kampala. This would be the first urgent assignment in the newly appointed CS’s in-tray.

Together with his colleague Mohummed Adan (CS Industrialisation) and the KPA Managing Director Gichiri Ndua, Kamau immediately spear headed reorganisation and improvement of port management operations to hasten evacuation of cargo from the port.

Eng. Michael Kamau joins KCB CEO Joshua Oigara, to launch the Pepea card, meant to aid cashless payment in public transportation .

Working with the police and KeNHA he streamlined the weighbridge operations and embarked on improving weighbridge infrastructure from static weighing to weighing in motion. The results of this reorganization were immediate. For starters, the travel time for cargo containers from Mombasa to Kampala dropped from two weeks to 4 days!

The port for the very first time handled more than one million containers in the year 2014 thus placing it in the league of the big ports globally.

Further, the Engineer also laid the groundwork for the Dongo Kundu by-pass Project, a crucial transport corridor to reduce traffic on the Makupa course way and the Likoni Ferry and decongest Mombasa Island. Port operations aside, Kamau as Roads and Infrastructure CS was instrumental on the rollout of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project. Part of the project involved the major expansion of the inland container depot (ICD) in Nairobi and the necessary roadworks to facilitate easy evacuation of cargo from the ICD. Still on roads, the CS was at the heart of the groundwork to build 10,000 km of low-volume sealed roads, one of the key legacies of Uhuru’s government.
After the 2013 JKIA fire had been contained, and flight operations commenced, Kamau told the press that the tragedy had a silver lining because it gave KAA an opportunity to start afresh.

Seizing the moment, KAA separated the arrival and departure terminals, which not only improved efficiency in processing passengers, but also enhanced security by eliminating the possibility of departing and arriving passengers mingling on the airside.

Going forward, the first port of call for arriving passengers was the immigration desks, which were set up in converted parking silo, as opposed to the past when they would mingle with outbound passengers. A security check point with sniffer dogs was also build over a kilometre away from the terminal, where all persons, cars, trucks and their cargo entering JKIA would be scanned. These interventions influenced the inauguration of direct flights between Kenya and the United States in 2018.

Other improvements included the construction of remote parking for aero planes from where disembarking passengers would be bussed to Immigration, and the construction of the new terminal 2 and major upgrades to terminal 1. The Engineer is also credited with the commencement of improvement of the Ukunda airstrip .After the stint of Michuki as Transport minister, the number of fatalities arising from road accidents had hit over 3,000 annually.

Through spirited public campaigns, introduction of breathalyser tests to curb drunken driving, and penalising of matatu saccos whose errant operators caused fatal accidents due to negligence and disregard of the law, fatalities on roads fell by 10 per cent, from 3,218 in 2013 to 2,907 the following year. Kamau had publicly announced that he would resign as CS if the fatalities didn’t deep below 3000 in 2014! Kamau was clearly on a roll. However, on 28th March 2015, barely two years after assuming office as CS, he stepped aside from office together with Felix Koskei (Agriculture), Davis Chirchir (Energy), Charity Ngilu and Kazungu Kambi (Labour) over an Ethics and Anti- Corruption Commission (EACC) report linking him to graft.

The EACC alleged that Kamau was complicit in altering the design of a road in Bungoma District designed at a cost of KES 33 million leading to a loss of public funds. At his mother’s burial in Kieni, Nyeri, on 10th June 2015, Kamau publicly spoke about his tribulations for the first time, saying he had never been involved in any impropriety or misuse of public funds and that he had been fixed by individuals whose interests he had refused to pander to.
“I want to make it clear that I have never stolen anything and I will never. I want my mother to rest knowing that she has left behind a son who has never stolen anything from anybody. My mother never gave birth to a thief.”

Kamau appeared before a magistrate on 4th June, 2015 and was charged with two counts of abuse of office and failure to comply with applicable procedures and guidelines relating to the management of public funds between 2007 and 2008 when he served as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Roads and Public Works.
The Court of Appeal, however dismissed the charges on Kamau, on 14th of July 2017. In May of 2018, Kamau was again charged for arbitrarily authorising the redesign of the same road, an act that resulted in the loss of public funds. The matter is still in court.