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Eugene Wamalwa: The wily heir of a political lineage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry K. Rotich: A man of complex numbers

When Henry Rotich was appointed Finance minister in April 2013, he was only 44 years old. It was a prestigious position for a man with a quiet, almost timid, disposition. And although he had by-passed several of his seniors at Treasury, he was not like other Cabinet secretaries who hungered for media attention. No, he did not clamour for that hubris.

But he was soon to find out, like some of his predecessors, that the high seat at Treasury building could be a cold and lonely place. And that any mistake could land him in trouble – in his case, trouble so deep that in just a few years his triumph would turn to ashes, leaving him with the dubious distinction of being the first sitting Kenyan Cabinet minister to be arrested for corruption.

Navigating Kenya’s Treasury was not difficult for Rotich; after all he was an insider, having worked at the Macroeconomics Department. Also, he had the veteran economist Kamau Thugge by his side as Principal Secretary.

The election of Uhuru Kenyatta as president and his promise of a digital government, huge infrastructure projects, and the fight against corruption would mean that Treasury would have to craft measures to finance the Jubilee dreams. This job fell on the young Rotich’s soldiers. The public expected a new dawn; a fresh start from a man who could wrestle with the corruption ghosts of yesteryear.

Rotich had caught the eye of Uhuru Kenyatta when he was Finance minister in the Kibaki administration. Before joining the Treasury, Rotich had worked at the Research Department of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) since 1994. Between 2001 and 2004, Rotich was attached to the local office of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Nairobi, where he worked as an economist. During his career, Treasury had seconded him to several boards of state corporations, including the Insurance Regulatory Board, the Industrial Development Bank, the Communications Authority of Kenya, and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

In June 2014, after just a year in office, Rotich flew to the US, accompanied by Thugge, to drum up support for a sovereign Eurobond to raise money for infrastructure projects. The roadshow took him to the West Coast, covering San Francisco and Los Angeles, then the East Coast to cover Boston and New York – one of the globe’s key financial centres. The delegation then flew to London, Berlin, and the Middle East.

The roadshows did not disappoint. Rotich reported that there was “serious interest” in the Kenyan bond and soon announced that Ksh280 billion had been raised, borrowed in five and 10-year tranches.

The success of the Eurobond appeared to mirror the academic record of the Harvard-trained economist who had never struggled to post good grades in school. Rotich seemed to have cemented his place at Treasury and his flag was flying high in the Cabinet, just like his days at Fluorspar Primary School in Keiyo South, where he was always top of his class. He had just become an important cog in Jubilee’s fundraising efforts – perhaps the most reliable person in Kenyatta’s administration. In one fell swoop, he had restored Kenya to its rightful place from which it had been dislodged during the preceding regime when international financial managers had removed it from a list of countries that would crash without budget support.

But trouble soon came knocking on his door as questions were raised about the accounting of the Eurobond. Rotich would be thrust to the centre of attention when opposition leader Raila Odinga alleged that the Eurobond money could not be traced to any project or expenditure.

“There is no money missing,” Rotich insisted in his defence of the Treasury. “This one was clearly misinterpretation of our fiscal accounts.”

He dismissed the claims as “absolutely false and misleading”, as Deputy President William Ruto came to his rescue, arguing that not a single cent had been lost. “That someone is alleging that over Sh200 billion sovereign Eurobond money was stolen is nonsense…I think this is the biggest lie ever told to Kenyans since independence.” Rotich would appear in a lengthy question-and-answer session with journalists, detailing the movement of the cash between US banks JP Morgan Chase and Citibank.

But the matter was just not going away, instead threatening to complicate his tenure at the Treasury. Auditor General Edward Ouko added to the fire, saying some Ksh196.9 billion from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York had been received at the CBK in three tranches. The report indicated that the balance of Sh53 billion had never arrived in the country, instead being utilised to repay a syndicated loan. Treasury could not pinpoint the beneficiary projects, insisting that the proceeds came into one pot at the National Exchequer accounts at the Central Bank and thus could not be identifiable as being earmarked for any particular infrastructure project. Ouko insisted that the funds should be traceable.

Despite the controversy, Rotich’s appetite for borrowing had been whetted and he was to go back for another Eurobond in 2018, netting $2 billion in 10 and 30-year tranches, and another Ksh210 billion bond in 2019, raising in excess of $6.8 billion in three sovereign Eurobonds in five years. He never satisfactorily answered the questions that were raised about the loans. Bad press dogged the soft-spoken CS who always used a measured tone. He could not shake the persistent focus on Treasury as mega-projects got embroiled in controversy. With so many balls in the air, it was inevitable that it was only a matter of time before some dropped.

On July 28, 2016 the National Assembly passed the Banking (Amendment) Bill, 2015, to regulate interest rates applicable to bank loans and deposits. This was to fulfil a Jubilee campaign pledge to cap interest rates in a bid to make credit affordable for budding traders. The new law capped lending rates at four percentage points above the Central Bank rate (CBR), which at the time was set at 10.5 per cent. That meant that commercial banks would not be allowed to lend at rates above 14.5 per cent.

While the Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) welcomed the President’s decision to sign the Bill into law, it indicated it was not convinced that “an arbitrary rate cap is in the best interests of the majority of people and the businesses that this law seeks to support.”

The President had pointed out that Kenya had “one of the highest returns-on-equity for banks in the African continent” and that it was time to reduce the cost of credit. Bankers, on the other hand, were convinced that the new law would present many difficulties to the banking industry and warned that credit might be unavailable – and that there was danger of the emergence of “unregulated informal and exploitative lending mechanisms”.

In November 2019, much to the relief of the bankers, the interest rate cap was finally removed at the behest of the IMF as one of its conditions to renew the $1.5 billion credit facility programme which had expired in 2018.

Defending the decision, President Kenyatta said that while the intentions were good, in practice the cap had actually reduced credit to the private sector, damaged growth, and weakened the effectiveness of monetary policy. According to analysts, SMEs had been denied loans worth about Ksh300 billion, about 1 per cent of the GDP. Also, the credit extension to SMEs as a percentage of total bank loans fell to 15 per cent in 2019, from about 25 per cent before the cap was instituted. This was another of the occasions when Rotich had to eat humble pie.

Another of the Jubilee administration’s campaign promises was to buy each primary school pupil a laptop. Rotich dutifully allocated Ksh53.2 billion in the budget for the supply of 1.35 million laptops to Class One pupils, the development of digital content, the rolling out of computer laboratories for Class 4 to 8, and the building of the capacity of teachers in all schools. It was estimated that the figure would translate to Ksh17.4 billion each year, starting from the financial year 2013/14.

The laptop project never really took off, getting mired in corruption, with the Auditor General questioning how some of the money was used. Some of the tablets that were bought had factory defects and could not be used. Rotich must have felt the frustration of an economist as line ministries failed the integrity test.

His next test was managing Kenya’s rapidly ballooning debt while at the same time also financing the government’s mega-infrastructure projects. By the time he left office in January 2020, the public debt had shot up from Ksh1.7 trillion to Ksh5.1 trillion, an increase of Sh3.4 trillion. Economists said this was the “fastest accumulation of debt in Kenya’s history”.

In his last budget speech for 2019/20, Rotich urged Kenyans to be “prudent and efficient” in managing resources and called for the mobilisation of domestic resources to fund priority projects and programmes. “We need to reduce our fiscal deficit in order to stabilise and reduce our debt,” he said.

But it was not all gloom for the CS. Rotich was happy that Kenya’s economy had grown from 5.8 per cent in 2013 to 6.3 per cent by 2018 . He was excited to tell Parliament that the economy was still “resilient, in the midst of significant global and domestic headwinds”. While this was highest growth for the past eight years and was well above the sub-Saharan African regional average growth of 3 per cent, Rotich wanted to cut the government’s spending budget by Ksh55.1 billion.

The country was still recovering from drought and the IMF was worried about the growing debt. Economic growth had slowed down in 2017 to 4.9 per cent from a revised 5.9 per cent in 2016 due to a severe drought in the first quarter of 2017 followed by poor rainfall. Another positive was that Kenya had moved from being the 12th largest economy in Africa, to the sixth, tripling its wealth from a GDP of Ksh4.5 trillion in 2013, to close to Ksh13 trillion.
Getting funds to finance President Kenyatta’s infrastructure dreams was one of Rotich’s agenda at the Treasury. Several projects had sprung up across the country – roads, electricity connections, dams, and ports. The budget had doubled from Sh800 billion in 2012/2013 to Ksh1.662 trillion. Perhaps looking back, Rotich can take consolation in the fact that he was in charge when the road network grew six times and power generation 40 times as more homes were connected to electricity.

In 2014, Kenya rebased her economy and became one of Africa’s top 10 economies. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics figures indicated that the GDP had grown by an estimated 25 per cent after the base calculation year was changed from 2001 to 2009. Rotich observed that the this would help to “raise the profile of the economy to investors” as Kenya moved up to slot nine from the previous 12th.

Rotich told Parliament’s Finance, Trade and Planning Committee that the government has been assured of loans totalling more than $10 billion over the next four years and that increasing the debt ceiling would ensure the loans were within the law. The CS said the World Bank has committed to making $4 billion available to Kenya over the next four years. The African Development Bank was offering $2 billion and the European Union $4 billion to fund the construction of a crude oil pipeline from Turkana to Lamu and a power transmission line from the coal power plant in Lamu to Kitui. Other projects were the Galana Kulalu and other irrigation schemes, the development of a geothermal power plant, and a power line through Kenya from Ethiopia to Tanzania.

Rotich was the first Finance minister to deal with devolved governments – which had to be financed from Treasury. This required a fine a balancing act as he came under sustained criticism from the county governments, which felt that he was withholding money from them. Treasury was being accused of lecturing county governments on how to use their own money:

“Treasury must stick to the law. Officials there should stop undermining devolution by unnecessarily delaying the transfer of funds to counties,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Billow Kerrow when transfer of funds had been delayed. The CS was worried that county governments were fast accumulating debts by failing to pay suppliers.
But it was the dam projects that would finally sink Rotich. It was alleged that the Ksh63 billion Arror and Kimwarer dam projects had seen the country lose billions of shillings in unexplained payments although they had not yet started. The scandal would land Rotich in court, charged with abuse of office and conspiracy to defraud the government of Ksh27 billion.

Other charges included engaging in a project without planning, failing to comply with guidelines and procedures relating to procurement, and financial misconduct.

For a man who had walked into Treasury with clean hands, Rotich’s fall from grace to grass must have bewildered him. The heavy burden of the office, the complexities of a large government, and his relatively youthful age had seen him drop some balls.

He can console himself that he had watched Kenya’s budget grow – and that several mega projects of that time have his signature.

Najib Balala: Politician with nine lives

Najib Balala visits the Ithumba Camp, Tsavo East National Park a Sheldrick Orphans’ Project set up to rescue rehabilitate and
reintegrate elephants in the  wild.

It is not usual for a Head of State to isolate a particular member of the Cabinet for praise or censure. But twice in 2021, President Uhuru Kenyatta publicly congratulated Najib Balala, his Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, and the ministry for activities and policies that yielded results in wildlife conservation and the promotion of Kenya globally as an ideal tourism destination.

It is unusual for a Head of State to isolate a particular member of the Cabinet for praise or censure. But twice in 2021, President Uhuru Kenyatta publicly congratulated Najib Balala, his Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, and the ministry for activities and policies that yielded results in wildlife conservation and the promotion of Kenya globally as an ideal tourism destination.

The President was impressed by Balala’s efforts to steer back on track an industry that had been severely battered by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

Balala used charm as a strategy to get things moving. Indeed, since his entrance into the political arena in 1998 as Mayor of Mombasa, his amiable personality enabled him to surmount great obstacles and challenges to remain a key player in the country’s politics for many years. He was Uhuru’s longest-serving Cabinet Secretary, having been appointed in 2013, and the only carry-forward from President Mwai Kibaki’s Cabinet to stay on to the end of Uhuru’s second term.

Balala was first elected as MP for Mvita Constituency in 2002, when Kibaki won the presidency. He was appointed Minister for Sports, Gender, Culture and Social Services (2003 –2004) before becoming State Minister for Heritage, a position he held briefly before he was dropped the following year (2005), along with others in the Cabinet, for opposing a draft document that sought to change the Constitution of Kenya. Four years later, he was appointed Minister for Tourism in the expanded Government of National Unity that had Kibaki as President and Raila Odinga as Prime Minister. Despite being a politician who changed or formed political parties with seeming abandon in a world where this might be considered a sign of indecisiveness, in Balala’s case it was virtuosity of a kind! “I have reflected carefully and thought that it is better to address national rather than partisan issues,” he once said.

He switched political allegiances from Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement to Uhuru’s Jubilee Alliance in the transitional elections of 2013, when Kenya embraced devolution. At the time, he had already founded his own political vehicle, Republican Congress Party (RCP), which he used for his stillborn bid for the Mombasa senatorial seat. Weeks before the election, Uhuru’s coalition drew in several other parties, among them Balala’s RCP. When Uhuru won the presidency, he immediately appointed Balala Cabinet Secretary for Mining.

Up until then, the mining sector was a backwater affair, operating under laws and policies that were unchanged from colonial days. According to the Kenya Vision 2030 economic blueprint, Kenya is endowed with a wide range of minerals such as soda ash, fluorspar, diatomite, gemstone, limestone, barite, gypsum, salt, dimension stones, silica sand, Kisii stone (soapstone), manganese, zinc, wollastonite, graphite, kaolin, copper, gold, lead, nickel, iron ore, carbon dioxide, chromite, pyrite, various clays, niobium and rare earth elements, pyroclore, titanium and coal.

However, although this was well acknowledged, the country’s vast mineral wealth had gone untapped for eons.
Instructively, the mining and mineral resource sector was a priority plank of Vision 2030, and its contribution to the gross domestic product at the time was 0.8 per cent. Balala set out to have this grow to 10 per cent by 2030, thereby making it a key driver of economic growth and transformation. Presently, the ministry draws from a number of quasi-statutory organisations, State departments and agencies, including the Mineral Rights Board that grants and/or revokes mining agreements among other roles, the Directorate of Mines, and the Geologists Registration Board.

A year into his tenure, Balala produced the much-needed Mining Bill 2014. Apart from this legal framework, he drafted the first Mining Policy in 74 years, to make it conform to modern international standards. The CS and his Principal Secretary, Richard Ekai, also targeted the royalty regime and mining licences. To cap the landmark legal, institutional and policy changes, Balala revoked 65 “fraudulent or irregularly existing” mineral exploration licences (individual as well as corporate) thus freeing 4.5 million acres of potential mineral land for new explorers.

“From the date of the issuance of this notice, any mining activities by these persons or companies over the areas that are subject of the revoked licences shall be illegal,” Balala said in a notice to an explorer who had continued to operate on a licence that had expired seven years earlier despite the legal requirement that licences must be renewed every year. “A lot of clean up and enforcement of the law still needs to be done. People must comply with what the government has put in place … Ninety five per cent of those licences had already expired and the owners had not renewed them. Some of them were not filing reports of their field progress,” the CS said. Under his watch revenue from the export of minerals rose from Ksh21 million to Ksh1.2 billion in just one year. This was more than enough to convince him that the country had the capacity to earn Ksh10 billion annually from the export of minerals.

Drastic measures, however well intentioned, often attract controversy. Cortec Kenya spoke of malice in Balala’s revocation of its Ksh4.5 trillion mining project in which Jacob Juma, a vocal business operative, was a shareholder.

In fact, Juma sensationally claimed that his company beat back the CS’s demands for a USD 1 million bribe. Balala denied the claims and in return, branded the deal to licence the firm a “fraud”. A High Court ruling in 2015 vindicated Balala when it confirmed that Cortec had indeed acquired its licence without following proper procedure.

Najib Balala joins President Uhuru Kenyatta during the Kenya-Portugal Business forum in Lisbon in June 2022.

Balala’s motivation in revoking the licences may have been to uplift the economic lot of coastal communities. Based on past reports, the area has large amounts of untapped minerals. Having been born and educated in the coast region before joining the famed Kakamega High School in western Kenya, Balala was not an outsider looking in as he undertook to streamline the sector. Indeed, his coastal constituency was in dire need of a person able to empower it, perhaps through benefiting from the rich resources. This might also explain Balala’s subsequent appointment to head the Ministry of Tourism. Kenya’s beaches and other tourism attractions have drawn the awe of international visitors for years.

While Balala may have revamped the mining sector, his influence was felt more in tourism, which was once Kenya’s main foreign exchange earner before diaspora remittances took over. Balala had served in the same capacity in Kibaki’s administration from 2008 to 2012. Citizen TV Digital described him as “Kenya’s longest-serving Tourism Minister, boasting a 12-year run”. No wonder another Internet publication described him as a lead actor in the Kenyan tourism movie, sustaining its growth and anchoring hope for the millions whose livelihoods depend on its health.

He is credited with sector reforms in tourism, wildlife and mining, with development and strategic implementation of key policies and strategy documents such as Kenya New Vision for Tourism 2021, Magical Kenya Health and Safety protocols, 2020, National Tourism Blueprint (NTB) 2030, National Wildlife Strategy 2020, Tourism Act 2011, Draft Mining Bill in 2014, the first policy and institutional framework review of Kenya’s mining sector since 1940 among other key leadership and policy guidelines under his purview.

In his tenure as the Minister, Balala undertook various activities to promote Magical Kenya, including climbing Mt Kenya twice, in 2017 and 2022 respectively, Whale watching escapade’s in Watamu, Indian Ocean, zip-lining excursions in Kereita Forest, sky diving from a 10,000m above sea level in Watamu, Kilifi in 2016. Balala also introduced Tourism ambassadors, among them Naomi Campbell, and Eliud Kipchoge to market Magical Kenya, as well, hosting Key international journalist such as Richard Austin Quest a British journalist and news anchor for CNN International to showcase the Magic in our destination. He established the appointment of a Wildlife Ambassador to promote wildlife management and conservation in Kenya with Actor Edward Norton appointed as the 1st wildlife Ambassador for Kenya, by President Kenyatta.

Balala has variously been rewarded for his achievements in the tourism sector. In April 2019, he was named World Travel and Tourism Council Global Champion, which recognises individuals or countries whose initiatives and policies have increased the competitiveness of the sector. In November 2021 he received the Heroes Tourism Award given by the World Tourism Network at the World Tourism Market, London. And in August 2020, Kenya became the first country in the world to be awarded the ‘Safer Tourism Seal’ in recognition of the health and safety measures the country put in place during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. By mid-2021, the sector was already getting back on track.

This recognition is evidence of the strides the government has made to improve the economy. Before the pandemic rudely interrupted the sector’s golden run, Tourism contributed Ksh163.5 billion to the economy in 2019, much of it from the 2,048,834 visitors that year. This was up from the Ksh157.3 billion generated the previous year and Ksh100 billion earnings in 2016. Perhaps of interest was the ministry’s concerted efforts to attract domestic tourists — 4.95 million bed nights in 2019 and 4.48 million the previous year.

These impressive figures were backed by intentional promotions and publicity strategies, including trade fairs, road shows, marketing and advertising campaigns (both physical and online) aimed at making Kenya the first choice for the global tourist. Among the economic areas that benefited from the ripple effect was the aviation sector, which witnessed increased air traffic. For instance, entry through Jomo Kenyatta and Moi international airports registered substantial growth of 6.07 per cent and 8.56 per cent respectively, according to the Tourism Sector Performance Report 2019. “This is an indication that air connectivity will continue to be a major driver for growth of international arrivals,” read the report.

Balala is credited with the development of the National Tourism Blueprint (NTB) 2030, which seeks to guide and accelerate the development of Kenya’s tourism sector. His goal was to promote a mix of traditional markets and visitors from the rest from Africa.

“Africa has a high population of middle-class capable of undertaking tourist activities. We have to undertake initiatives to maximise inter-Africa tourism by more explicitly targeting the untapped regional market,” he told a meeting of African Tourism Ministers in October 2018.

Also to his credit is the foundation and establishment of the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre – Kenya Chapter and Tourism Promotion Fund to support the development, promotion and branding of tourism in Kenya. When it came to politics, Balala was a good example of what ‘survival of the fittest’ looks like. Despite the fluidity of Kenya’s politics, where leaders seem to change and/or create political parties at the drop of a hat, the CS managed to traverse different regimes and emerge with little, if any, harm or stain. Like a giraffe, the father of four let foresight lead the way.

“No one wants to be in the Opposition. It’s cold there and even those who are keen on being elected know that. I have been in government since 1998 and I will be in the next one and serve in any position that is there for the good of all Kenyans,” he once said. No wonder one local daily once labelled him as a man with nine lives. Asked by the same newspaper about the uncertainty surrounding him ahead of the 2022 General Election, for which he did not offer himself as a candidate for any of the elective seats, Balala said, “Sometimes too much politics clouds your deliverables. And people don’t eat politics. Sometimes you have to pull back and reflect and wait for the next turn. I will serve my term to the end of President Kenyatta’s tenure.”

His election as Mayor of Mombasa (1998-1999) at the tender age of 30 was not mere happenstance. Here was a man equipped with an academic qualification in international urban management from the University of Toronto, Canada, as well as a certificate of attendance to The Executive Program for Leaders in Development from the prestigious Harvard University. As MP for Mvita (for two consecutive terms starting in 2002), he paled against the colossal personality of his predecessor, Shariff Nassir, who had held the seat for three consecutive terms since 1988.
Still, Balala’s voice on some key national concerns stood out in Parliament, such as his spirited effort to have a transparent and accountable NGO sector. “Self-regulation is very important. We know there is the NGO Council. Of late, we have found it to be very problematic. It has been fighting with the NGO Co-ordination Board as well as within itself. We need to see discipline and order with the Independent Regulatory Council that is proposed in this Bill,” he told Parliament on 5 December 2012 during a Motion that sought to establish the independent Public Benefit Regulatory Authority.

It is against this background that an online newspaper warned anyone who might have been looking forward to reading Balala’s political eulogy: “It would be a mistake to count out Najib, who has amassed over two decades of experience in the political realm. His influence has been enhanced by his networks and outreach, which have seen him trade the private sector business for public life in politics.”

Paul Kihara: A patrician’s speckled odyssey

The Attorney General Paul Kihara Kariuki (right), pays the Director of Public Prosecution Noordin Haji a courtesy call in his office.

It is exceedingly appropriate that this account of one of the latest entrants into President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Cabinet, Paul Kihara Kariuki, begins with a focus on the seldom-remarked fact that he is a thespian of note. Throughout his schooling days, from the Duke of Gloucester, now Nairobi School, to the University of Nairobi, and even afterwards as a young lawyer in private practice, Kihara was a respected stage actor credited with powerful performances in mainly classical productions.

To this performative background, Kihara owed a number of his distinctive traits. The first is an impressive public speaking voice complemented by the second – impeccable elocution. Thirdly, Kihara carries himself with a confidence and authority that is quiet and understated whilst also being distinguished and earnest.
However, the purpose of commencing a distinguished jurist’s profile with his theatrical exploits have to do with Jaques’ famous monologue in Shakespeare’s As You like It:

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts…”

In keeping with this adage, Kihara’s seasons have found him in diverse turns. After graduating with his Bachelor of Laws, he joined the large and prestigious firm, Hamilton, Harrison and Matthews, where he rose from legal assistant to the position of partner, which he held until 1986.

Thereafter, he left to found another highly regarded indigenous law firm, Ndung’u Njoroge and Kwach, where he served as partner for 15 years.

In 2000, Kihara was appointed director of the Kenya School of Law and Secretary to the Council for Legal Education, the training school for advocates in the Republic of Kenya. He served in this position for three years after which President Mwai Kibaki appointed him a judge of the High Court of Kenya in the new judiciary following an anti-corruption purge of judicial officers found to be irredeemably tainted by turpitude in the so-called “radical surgery”.
Justice Kihara Kariuki replaced Justice Isaac Lenaola as the High Court duty judge as the latter assumed responsibilities in a judicial tribunal handling the appeals of the judges affected by the “radical surgery”. After two years as duty judge, the Chief Justice appointed Kariuki to head the Judiciary’s Integrity Review Panel. Three years afterwards, in 2009, he was picked to head the newly established Judicial Training Institute, where he worked for three years before he was elevated to the Court of Appeal, of which he soon became president.

A remarkable facet of Kihara’s career is his long tenure as the chancellor of the Anglican Church of Kenya, from 1980 until the time he took up his judicial appointment in 2001. This segment of his biography is revealing for its subtle confluence of potent attributes, and how they unmistakably exerted their stamp on the public profile of this intriguing personage.

As already demonstrated, Kihara was a capable student who graduated to become a brilliant lawyer, placing him at the right threshold to serve the church in this illustrious position. More advantageously for him was the fact that he grew up in the official residence of the Archbishop of the Church of the Province of Kenya, now the Anglican Church, Obadiah Jesse Kariuki, who was his father. From this vantage, he must have become acquainted with a vast retinue of clerics who would later remember him favourably when it did turn out that he was also an accomplished advocate eager to work for the church.

By 2012, when he joined the appellate bench, Kihara had made many entrances and taken many exits on the legal stage in the course of performing his life’s play: an advocate, a chancellor, an educationist, and a judge. It is almost certain that Kihara had no means of anticipating the next act in this drama, but as a dynamic performer, he was ready to deliver his most captivating lines extempore, as soon as the curtain rose on the first scene.

After eight years as Attorney General under two presidents whose dispositions could not have been more starkly opposed, Prof Githu Muigai was ready to bow out. His last lines were, therefore, delivered by the President, who accepted his resignation with tremendous gratitude for his service and simultaneously announced the nomination of Justice Paul Kihara Kariuki to be appointed, subject to parliamentary approval, as the new Attorney General.

Kihara assumed office after a blistering furore over President Kenyatta’s efforts to come to grips with insecurity, regional conflict, and terrorism through numerous legislative changes pursued by way of the Security (Amendment) Act that convulsed Parliament in high-octane political confrontation.

Kihara’s odyssey was going to be no less dramatic, and certainly equally taxing. He joined the government as Kenyatta consolidated his administration for his final “legacy” not only by pivoting away from previous executive priorities and configurations, but also by fashioning a mechanism to expedite the implementation of those projects and the attainment of those targets that he intended to define his tenure in office.

Kihara was appointed on February 13, 2018, three months into the inauguration of Kenyatta’s second presidential term, which he had won in an election bitterly contested by Raila Odinga, a former prime minister. Odinga’s supporters were still in the streets all over the country, vigorously expressing their dismay at his defeat and disapproval of Kenyatta’s victory. A radical splinter had emerged from the National Super Alliance (Nasa), which had sponsored Odinga, and styled itself as the National Resistance Movement (NRM).

This group proclaimed a campaign of civil disobedience in all Nasa strongholds, which comprised over half of the country’s territory in terms of the number of counties that were presided over by Nasa-affiliated governors. The campaign entailed a boycott of the products and services of firms perceived to be owned by, associated with, or sympathetic to Kenyatta or his allies. It also called for the removal of the President’s portrait in all business premises and public spaces in these counties.

As it gained traction, the movement’s campaign commenced a series it profiled as “people’s assemblies” with a view to promulgating a constituent assembly to ratify the secession of Nasa-affiliated counties from the Republic of Kenya and the inauguration of Raila Odinga as the president of the breakaway territory. Street demonstrations became regular, widespread, disruptive, and resistant to policing. In fact, they began to get more and more riotously violent, and serious injuries increased in frequency.

This campaign had reached an alarming crescendo when the NRM assembled Odinga’s supporters at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park to swear him in as the “people’s president”. The tension in the days leading to the controversial event was devastating. Throughout the country, the air throbbed with ominous possibilities. Kenyatta’s partisans had regrouped in a defensive posture, stridently calling upon the President to use his constitutional authority to suppress what they perceived to be Odinga’s treasonous subversion.

After the Uhuru Park event, the hostility between the bitter rival factions intensified and there were fears that the country could implode, consumed by intractable political competition and seemingly irreconcilable differences among the elites.

This was far from the operating environment Kenyatta desired to expedite the execution of his signature programmes and secure his legacy. Time being of the essence, the opposition’s political onslaught, civil disobedience, mass action, and active effort to undermine Kenyatta’s legitimacy as president as well as that of his administration were extremely inconvenient. Something had to give, and the President was not going to wait on proposals and strategies that took time to configure and which, in any event, might take time to bear fruit.

It had become abundantly evident that the problem Kenyatta and his administration faced was principally political and thus impervious to all administrative, legal, and constitutional interventions. Odinga’s wily strategy was to confine his confrontation in the political domain and make it difficult for Kenyatta to effectively apply the instruments of state in his authority without causing immense discomfort. The Executive’s bandwidth was exhausted, and nothing Kihara could recommend at that point would present a silver bullet.

On March, 9, 2018, just over one month after Kihara’s appointment, Kenyatta and Odinga surprised the nation and, indeed, the world when they appeared on the steps of Harambee House, domicile of the Office of the President, and, in a display of unusual amity, hugged and shook hands before each proceeded to read a prepared statement about the need for unity, reconciliation, peace, and cohesion.

If Kihara’s inaugural nightmare was now over, the next harrowing challenges were crawling determinedly into his line of vision. The Kenyatta-Odinga Handshake led to a framework christened the Building Bridges Initiative, which was formalised into a task force mandated to proceed on a countrywide listening tour to ascertain the most pressing concerns of citizens and propose administrative, legislative, as well as constitutional changes to address them.

The task force presented its report in due course and a secretariat was subsequently assigned the work of drafting the necessary instruments to implement the report’s recommendations. A number of parliamentary bills were mooted, but of utmost priority to Kenyatta and Odinga, and deep concern to suspicious opponents, was the escalation of suggested constitutional changes into an implacable platform towards the conduct of a referendum for radical constitutional change.

Kenyatta fortified his position by reconfiguring his government through the first Executive Order of 2018, which more or less formalised the isolation of the Deputy President, considered by many analysts as the foremost casualty, if not the principal political target, of both the Handshake and the ensuing BBI.

Residual suspicion of Odinga resurfaced, and coupled with scepticism about the Handshake’s real intent, rebellion against the BBI quickly mounted to political mobilisation to oppose the expected referendum question on constitutional changes. The tranquillity Kenyatta had hoped to purchase through the Handshake had collapsed under a tidal backlash of suspicion and resistance. Parliament became the ground for testy confrontations and irascible contests. Disenchanted citizens and civil society organisations besieged the government in courts, challenging innumerable legislative actions and proposals.

Kihara, the patrician prodigy and dauntless thespian, was confronted with a cataclysmic plot twist that threatened devastating consequences for both his performance and career. He became the focus of raucous criticism and intemperate political attacks as his office was profiled as complicit in the BBI framework, which by now was a veritably polarising affair.

Kihara’s astute response to all the tumult was to insulate his office by relocating considerable portions of his performance backstage, with only glimpses of his repertory to be spotted in various court appearances by himself, or through his numberless acolytes.

The government suffered setback after setback as the courts halted, nullified, or struck down various legislative and administrative measures of the government for divers substantive and procedural infractions. Kihara remained genteel, unflappable, and profoundly inscrutable as he stoically weathered the inclement storms buffeting him on the loneliest, most scrutinised, and arguably most consequential assignment of his storied career.

Peter Munya: The man with a hard docket

It was a vote of confidence in Peter Munya’s abilities that he was appointed to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Cooperatives in January 2020. He was tasked with dealing with cartels in the value chain and, it was hoped, streamlining a sector that formed the foundation of Kenya’s economy. The docket was troublesome. Locusts and Covid-19 were added to his to-do list.

How Munya was to navigate all these would set him apart from many of his Cabinet colleagues and he would become a familiar face as he addressed the problems in the agriculture sector.

After serving as the first governor of Meru County for five years, he was appointed Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of East African Community and Northern Corridor Development in 2018. He was also elected chairman of the Council of Governors, where he fought for the consolidation of devolution in the face of a funding crisis. President Kenyatta appointed him CS for Industry, Trade, and Cooperatives two years later.

The lawyer-turned-politician was born Peter Gatirau Munya in 1969 in Muthaara, Tigania, and attended Chogoria Boys High School for his ‘O’ levels before moving on to Meru High School for his ‘A’ levels. He was the chairman of the Debating Club and the Provincial Public Speaking Competition winner. He received his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1993 from the University of Nairobi, where he was twice elected chairman of the Kenya Law Students Society (KLLS) in 1992 and 1993. He was awarded a Belgian embassy scholarship in January 1995 and enrolled at the University of Brussels, where he earned a master’s degree in International Law. Later, at the University of Georgia, he earned a second master’s degree in Public and International Law.

Back home, he taught law at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies, the Kenya School of Professional Studies, and Moi University before joining politics in 2002 when he contested and won the Tigania East parliamentary seat on a National Rainbow Coalition ticket.

But it was his appointment by President Kenyatta as minister for East African Community and Northern Corridor Development between January 2018 and July 2019 that would cement his position in the Cabinet.

Munya’s tenure came at a difficult time when Kenya and Tanzania were embroiled in a diplomatic spat that resulted in the confiscation and destruction of Kenyan goods at the border. On February 13, just before he was sworn in, the Tanzanian government confiscated and destroyed day-old chicks at the Namanga border crossing. Another 5,000 chicks were confiscated five months earlier, ostensibly due to a lack of proper documentation.

It also coincided with the government’s decision to develop the Northern Corridor, a multimodal trade route linking the landlocked countries of South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, DR Congo, and Uganda with the Mombasa port. The Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Agreement (NCTTA) was first signed in 1985 and revised in 2007 by all the countries except South Sudan, which acceded to the agreement in 2012.

As the minister in charge, Munya was the foremost regional diplomat as he actualised the realisation of the treaty.
But his tenure was cut short when he was appointed to the troubled Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives on July 13, 2018, swapping places with Adan Mohammed. It was during Munya’s time at Trade that the war on counterfeits gathered momentum as the Jubilee government started a major crackdown on illicit trade and counterfeits.

According to the 2018 National Baseline Survey on Counterfeit and Other Forms of Illicit Trade in Kenya, illicit trade in the country was worth Ksh826 billion, up from Ksh726 billion in 2017, a rise by 14 per cent. The country was also losing Ksh153 billion every year in revenue. This accounted for 96 per cent of the total government revenue loss and this had raised the alarm within the government. In June 2019, the CS presided over an exercise aimed at destroying counterfeits worth millions of shillings as a multi-agency force was appointed to help eradicate the vice, which was controlled by established cartels.

On March 3, 2020, Munya handed over the Trade and Industry docket to Betty Maina – just as the Covid-19 was starting to disrupt trade through a global shutdown. The coronavirus had been detected in China in December 2019 and this was immediately followed by flight suspensions and lockdowns.

By the time Munya was leaving the Trade docket for Agriculture, he was seeking expanded market access with Chinese partners as the Asian country emerged as a big market for Kenyan products – especially stevia and avocado. He had also started working on crucial policies, including the Automotive Policy, the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Policy, Regulation of SME Fund laws, and the Local Content and Public Procurement Expansion policies.

Peter Munya receives President Uhuru Kenyatta for the inauguration of the Rivatex ultra-modern production plant in Eldoret in June 2019.

Munya replaced Mwangi Kiunjuri at the Ministry of Agriculture, which now also included the Cooperative docket, at a time the President was publicly complaining about the cartels in the agriculture sector. A maize scandal had rocked the National Cereals and Produce Board, which had paid several maize importers huge sums of money at the expense of local farmers. During that year’s Mashujaa Day rally at Bukhungu Stadium, Kakamega, an angry President Kenyatta told Kiunjuri: “The time for games is over. Look for those stealing public resources, bring them we take them to jail or you (Kiunjuri) will find yourself in trouble over these issues.” Some Ksh1.9 billion earmarked to pay local farmers had been paid to the importers.

Kiunjuri left soon after, and Munya took his place. His first task was to streamline the dairy industry, where milk farmers were facing low prices for their products. Munya directed the New Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) to raise the price of milk from Ksh25 to Ksh33 per litre, a day after the President directed Treasury to release Ksh500 million to buy excess milk from farmers.

While at the Trade Ministry, the CS was asked by Parliament to explain what he was doing to keep Kenya from being flooded with milk from Uganda. While data presented to Parliament showed that milk imports from East African Community (EAC) member states hit 110.7 million litres in 2018, Munya reminded the House that due to the EAC protocol, Kenya could not stop imports from Uganda.

Munya began lobbying Parliament to pass the new Cooperative Bill, which aimed to address the sector’s key governance challenges. The Cooperatives Act – Cap 490, which had been in effect since 2005, was to be replaced by the new Bill. The Bill addressed several key issues, including the registration of cooperatives and the vetting of their leaders in order to promote transparency in the sector. The Bill is still pending in Parliament, and it is one of the many frustrating efforts Munya has had to deal with in the agricultural value chain.

But there were other triumphs.

President Kenyatta promised to “increase the money in the pocket of the farmer” during a national address at State House, Mombasa on January 14, 2020. He stated that this would be accomplished by focusing anti-corruption efforts on those who had captured the agricultural sector and were exploiting their positions for illegal gain and trading in conflict of interest.

The tea and coffee industries would be the first targets.

With Kenya’s tea accounting for nearly 20 per cent of its total global exports, the onus fell on Munya to clean up the sector. The Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) was under pressure over dwindling payments, conflict of interest, and strangling of farmer-owned factories. Also, there was lack of transparency in the declaration of dividends by subsidiary companies.

The war against KTDA was to be Munya’s greatest fight. The agency was a behemoth and its economic might straddled various institutions, including the Judiciary and Parliament, where it had mastered the tactics of legal survival. KTDA could file countless cases in court, keeping away anyone who tried to reorganise the tea sector.

That April, Munya announced a new set of regulations to protect tea farmers from exploitation and aptly captured all the problems facing the sector in a single sentence thus: “A major problem facing the tea value chain is a dysfunctional and inefficient tea auction system characterised by lack of transparency, accountability, and competition; and prone to manipulation, capture, insider trading, and cartelisation by value chain players leading to ineffective price discovery, low prices, and poor earnings to tea farmers.”

According to the new rules, all teas produced in Kenya for the export market would be sold solely through the auction. This would eventually lead to the prohibition of tea sales by private treaty, also known as Direct Sales Overseas, which were blamed for falling prices because they were negotiated outside the auction platform.

Munya said that the opening of a parallel window by tea brokers undermined the entire auction and interfered with the price discovery because KTDA-managed factories supplied over 60 per cent of tea to the auction. This not only lowered tea price, but also made it difficult for farmers to determine the true value of their produce.

Another of the Munya proposals was that all licensed tea auction organisers establish an electronic trading platform and that all buyers pay in full for all tea bids they win at the auction before they take custody and lift the tea for export. In addition, all money from the sale of tea at the auction was to be remitted directly to factory limited accounts within fourteen (14) days from the auction date less only the agreed commission for tea brokers.
The order also stated that tea farmers who marketed their produce through the KTDA should to be paid 50 per cent of the delivery every month, with the rest paid as bonus annually.

But if Munya was expecting a smooth ride, KTDA and other interested parties were determined not to give him one. Shortly after he gazetted the new Tea Regulations of 2020, and appointed a task force to help implement the rules, the CS was taken to court in a bid to stop the work of the task force, which was to be chaired by tea broker Jacob Kamau Kihiu. Other members were Irungu Nyakera (a former Permanent Secretary), former MP Langat Magerer, Fredrick Muriithi, John Kamau, former Tea Board of Kenya director David Chomba Gachoki, and tea trader Catherine Nyaboke Mogeni, and trade expert Wanja Michuki. With the new hurdles bringing his efforts to a halt, Munya’s dreams of instituting much-needed tea reforms seemed to have reached a dead end – thus putting Munya’s dream in the cooler.

It would be a major test as he began touring the country, speaking to tea farmers and urging them to support the reforms. Munya was attempting to gain the support of those who care about the sector’s survival by targeting farmers rather than politicians.

Despite the farmers’ support, Munya’s efforts to save the Tea Regulations 2020 were unsuccessful in the High Court. The CS then addressed the Tea Bill 2018, which was currently pending in the Senate. The Tea Trade Structure Bill, introduced by Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, sought not only to overhaul the tea trade structure, but also to reintroduce the Tea Board of Kenya as the new regulator.

Even so, as KTDA lobbied members to drop the Bill and politics continued to inform its survival, it faced new challenges. Finally, on December 22, 2020, the Senate passed the Tea Bill, which President Kenyatta signed the following day into law. It was a significant victory in the war against the tea cartels. Within a year, payments to tea farmers had increased by 44.6 percent, from Ksh34.71 per kilo of green leaf in 2021 to Ksh50.18 in 2022.

The coffee industry was also facing similar difficulties. Munya threatened to dissolve the indebted Kenya Planters Cooperative Union when he was at the Ministry of Trade (KPCU). The union, once owned by farmers, had been taken over by cartels, which were now holding it to ransom – together with the coffee farmers.

Munya had toured the KPCU yards and seen the rot within. To address the problem, he founded the New KPCU, which was to take over all the farmers’ assets and run the company – the same way New KCC had managed to revive the milk sector. A new board had also been appointed.

After this intervention and the revival of KPCU, milling losses went down from 24 per cent to 17 per cent, which meant that farmers had been losing an average of 6 per cent of their produce through false losses. The quality also significantly improved to 70 to 80 per cent in grade A. This meant that the coffee quality might have been tampered with.

The last of Munya’s battles was in the miraa trade after neighbouring Somalia – which purchases miraa worth an estimated Ksh20 million a day shut out Kenya. With Britain having locked out miraa from its markets, further trade restrictions were now hurting miraa farmers from Munya’s Meru backyard. Opening this market became a priority and Munya continued to push Mogadishu to reopen the markets.

However, it is the new miraa regulations that will transform the industry. The rules, which will be published in a special issue of the Kenya Gazette on June 9, 2022, detail a slew of provisions, including those concerning safety during stimulant harvesting and packaging, levies, and licenses. According to the rules, “Miraa shall not be stored or transported in together with other produce,” and that “a vessel used for transportation of miraa shall be built and equipped to ensure maintenance of optimal temperatures and hygiene to prevent damage, contamination, and spoilage of produce.”

His fighting spirit and resilience have seen Munya navigate his various dockets and bring about change. This has seen him successfully handle some of the most difficult dockets and thus help to define President Kenyatta’s legacy.

Phyllis Jepkosgei Kandie: Coy countess who grew into her job

Phyllis Kandie with Deputy President William Ruto at the Nandi Investment Conference in Kapsabet.

Shy and timid. These two words loudly greeted and nearly scuttled Phyllis Kandie’s entry into the Cabinet. And a member of Parliament even invented a moniker — “shyometer”— on the floor of the august House as members heatedly debated her suitability to head the Ministry of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inaugural Cabinet.

Kandie missed Parliament’s disapproval by a whisker. That she was almost “returned to sender” made her debut in the Cabinet markedly wobbly.

When she appeared before the parliamentary committee to be vetted for the post, she appeared ill at ease, fretting, and even faltering in her speech as she answered questions. Her performance at the interview in the full glare of television cameras so split the committee’s opinion that the chairman tabled a non-unanimous decision to reject her appointment as its own members openly differed in Parliament.

A section of the committee felt that of the 16 names the President had submitted to Parliament for vetting, only Kandie did not fit the bill, hence sparking protracted debate in the House. As some MPs argued that her shyness and self-effacing countenance did not reflect her competence, Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo wondered aloud what “shyometer” was being used to measure the degree of her shyness. Some members argued that Kandie’s timid demeanour did not match her impressive CV.

She later attributed her poor showing at the vetting to “one minute of self-doubt” when the MPs asked her questions she was uncomfortable with.

Once President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, were sworn into office in April 2013, their next daunting task was to craft a Cabinet and the necessary administrative structures to govern the country and deliver on their key campaign promises. As the first President and Deputy President to be elected under the (then new) Constitution 2010, the full implementation of the charter fell squarely on their shoulders.

The task was made even more interesting by the requirements in Article 152 that changed the name “minister” to “Cabinet secretary” (CS), and dictated that CSs hold no other public office. Kenyans largely interpreted this to mean that the Cabinet would consist of purely professional men and women devoid of political affiliations.

Indeed, in one of the press briefings at State House, Nairobi, before the Cabinet line-up was released, Ruto said: “Kenyans said they do not want a Cabinet of politicians and that is what we are working on. Our Cabinet will be a Cabinet of professionals who will steer the development agenda of this country.”

It was in that context of uncharted constitutional waters amid great public expectation that Kenyatta and Ruto, dubbed “the dynamic duo’’ because of their exuberant camaraderie, stepped into the presidency. Kenyans were eagerly waiting for the President’s first Cabinet appointments.

And so, when he, accompanied by his deputy, stepped out to read the list of nominees on April 24, 2013, the President’s inaugural Cabinet sprang quite a few surprises. Not only did the manner of presentation shock the country, some of the names and faces that were unveiled as the key drivers of the Jubilee administration’s agenda came as a surprise.

The first batch of 16 nominees out of the maximum 22 consisted of hitherto virtually unknown individuals picked from the government and the private sector. Upon introducing them (they were unveiled one by one, like star actors of premier film on stage) President Kenyatta summed it up thus: “We are giving Kenyans the best brains that will enable us deliver our Jubilee manifesto and uplift the wellbeing of the nation.”

And one of those “best brains” was little-known Phyllis Jepkosgei Kipingor-Kandie, who was plucked from Crescent Standard Investment Bank, where she worked as a director. The President nominated her to be the Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism. She would be charged with the development of cogent trade and tourism policies, as stated in the Jubilee party manifesto.

Her surprise appointment sent ripples of excitement across her home village of Poror in Eldama Ravine, Baringo County. Many of them had never seen the fresh nominee who describes herself as an investment banker. Most local residents only know her father, Elkana Kipingor, who, until his death in January 2022 aged 94, was a prominent farmer in the area.

Phyllis Kandie celebrates with marathon legend Paul Tergat and other Kenyans at the Kenya Pavilion during the Kenya Expo Run held at the Expo Milano Italy in September 2015. The theme of the event was “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”. At the time, Tergat was the World Food Programme Ambassador against hunger

With the nascent Jubilee administration being a coalition of Kenyatta’s The National Alliance party (TNA) and Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP), it was expected that the list would comprise nominees fronted by both parties. The two leaders were expected to consult each other and propose names for ministerial and other high-level government appointments.

As such, analysts believe Kandie was appointed through the Ruto wing of the coalition. Her appointment, like those of her female colleagues, was also seen as a plus in the fight for the elusive gender parity in public service.

But it was hard to discern whether there was political rhyme or reason behind her choice given that the banker led a rather private life and pursued much of her studies abroad. Kandie had hardly been seen or known to engage in any political or quasi-political activities in her home county.

Her bachelor’s degree in commerce, majoring in economics from St Mary’s University, Canada, as well as two post-graduate degrees (Master of Arts, Middlesex University, and MBA Finance, Durham University, United Kingdom) coupled with her experience in the financial investment sector may have primed Kandie as the woman the president needed for the Trade and Tourism dockets.

She has also worked in the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) and the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).
Kandie once told a breakfast show interview on KTN in 2015 that the appointment to lead the expanded ministry made her a bit jittery as she was not used to the limelight that comes with such a high-profile public office. “I came from the private sector and, you know, private sector people are private… taking a big step like being in charge of a public office is not easy for everybody,” she said.

“However,” she added, “I learnt quickly on the job, got the team together and we are working very well.”
And there was no time to stand and stare for the then 48-year-old mother of two who had been an investment honcho in various organisations. Her in-tray was overflowing with urgent matters to be attended to in the Tourism docket, which had taken severe hits from sporadic terrorist attacks.

Incidents of Al Shabaab militants from Somalia targeting tourist hotels with explosives and abducting guests at the Coast had been on the rise since 2010. This had prompted the government to send Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers into Somalia in 2011 to fight the Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in their bases.

“We are in the process of executing a major recovery programme that is geared towards turning around the image and perception of Kenya among potential visitors,” she told the Oxford Business Group, adding that it was regrettable that as of December 2013, tourism numbers had fallen by 15 per cent due to negative publicity and the resultant travel advisories in key source markets.

Barely four months into her tenure, Kenya experienced one of the worst terrorist attacks that shook the country’s tourism sector. In the mid-morning of September 13, 2013, armed terrorists walked into the Westgate Mall in Westlands, Nairobi, shooting at people indiscriminately and taking others hostage. By the end of the siege that lasted three days, the terrorists had killed more than 60 people, injured scores of others, and destroyed part of the building.

The tourism sector was hurting, Kandie told Citizen TV’s Julie Gichuru on Sunday Live in 2014, that tourism was suffering, not only because of the numerous terrorism attacks in Nairobi after the Westgate assault the previous year, but also from the travel advisories issued by the leading tourist source countries. She had to craft a strategy to counter the negative publicity locally and abroad, and reassure markets on the security measures the government was taking to contain the menace.

Despite her false start, it did not take Kandie and her team, which included Principal secretaries Susan Mochache and Dr Ibrahim Mohammed, long to find her groove in the expanded ministry. Soon she was airborne, leading delegations to numerous capitals to market the country’s tourism, trade, and investment opportunities to potential international travellers and investors. Initially sceptical Kenyans were now seeing a suave and eloquent Kandie consummately articulating government policies and programmes in her docket to local and international audiences.

“I would like to assure you that the government of Kenya takes security very, very seriously and is committed to ensure that it gives security not only to its own citizens but to its visitors and investors as well,” she told a Hellenic-Kenyan Business and Investment Forum in Athens, Greece, in late 2013. She reiterated that terrorism was a global threat, not just a Kenyan issue, and that what happened at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi could happen anywhere else in the world.

Noting that Kenya and Greece enjoyed good trading relations, Kandie, a one-time consultant with the World Bank, said trade exchanges between the two countries rose from $8.83 million in 2008 to $11.88 million in 2011. However, the global economic crisis of 2012 saw it drop to $8.72 million. Tapping into Greece’s ancient history to woo its investors and citizens to Kenya, Kandie assured them that Kenya was an avid consumer of the great historical gifts that their country offers the world such as philosophy, democracy, the Olympics, and the Marathon. She urged them to make Kenya a preferred destination for Greek investment and source of imports.

Married to Ambassador Julius Kandie, a career diplomat and former Solicitor General, and considering the nature of her ministry, Kandie was no doubt a widely-travelled person. Her academic and professional journey of thousands of kilometres around the world began with baby steps in her village in Eldama Ravine, Baringo County, where she attended Poror Primary School before going to Kapropita Girl’s High school for her ‘O’ level studies.

In picking her for his Cabinet, President Kenyatta must have hoped to tap her global exposure and charming demeanour to project the country’s image to the world and advance the government’s trade and tourism targets.
Conversations with officials who worked with the CS said because of her background in financial training and extensive experience as a consultant she clearly understood issues of trade.

“She was up to the task of regional trade, non-tariff barriers. She was also the spouse of an ambassador who had done stints in the UK and Austria and would be best placed to attract tourists,” said a senior adviser who worked with her.

He added that from the word go Kandie hit the ground running and was passionate about the job. “Having not worked in government before, she was a keen learner. She often consulted with heads of departments and advisers, asking them to break down issues for her,” the adviser said.

Then, in late November 2015, President Kenyatta reshuffled the Cabinet after the exit of several CSs implicated in corruption in a dossier that the Head of State had presented to Parliament earlier that week. The reshuffle saw Kandie’s ministry reorganised to become East African Community, Labour and Social Protection. The tourism docket was removed.

And here she found herself facing the challenge of delivering one of the government’s key policies on social protection. Under the social protection programme, the CS said, the government had instituted three avenues to help vulnerable groups of its citizens such as orphans, the elderly, and persons with disability.

These channels were social assistance, a cash transfer programme dubbed “Inua Jamii,” managed by the Ministry of Labour; health insurance offered by the Ministry of Health under the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF); and the social security programme run by the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

She went around the country to oversee the recruitment of senior citizens (those over 70 years of age) and ensure that the disbursements were seamless and on time.

Kandie was also keen on the condition of Kenyans abroad, visiting the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia to talk to their officials and Kenyan embassies in efforts to ensure that Kenyans’ complaints were addressed expeditiously.

In a media interview, Kandie explained that since Jubilee came to power in 2013, 50,000 households had been brought under the social assistance programme. The new government, she said, had committed itself to reach out to one million households and make them beneficiaries of the programme by the end of its first term of office in 2017. Although the target was high, the CS was upbeat that, working with other partners such the World Bank and the (UK) Department for International Development (DFID), they had achieved about 70 per cent of the target by September 2016.

The CS said she had instituted various reforms to improve the ministry’s processes. Among the changes was the single registry plan that aimed to bring together all the social protection programmes under one roof. Initially, she said, the three activities (social assistance, health insurance, and social security) ran parallel to one another.
“We are transforming the programme to consolidate the activities in one ministry so that all information about it is easily available to Kenyans,” she said.

Despite her checkered success, however, it is apparent that the experiment with purely technocratic Cabinet secretaries faced such a severe test that President Kenyatta dropped some non-politician ministers while forming his new government after the 2017 elections. Kandie was one of them.

However, in January 2018, she was sent to Brussels as Kenya’s ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, and the European Union, a posting she must be at ease with considering its nature as an away-from-the-limelight assignment, her extensive international travel, and rich education in investment and commerce.

Prof. George Magoha: Stern overseer of education reforms

Prof. George Magoha talks to a pupil at Murang’a High School when he visited the school to review preparations for KCSE exams.

Upon taking the Oath of Office on 26 March 2019, Prof. George Omore Magoha joined President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Cabinet as the Jubilee government’s fourth Cabinet Secretary for Education, Science and Technology. His predecessors were Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi, Dr. Fred Matiang’i and Ambassador Amina Mohamed.

Magoha’s vetting at the National Assembly was not only rigorous but also quite dramatic as the vetting committee doggedly interrogated his persona and qualifications. An unfazed Magoha seized the moment to very loudly blow his own trumpet.

To begin with, his introduction to Speaker Justin Muturi, who chaired the House Committee on Appointments, took 10 minutes. Magoha took the committee through his 30-year sojourn through academia, medicine and the Public Service. He also mentioned how useful the virtues and values he had acquired as a student in Starehe Boys Centre and School had been throughout his life, and described himself as a man who had never failed at anything.

“In all my years as a surgeon [transplant and urology], I can proudly say that no one ever died on the operating table. If I fail in this position, then it will be a first,” Magoha told the vetting committee.

He went on to lecture the committee on his belief in meritocracy and assured that his appointment to head the Ministry of Education was attributable to nothing less than his qualifications.

“I did not lobby for my nomination. It was (based) purely on professionalism. If this is what you want, then I am ready to deliver. And if there are any shady dealings, then you can keep your job,” he told the MPs.

Tasked to explain how he had managed to plug the plunder of public resources in the positions he had previously held, Magoha boisterously warned that he was a man who did not entertain “monkey business”, further declaring that he was impatient with corrupt characters. He pledged to preside over the prudent use of funds allocated to his ministry by introducing a computerised system that would strictly monitor how funds were used in the education sector.

Magoha’s appointment was no doubt Uhuru’s close-range shot at sustaining the revolution his government had initiated in the ministry in its first term. Before his appointment to the Education docket, Magoha was chairman of the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) and Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi. In both capacities he had distinguished himself as a tower of transformational leadership which, incidentally, is the title of his memoir.

Notably, Uhuru’s first-term Cabinet was drawn from the worlds of business, banking, diplomacy and academia. His second-term Cabinet was not any different save for the inclusion of Peter Munya and Mwangi Kiunjuri, both of who were tested politicians. Magoha’s appointment was clearly motivated by the President’s desire to give new impetus to his administration’s plan for sweeping reforms in the education sector.

Uhuru’s second term as President came after a cut-throat political contest that climaxed in the first ever nullification of a presidential election by the Supreme Court of Kenya. Even after the repeat election on 26 October 2017, which was boycotted by his main competitor, Raila Odinga, political temperatures in the country remained high. On 9 March 2018, in a completely unprecedented move, Uhuru and Raila demonstrated magnanimity and patriotism when they shook hands in reconciliation on the steps of Harambee House, ending a potentially perilous impasse. Following that historic handshake, the country found itself on a new path of peace, unity and reconciliation.

The two leaders maintained that the handshake was unconditional and patriotic, aimed at saving the country from politically-motivated anarchy following the election drama. Nevertheless, there was an obvious need for political actions that would demonstrate how committed the two were to their cause. Almost a year later, Uhuru reorganised his government in an environment that left him free to choose leaders even from political factions that had not supported him in the 2017 elections. The President used the reshuffle to create a more inclusive government while still complying with the Constitution.

Away from post-handshake overtones, Magoha’s appointment came as the government was rolling out ambitious plans for the education sector. Apart from the promise to carry on with the Free and Compulsory Primary Education Policy initiated by Uhuru’s predecessor, President Mwai Kibaki, the Jubilee Party manifesto promised several reforms that were anchored in the Basic Education Act 2013. Most of these reforms required a complete paradigm shift.

In the first term of Uhuru’s presidency, Kaimenyi and Matiang’i had made considerable strides in implementing the reforms. As a way of bolstering equity and taming the effects of negative competition, practices such as extra tuition, corporal punishment, admission fees for public schools and the school ranking system in national examinations had been done away with. In addition, malpractices in the administration of national exams were arrested — Magoha had played a key role in this when he chaired KNEC before becoming the Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Education.

There were still some critical reforms pending at the beginning of Uhuru’s second term. Key among these was the rollout of the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) to replace the 8-4-4 system that had been in place since the days of President Daniel arap Moi. When Magoha was appointed CS, he declared that his legacy would be linked to the implementation of the new curriculum.

While most stakeholders were optimistic about the capacity of CBC to overturn pedagogy in Kenyan schools, there were doubts about its formulation, teacher capacity, development, and selection and supply of instructional materials. There was a general feeling that resource constraints in many public primary schools would contribute to more inequalities and inequities in education. Furthermore, teachers and teacher unions expressed concern over the lack of clarity about their role and capacity in implementation of the new curriculum.

In response to these concerns, Magoha meticulously explained the government’s comprehensive plan to train teachers at Early Year Education level. He also assured stakeholders and various interests groups that while unequal resource distribution was a valid concern, the government had elaborate plans to ensure that no child was disadvantaged. In April 2019, the CS exuded confidence in the progress of phase one of the CBC roll out. He admitted that there were hiccups but assured Kenyans that the government was ready to address them. He also explained the ministry’s plan to use information, communications and technology (ICT) resources to train more teachers by August of the same year.

But the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) complained about a lack of consultation in the development and implementation processes. These complaints were challenged by the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET), which also wanted inclusion since both unions were represented at all stages of implementation.

In September 2021, Nelson Havi, then the President of the Law Society of Kenya, filed a petition seeking to block the government from proceeding with implementation of the CBC curriculum. The petition challenged Magoha’s mandate to change the system of education through sessional papers. But the petition, filed in the name of parents, flopped as it was deemed unlawful. The National Parents Association, however, came out in defence of the government and the CS on their role in implementing the curriculum.

Despite opposition from activists and political players, Magoha maintained his focus on reforming the sector in his characteristic hard-line style, reminding his detractors that he was only doing his job. However, he understood the need for inclusivity throughout the process and in September 2021, he demonstrated his stakeholder engagement skills by giving in to the demands of critics and stakeholders to have the CBC programme reviewed.

In January 2021, the President had made key strategic changes in the Ministry of Education. In a mini-reorganisation of the Cabinet aimed at “fostering operational efficiency, institutionalising and expediting the implementation of various ground-breaking reforms, and introducing functional changes”, he appointed Dr. Julius Juan as Principal Secretary for the Department of Early Learning and Basic Education to succeed Dr. Belio Kipsang, who had served in that capacity for more than eight years. Juan’s vast experience as Director of the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development was instrumental in assisting Magoha’s efforts to implement CBC. Uhuru also unveiled the Department for the Implementation of Curriculum Reforms to specifically monitor the CBC roll out.

While the roll out in primary schools was considerably successful, its expected transition to junior secondary school no doubt tested Magoha’s resilience. The decision on whether to launch junior secondary school in primary schools or transfer it to secondary schools was a tough one.

Some of the contested issues included CBC training for secondary schools teachers, inadequate infrastructure and whether the students would attend boarding schools.

Magoha maintained that the government was fully prepared to ensure the successful roll out of junior secondary school in 2023. To demonstrate this, the government trained the first batch of 60,000 secondary school teachers in April 2022, and continued to build additional classrooms. Magoha was often on the ground supervising the construction. When the 2021 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination results were announced, the CS stated that the government had so far constructed 6,497 classrooms at a cost of KES 700,000 —down from the initial cost of KES 1.26 million.

He said the extra funds would be directed to other projects and assured Kenyans that Uhuru’s government was determined to complete construction of all CBC classrooms within its tenure. He also announced that the next batch of classrooms to be built would add an additional 5,303 units.

The primary motivation for curriculum reforms was the glaring disconnect between the previous education system and the job market. There was a general feeling that the knowledge-based 8-4-4 system was not preparing learners for a fast-changing and highly demanding job market. The rising number of unemployed youths was attributed to the inadequacies and inefficiencies of the previous curriculum.

With the Kenya Vision 2030 economic blueprint spelling out the need to train a sufficient and efficient labour force, the government shifted its focus to technical and vocational education. Sessional Paper No. 14, 2012 recommended a raft of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) reforms to meet the requirements of Vision 2030. Magoha began the arduous task of convincing a reluctant population that TVET institutions were the backbone of economic development and a solution to unemployment. He called for the strengthening of vocational and technical training centres in the country.

“We must tell our people that every job is important. At TVET institutions, you can develop skills that can address an existing problem in the community and in turn secure employment,” he said during the ninth graduation ceremony of Kisumu National Polytechnic.

Through the State Department for Vocational and Technical Training, the ministry rolled out an elaborate plan to create interest in TVET courses among youths exiting the 8-4-4 system. One of the key reforms was the roll out of Competency Based Education Training (CBET), a system focused on preparing learners to meet industry needs.

The government also increased the number of such institutions from 52 to 238 between 2013 and 2021, leading to an increase in student enrolments from 56,000 to 250,000.

The government also rolled out a KES 2 billion grant to vocational training colleges (VTCs) in efforts to salvage the fate of young Kenyans who could not afford them. The CS passionately and consistently advised Form Four students who did not qualify for university admission to enrol in TVETs and VTCs. Another key deliverable that the CS oversaw was the 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary school. The 2013 Jubilee Party manifesto recognised the increased number of primary school pupils following the introduction of the Free Primary Education Policy. However, it also noticed that only 66.9 per cent of those who sat for the KCPE exam joined secondary school. The government promised to increase the transition rate to 90 per cent and eventually 100 per cent in 2018.

To achieve this, Magoha sought to use the newly established National Education Information Management System (NEMIS) to track all learners who sat for KCPE and ensure that they joined secondary school. The ministry emphasised the value of education as a right for every child and tasked parents and guardians with the responsibility of transiting all children to secondary school. In 2019, the government registered 83.3 per cent transition. And in 2020, the CS formed a committee that literally tracked all learners to ensure that they joined secondary school.

The government then addressed the rising issues of school fees in three significant ways. First was the Elimu Scholarship Programme (ESP), an initiative aimed at giving bright and needy students a chance to attain education. Magoha said: “I want to thank the President for his wisdom … now we have more than 18,000 students whose scholarships have come through since 2019 … we will add another 9,000 students to the programme this year.”
He reiterated that the initiative’s main goal was to enable bright children from needy families in Kenya’s urban informal settlements to have access to high-quality education.

Secondly, the government prioritised and revamped the Free Public Day Schools Policy to absorb the majority of learners who were unable to attend boarding schools. In many areas, the ministry coordinated with government administration officers such as chiefs to fish out learners who had not joined secondary school. Media reports captured Magoha and his team visiting slums and villages to establish why the learners had not progressed with their education.

Lastly, the government introduced the National Health Insurance Fund cover for all secondary school students. Dubbed ‘Edu-Afya’, the initiative was part of the government’s Big Four Agenda policy on Universal Health Coverage. Under the cover, the government committed a premium of KES 1,350 per secondary school student. With a unique number generated by NEMIS, secondary school students could access free medical care in any public hospital.

Magoha’s reform successes lent credence to the assurance he had given during his vetting by MPs, when he pointed to the work ethic he had picked up from his alma mater, Starehe Boys Centre and School, where he studied for his O’ levels. He did his A’ levels at Strathmore School and, thanks to his exemplary performance, earned a scholarship from the University of Lagos in Nigeria where he studied medicine up to 1978, when he graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine degree.

Magoha furthered his studies in surgery and urology at Lagos University Teaching Hospital and University College Hospital, Ibadan. His education journey also took him to Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, and Royal Postgraduate Medical School Hammersmith Hospital, London (Department of Urology). He later trained in executive management at Stanford University.

Magoha began his illustrious medical career as an intern at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. He quickly rose to senior resident and clinical lecturer in surgery at the same institution. He also served as a consultant surgeon in several hospitals in Lagos. He joined the University of Nairobi in 1988 as a lecturer in urological surgery. His hard work and dedication saw him rise through the ranks to become a full professor of surgery in 2000. He was appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi in January 2005, a position he held until 2015.

Prof. Githu Muigai: Silver-tongued legal wizard

Professor Githu Muigai’s career peaked when he served as chief legal advisor to Presidents Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta as they drafted the 2010 constitution. With the exception of the recently deceased Charles Njonjo, who was profiled in an earlier volume of this series, there has not been a more significant Attorney General since Sir Eric Griffith-Jones.

Born on the eve of independence in Nairobi on 31 January 1960, he completed his Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) at St James’ primary school in 1973, followed by his Certificate of Secondary Education at Gĩthĩga School in Gĩthũngũri in 1977. He then left Kiambu District for Meru School, where he finished first in his class in the A-level exams in 1979.

Githu enrolled in the law faculty at the University of Nairobi in 1980. The post-independence boom in public education had not yet run its course; the faculty was brimming with talent. Dr. Willy Mutunga, who had taught him at the university and whose tenure as Chief Justice partly coincided with his as Attorney General, was his guest at the launch of his full history of Kenyan constitution-making forty-two years later.

The young man enrolled at the University of Nairobi, where he was first in his class in his first year and in 1984, his last. He had his first academic publication (“Intervention in International Law: the Case of Grenada” in the University of Nairobi Law Journal, 1984) within two years of graduation.

Since then, Professor Muigai’s career has been somewhat unusual. Attorneys General were typically appointed after years of public service in state legal offices. He came from private practice with his firm, Mohammed Muigai; from international public service as the UN Special Rapporteur on racism and other forms of intolerance between August 2008 and September 2011; from advising on constitution-making and reconciliation, most notably in Somalia between 2002 and 2004; from service as a judge of the African Court of Human and Peoples Rights; and from a career in academia, perhaps best known for his courses in public policy.

Prof Githu Muigai, with President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House Nairobi in 2018.

Given that variety, it is worth noticing that two aspects of his career have remained constant. The first is a close attention to the historical circumstances in which law, constitutions in particular, are made; the second an equally close attention to the nature and function of constitutions themselves.

The second first. Professor Muigai’s “Political Jurisprudence or Neutral Principles?” is a telling statement of the problem he sought to solve. East African Law Journal, pp. 1–19, 2004. On the one hand, Kenyan jurists frequently considered their understanding and application of the law to be either apolitical or counter-political; on the other hand, the fruit of their jurisprudence was weighed on inextricably political scales. According to Professor Muigai, Kenyan constitutional interpretation would remain weak outside the courtroom or classroom, unless Kenyan jurists developed a theory of the purpose of the constitution and its interpretation that reconciled the unavoidably political nature of constitutional outcomes with the esoterica of their profession.

The jockeying between the executive and the judiciary after the introduction of the constitution of 2010 vindicated his analysis; the judiciary showed itself not just a political actor, as he had foreseen, but an able one.

In keeping with his conviction that politics mattered, he had long been attentive to the concrete political circumstances in which law is made and which it makes. As previously stated, this interest recently culminated in the publication of the first full-scale history of constitution-making in Kenya, from colonial times to the 2010 constitution. Though that is his most recent published work on the subject, his fascination and familiarity with it dates back to his early career. That respectful familiarity with the history of constitution-making served him well when he was asked to advise on the constitution-making process, which had begun during President Moi’s last term, and then when it came time to oversee its implementation after 2010.

It is time to review both.

The late 1990s and early 2000s constitution-making was fractious: in 1996, the opposition, from which pressure for constitutional reform came, was deeply divided on the issue, with half committed to an election boycott if the constitution was not reformed before the 1997 general election — indeed, at one point, FORD-Asili’s leader ordered his supporters to burn their voters’ cards if the government did not meet his demand for a package of minimum reforms — and another completely committed to the election would. Still, we were on the verge of a constitutional crisis once the reformists decided to change not just government but the rules by which it governed, and once President Moi’s administration realised both that it had to change — a lesson learned from the unrest of 1997 and 1998 — and that the reformists were sufficiently internally divided and open to compromise, that change did not imply defeat.

Professor Muigai was one of those appointed to the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) in 2000, where he worked alongside Professor Hastings Okoth-Ogendo, the Commission’s second vice-Chair, whom he had admired since sitting in his classes at the University of Nairobi, and whom he later referred to as a “wizard of the law.” Although, as is frequently forgotten, the CKRC did complete and publish a new constitution in October 2002, President Moi’s government abruptly halted the constitution-making process to fight the election, which was only three months away at the time, under familiar rules. After that, the Commission reconvened, this time with the goal of putting together a constitution in a hundred days, as envisioned by the new Kibaki administration.

The process was hampered by disagreement once the political stakes became clear. The Constitutional Conference convened in April 2003, but it was adjourned three times that year (once in August 2003 due to the death of Vice President Michael Kijana Wamalwa), dragged into March 2004, and eventually produced the 2005 draft constitution, which was defeated decisively in the November referendum. Even the package of minor reforms proposed just before the election in 2007 failed to pass. President Moi’s decision not to amend the constitution so close to a general election proved prudent.

The disastrous post-election events of 2007-8 reignited the constitutional-making process, in which Professor Muigai had now been involved for nearly a decade. His expertise was once again required. This time, with a narrower mandate and a political class shaken by the consequences of its failure, a new constitution was hammered out and ratified in an August 2010 referendum. From 2001 to 2010, Professor Muigai’s close attention to the history of constitution-making and appreciation for the importance of politics were felt at every stage of the process. He had reason to believe that he had made a lasting contribution to the country’s just governance.

President Kibaki appointed him Attorney General in August 2011, recognising that his previous distinction in public service and familiarity with the constitution he had brought to birth made him the natural choice for the position. His constitutional journey was far from over.

His tenure lasted until 2018, when he resigned to return to private practice and write a history of Kenyan constitution making. It was filled with significant decisions, significant reversals, and astute legal advice, given not only to the Executive, but also to the Kenyan people. A good way to understand his time in office was to notice that he enjoyed the business of teaching—of talking his way through some legal point—and then to see that especially after 2013 he came to regard Kenyans as the sort of attentive (if occasionally wayward) listeners who would benefit from clear (if schoolmasterly) talk about the law.

Prof Githu Muigai during a press conference with former Police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe.

There were perhaps three particularly important matters awaiting him at his appointment on August 27, 2011.
The first was the International Criminal Court (ICC), which had opened investigations in Kenya following the violence of 2007-8 and had indicted six suspects on March 8, 2011. Given the complex and unprecedented issues raised by the ICC’s intervention, the Kibaki administration would need to understand how to meet its international obligations while also protecting the republic’s sovereignty. The second was the constitution: having ratified it the year before, the country expected that legal preparations for its coming into force would be complete in time for the next election. Indeed, the constitution was a campaign issue in 2013, as it had been in 2002, but Kenyans wanted more than just a new set of rules; they wanted a government and an administrative class that followed them. The demand for a new constitution coincided with the demand for the rule of law. The third of his major issues was corruption: large sums of public money had been stolen or squandered. He was expected to recover losses and make life more difficult for those who might try again in the future.

Rather than review every important decision of his tenure, it might be better simply to recall his part in some of the most consequential.

When the Security Amendment Act of 2014 was passed, the government was widely and loudly accused of acting illegally or unconstitutionally. Professor Muigai made it clear that critics of the law — which had, after all, passed Parliament — would have to wait for the judiciary to rule on what was and wasn’t unconstitutional. That calm confidence in the law and in the country’s institutions and decisions, as well as the implicit assurance that the Executive he advised would accept the court’s judgment of its own conduct, demonstrated the depth of our maturity as a constitutional republic..

So, too, was the Executive’s acceptance of the verdicts in the petitions in the 2017 presidential elections, in which he played a key role as both actor (a respondent in both sets of petitions) and explainer of the constitution to Kenyans and the Executive.

His adherence to an educated reading of the letter of the law was demonstrated by argument in the 2013 electoral petition as amicus curiae that the standard justifying a court’s annulment of an election was the Elections Act: there had to be illegality or irregularity, and it had to be demonstrated that it influenced the outcome. He was later chastised for it, but this position made good sense of the relevant legal language and had the advantage of being consistent with common sense. However, it was thought at the time to be an example of the barren, pedantic jurisprudence against which the new constitution was written. Only later, when it became clear that the standard did not preclude the annulment of irregular elections, did it become clear that his critics had read their desired outcome into the letter of the law when they could have had it anyway.

He was not as successful in dealing with the challenge of corruption. He did not have the broad formal powers of prosecution that his predecessors had, and he had taken office at a time when the course of the larger corruption cases had been set, and his advice could change little. The nadir, perhaps, was President Uhuru Kenyatta’s announcement on May 16, 2014, that the Anglo-Leasing debt, though incurred illegally, would be paid, both because the government had already lost cases in relation to the debt and because his administration’s Eurobond issue would fail otherwise.

There have been other successes. When excited talk of a parallel swearing-in spread after the election in December 2017, he retorted that any attempt to swear in anyone who had not been lawfully elected as President would be treasonous. Given the gravity of the situation, the language was strong. Though his role as an explainer required him to speak plainly at times, he was also a persuasive speaker with a knack for the memorable phrase (“I am a mortician …”; “ … ignorance has never stopped a Kenyan giving his opinion …”) and so well suited for this latter role.

He played it well, perhaps never better than at the ICC hearing in October 2014, when he described Kenya’s efforts to cooperate with the ICC’s requests under two Prosecutors, through two administrations. It provided a rare glimpse into the pressures of the office: he was among those primarily responsible for honouring the country’s foreign obligations while also defending the republic’s sovereignty and constitution. He threaded the needle by demonstrating what Kenya had done to meet the prosecutors’ requests, while insisting that it retained the capacity to try serious crime suspects.

He left office shortly after the 2017 election, with the constitution firmly in place, a contested election settled, and enough time for his successor to settle before the next election. On February 13, 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta accepted his resignation and announced that he would name Justice Paul Kihara Kariuki, President of the Court of Appeal, as his successor. Justice Kariuki was sworn in on April 28, 2018, the day after the National Assembly approved his nomination as independent Kenya’s seventh Attorney General.

Professor Muigai, now retired from public service and the author of a history of constitution-making in Kenya, can look back on a distinguished career at a critical juncture in the country’s history: nearly two decades in which he was involved, on and off, in the business of both making and establishing the constitution of what amounts to a second Republic.

Prof. Judi Wakhungu: Don with a diplomatic touch

Kenya’s Ambassador to the Holy See Prof Judi Wakhungu at the Vatican with Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State.

At his inauguration in April 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta signalled a firm resolve to protect and conserve Kenya’s natural resources, a first for a newly sworn in Kenyan Head of State. Promising to exploit natural resources in a way that benefits the current generation while safeguarding the interests of generations to come, he asserted that the environment was a national heritage that must be protected.

Interestingly, this proclamation was first made by founding President Jomo Kenyatta’s Tourism and Wildlife Minister, Mathews Ogutu, in the 1970s.

“My government will strike a decisive blow against all those that threaten it. Poaching and the destruction of our environment has no future in this country. The responsibility to protect our environment belongs not just to the government, but to each and every one of us. We will do all this, and more,” Uhuru said.

The newly elected President’s concern for wildlife should not have come as a surprise. An entrepreneur with interests in the tourist hotel industry and former chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board and Finance Minister under Presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki respectively, he was well appraised of the challenges facing wildlife conservation and management, and their impact on tourism and economic development.

Uhuru was also assuming office at a time when Kenya — and Africa at large — was experiencing a gruesome resurgence in elephant and rhino poaching.

With 1 kg of raw ivory selling at over Ksh 83,700 on the global ivory black market according to wildlife crime experts, such was the incentive for poachers that barely months before he won the Presidential election, one of the deadliest poaching incidents seen since the 1980s was reported in Tsavo East National Park. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers discovered 11 elephant carcasses with bullet wounds and their tusks hacked off on 13 January 2013.
Days earlier, then Prime Minister Raila Odinga had announced that six KWS rangers and at least 360 elephants had been killed the previous year.

Conservationists feared this new wave of poaching could herald a return of the infamous wildlife wars of the 1980s when elephant and rhino poaching in Kenya caused a national and global outcry.

Armed poaching in Africa has international ramifications. It points to insecurity in national parks and game reserves, which scares off international tourists, thereby starving the country of much needed foreign exchange. Illegal sale of wildlife products is also the second biggest organised crime syndicate after the narcotics trade globally and is suspected to fund insurgency and the purchase of illegal weapons in fragile states.

Poaching also has ecological ramifications. Killing the largest elephants and rhino has genetic and ecological implications within trans-boundary ecosystems — in our case the Serengeti–Mara, Kilimanjaro–Longido–Kajiado – and Tsavo West Mkomazi/Umba ecosystems, which traverse the Kenya–Tanzania international borders.

The difficult duty of halting this dangerous spiral and managing the environment in total fell to energy expert, Prof. Judi Wakhungu, when she was nominated Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Environment, Water and Natural Resources.
Former KWS human resources director and Kenyatta National Hospital Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Lesiyampe, and career banker James Teko Lopoyetum served as her Principal secretaries (PSs) for Environment and Water respectively. They were replaced by Charles Sunkuli (Environment) and Dr. Margaret Mwakima (Natural Resources) in a 2015 Cabinet reshuffle.

Wakhungu’s appointment was a departure from the norm in several ways. First, it was the first time in Kenya’s history that a CS who was both a scientist and a woman would be in charge of natural resources. Previously, a woman — the redoubtable zoologist, environmentalist, human rights campaigner and Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wangari Maathai — had only deputised the Minister for Wildlife.

Second, tourism had been hived off the conservation docket and moved to the Commerce ministry, the dominant practice in developed nations.

And third, renaming it ‘Environment, Water and Natural Resources’ as opposed to the usual ‘Tourism and Wildlife’ suggested a more cerebral, holistic and ecosystem approach to conversation by the new government, which made Wakhungu an inspired choice for CS.

While Wakhungu, like most of her colleagues appointed from outside of politics, was barely known beyond her immediate professional and academic circles, her parents were highly accomplished and she grew up in a family of high achievers — uncles, former Vice President Moody Awori and the late pioneer kidney specialist, Professor Nelson Awori; and maternal aunt, the pioneer female banker and businesswoman, Mary Okello.

Growing up surrounded by achievers, Wakhungu is quoted saying she could not understand why all bosses were men, and that she was both driven and inspired by her successful relatives to dream big. Dream big she did. Other than acing primary and secondary school exams, she became an athlete of repute, ranking as Kenya’s top female tennis player to represent the country at the 1987 All Africa Games. She picked the baton from her older sister, Susan, a corporate executive with international credentials, who won gold and silver for Kenya at the 1978 edition of the games.

After high school, Wakhungu received a Bachelor of Science in Geology from St Lawrence University in New York and, after stints as a geology lecturer at the University of Nairobi and as a government geologist (both firsts for a Kenyan woman), a Master of Science in Petroleum Geology from Acadia University, Canada.

In 1993, Wakhungu was awarded a PhD in Energy Resources Management from Pennsylvania State University in the US. The university afterwards engaged her as Associate Professor, Science, Technology and Society, and Director, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Institute till 2002 when she returned to Kenya to head the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) as Executive Director/Professor. She headed ACTS — an international inter-governmental (IGO) science, technology, and environmental policy think-tank — from 2002 to 2013 when she was appointed CS Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

Other than these academic and professional credentials, Wakhungu was bringing to Cabinet, and her ministerial docket, international experience earned as an advisor/director of several global institutions, including The World Bank, the Legatum Centre at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the United Nations Commission of Science and Technology for Development.

She had also served in the same capacity at the Global Energy Policy and Planning Programme of the International Federation of Institutes for Advanced Study (IFIAS), based in Toronto, Canada, and the Renewable Energy Technology Dissemination Project of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

How would she manage the transition from the orderly world of academia and international institutions into a Cabinet docket, where policy is often overshadowed by politics? Only time would tell.

What was not in doubt is that while her ministry was titled ‘Environment, Water and Natural Resources’, the real elephant in the room was, well, elephants — to wit, KWS!

Yet it was water that would present an immediate crisis.

The sector had undergone massive reforms under Water Minister, Martha Karua, during the Kibaki Presidency, with the Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA) established under the Water Act of 2002 to regulate use and management of water resources on behalf of the national government.

But crisis emerged because the Uhuru government had been elected under the new 2010 Constitution which devolved several State functions, among them certain aspects of water resource management, to county governments.

The newly elected governors stepped into office demanding to ‘own’ all the resources within their jurisdiction for the benefit of their people. This included water, a national and transient resource. Not surprisingly, these demands created conflicts with water-stressed countries that depend on water from better-endowed neighbouring counties.

Case in point was Kajiado, which was threatening to block the water pipes to neighbouring Machakos and Makueni counties unless the two paid levees for the resource. Further, the bulk of water consumed in Mombasa is drawn from Mzima Springs in Taita Taveta County and water-related conflicts would have shut down Kenya’s tourism hub.

It took spirited negotiations between the ministry and respective governors and, in 2016, the enactment of a new Water Act outlining State, County government and community level water resource management roles and responsibilities to calm the waters.

This notwithstanding, policy gaps created duplication, conflicts and confusion within stakeholder institutions with responsibility over water resource management, undermining enforcement of regulations and exposing the water resource to degradation.

The situation was worsened because national, county and community level institutions lacked capacity to execute their mandates. These challenges, and the regional water disparities that have plagued Kenya since independence, remain because of the massive resources required to set the sector on an even keel. Other than the Water Act of 2016, Wakhungu midwifed the National Wetlands and Conservation Management and the Integrated Coastal Zone Management policies, which provide a framework for protection and management of water resources. This is critical.
The role of water in driving industrial development, enhancing food security and public health and nourishing national parks and game reserves cannot be overstated.

She also midwifed the Climate Change Act 2016 and Wildlife Conservation & Management Act 2013. But it is Natural Resources — specifically Wildlife — that taxed the Professor, as it had her predecessors in the ministry.

In September 2012, KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich resigned after eight years at the helm, his otherwise stellar performance as Kenya’s Chief Game Warden dampened by a disturbing rise in elephant and rhino poaching. A month later, the Kibaki administration appointed Vihiga County Commissioner, William Kibet Kiprono, to replace him. It was a curious choice, one that was even questioned in Parliament. As County Commissioner, of a small county to boot, his military rank was equivalent to that of a park warden. He was, therefore, outranked by KWS regional assistant directors and highly experienced commanders who served at deputy director level.

Critics warned that he would not only be unable to command the boardroom, but that he was ill-prepared to manage a key State institution with a Ksh 7 billion annual budget and over 3,500 members of staff; an institution whose influence straddled several economic sectors.

Whatever the case, Kiprono was unable to stem the bleeding that had begun under Kipng’etich. Poachers only seemed to become more brazen, even killing a rhino inside Nairobi National Park in August 2013.

In April of the following year, Environment and Natural Resources PS Lesiyampe was compelled to suspend six senior KWS officers and appoint an inter-ministerial team comprising officials from The National Treasury, the ministries of Devolution and Planning, Interior and Coordination of National Government, and Environment and Natural Resources to probe on the issue.

This was followed by the formation of a special Elite Inter-Agency Anti-Poaching Unit whose officers were drawn from KWS, the Administration Police (AP) and the General Service Unit (GSU). It appeared KWS and its once vaunted ranger field force had been in decline for years and seemed unable to rise to the challenge of safeguarding parks and reserves, or the wildlife in private conservancies where most of the poaching was going on.

The poaching crisis would, however, provide two crowning moments for Wakhungu’s tenure.

In 2016, working with KWS Board Chairman Dr. Richard Leakey (now deceased), Wakhungu captured global headlines when she championed the burning of more than 100 tonnes of Kenya’s entire stockpile of ivory and rhino horns by the President.

This helped to galvanise the rejection of efforts to open legal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at the 2016 Conference of Parties (CoP) meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Another milestone was the establishment of Eastern and Central Africa’s first Wildlife forensic and genetics laboratory at the KWS headquarters in Nairobi. The lab would, among other things, link confiscated wildlife products to the DNA of poached carcasses at scenes of crime, therefore aiding prosecution of suspects.

The Professor also made remarkable scores in environmental management, notably overseeing a national ban on the use of plastic polythene bags, and the enactment of the Environmental Management & Coordination Amendment Act 2015 (EMCA CAP 387), a National Environment Policy, Education for Sustainable Development Policy, a Wetlands and Conservation Management Policy, the Hazardous Waste Regulation Policy, a National Action Plan on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Green Economy Strategy. These achievements notwithstanding, it could be argued that she should have appointed a substantive KWS Director with the ability to dealt more decisively with the management and poaching challenges facing the institution.

Kiprono was allowed to stay on despite being unable to handle the job. After his exit and transfer back to the provincial administration, shortlisted and interviewed candidates for a new KWS director were set aside by the Board chaired by Leakey, and CfC Bank CEO, Kitili Mbathi, appointed instead. He lasted barely a year.

The lack of a substantive director for prolonged periods almost hobbled the parastatal as Board Chairman, Leakey, who founded KWS, seemed to be pulling in one direction, and the ministry another.

A telling example is a 2017 circular issued by Wakhungu stating that the Board had overstepped its mandate by seeking to have direct interaction with KWS staff while by-passing management. However, despite the fact that wildlife management in Kenya is a vicious docket — heavily politicised, with far too many powerful and vested local and international interests at play at any given time. – Wakhungu delivered admirably and exceedingly well on policy and legislation, and is unparalleled in this regard, using her solid grasp of academia and international strategy development.

In January 2018, she left the ministry and her many accomplishments to take up her appointment as the Kenya Ambassador to the French Republic, Portugal, Serbia, Monaco and The Holy See.

Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi: Don, CS and diplomat

Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi, joins Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua to issue title deeds to Wananchi at Tala Boys Primary School.

On 26 April 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto addressed an anxious nation at State House Nairobi. Two days before, they had named only 4 out of an expected 18 nominees for the position of Cabinet Secretary. This had created a sense of suspense as the new administration was the first tunder the 2010 Constitution, which demanded a raft of changes in the formation of the Cabinet, including names, numbers and selection procedures.

Under the Constitution, Cabinet secretaries (formerly referred to as ministers) were required to be apolitical professionals. They would no longer be Members of Parliament (MPs) but technocrats, whose primary brief was to effectively deliver on their mandates, using their expertise and aptitudes in their respective dockets. As such, it was obvious that the task of scouting for the right people to fit the bill was no small one.

As the two leaders named the four nominees on 24 April 2013, the President said they were still meeting with many brilliant Kenyans as they sought to fill the positions with the requisite capacity to implement the Jubilee Party manifesto. The first four to be named were Dr. Fred Okengo Matiang’i (for the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology), Henry K. Rotich (Finance and Planning), James Macharia (Health) and Ambassador Amina Mohammed (Foreign Affairs).

In corporate-esque style, the President described the rich curricula vitae of his nominees as the basis for their qualifications, sharing details that Kenyans had not really given much attention in previous regimes. Besides the Executive’s arduous task of screening nominees thoroughly, the Constitution also gave the Legislature power through the National Assembly’s Committee on Appointments to vet and approve the nominees before they could be sworn in.

Among the 12 nominees presented to the nation from the second list was Professor Jacob Kaimenyi Thuranira for the docket of Education, Science and Technology. He stood calmly beside the President as his qualifications were read out, cutting the image of a man who understood the challenges of the task he was being called upon to undertake. Kaimenyi was introduced as a medical doctor, a dentist who had spent the better part of his career practising locally. He began as an intern dental officer at Kenyatta National Hospital in 1978 before being registered to work as a dentist in all departments.

Between 1982 and 1985, Kaimenyi was the Consultant Periodontologist and Head of Department of Periodontology and Periodontics of the National Dental Unit at Kenyatta National Hospital. His main duties at the time involved administration and training of interns. In August 1983, he was appointed Deputy Officer in charge of the National Dental Unit.

To anyone listening, Kaimenyi might have sounded like the obvious candidate to head the Ministry of Health given his vast experience. So why was he given the Ministry of Education while the Health docket went to James Macharia, a career public accountant? Well, Kaimenyi’s CV revealed another feather in his cap — he was also a scholar and university administrator. Before his nomination to public service, he was the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic Affairs) at the University of Nairobi. For more than a decade, he had served in various administrative capacities and was in charge of key educational programmes, including curriculum development and implementation, assessment and evaluation, and human resource management. This work experience must have informed his nomination and subsequent approval by the National Assembly. In his nomination acceptance speech, Kaimenyi vowed to “do whatever is humanly possible to be a team player and (to) deliver”.

At the time, the education sector was just beginning to feel the heat of President Mwai Kibaki’s (President Kenyatta’s predecessor) Free Primary Education policy and the Basic Education Act 2013, which contained radical reforms. With Kibaki’s government taking over the responsibility of paying tuition fees for primary school pupils, the view that education is a right rather than a privilege became more pronounced.

Among the Jubilee Party campaign promises was one to “expand access and raise the standards in education”. Despite a high enrolment rate in primary schools, only 66.9 per cent of students transitioned to secondary school. Uhuru promised to increase the rate of transition to 90 per cent, especially for those in disadvantaged areas. Further, he committed to limit classroom sizes to 40 students as a way of achieving the 1:40 teacher–student ratio.

Among these and other Jubilee promises on education, two in particular became so popular with the Kenyan public that they became key political talking-points. First was the promised return of President Daniel arap Moi’s (Kenya’s second President) free milk for primary school pupils. Part of the Jubilee Party manifesto read, “Provide free milk for every primary school child, which will be sourced from county-based dairy farmer Saccos.” The free milk programme was Jubilee’s solution to malnutrition and food insecurity that kept many learners, especially in the arid and semi-arid regions, away from school. The second promise was to work with international partners to provide solar-powered laptop computers for school children in Kenya.

Once Jubilee Party won the 2013 General Election, the responsibility for implementing the government’s agenda in the education sector fell heavily on the former medic and university administrator, Kaimenyi.

The first task on his table was to implement various acts of Parliament that addressed key reforms in the education sector. The Basic Education Act 2013 was fundamental and Kaimenyi got on it almost immediately. Part 4 of the Act addressed access to education as a right. The Free and Compulsory Basic Education policy summoned key stakeholders — parents, government and teachers — to take up the responsibility of ensuring the right of the child to education was not denied. The Cabinet Secretary’s task was to come up with structures and functions that guaranteed access, quality, equity and relevance.

Specifically, the Act called for the establishment of pre-primary, primary, secondary, mobile and adult schools within reasonable distance in every county. The Act also assigned parents and guardians the legal responsibility of admitting and/or causing the admission of every child in school. Failure to take a child to school became an offence — any parent or guardian who abdicated this legal responsibility risked at least two years in jail or a fine of up to KES 100,000.

Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi, during the launch of the Biometric Access Control for staff at Ardhi House.

But as the government and parents were slowly adjusting, the Act was brewing chaos and resistance among teachers and education sector stakeholders. Just before he exited the Ministry of Education, the late Mutula Kilonzo (the previous office holder under Kibaki) had already faced the wrath of teachers while attempting to introduce legislation that banned extra tuition. At the time, it was the norm for public and private schools to organise paid extra tuition for students in both primary and secondary schools. Under this arrangement, students would remain in school for two or more weeks during the school holidays for extra lessons, which parents were expected to pay for. Kilonzo nonetheless managed to ban holiday tuition and the attendant charges.

The Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (KESSHA), the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) opposed the ban, arguing that the national education system was examinations-based and, therefore, the extra tuition was in the best interests of students. Kilonzo relented only slightly, saying there was no problem with privately organised extra tuition.

The legal foundation for these reforms was that extra tuition and the fees imposed on it were in contravention of the principles of equity and accessibility. In addition, there was a feeling among those who supported the reforms that schools were stealing from students time they should have been spending with family, where important life skills are best learnt.

Such was the anti-reform environment that Kaimenyi inherited, yet he had even more radical reforms to put on the table. The government also banned all school admission costs, arguing that no child should be denied entry to any public school for lack of admission fees. The Act also banned corporal punishment in schools, which ignited public debate on the state of discipline in schools, especially around 2016 when many school buildings were burnt down by rowdy students. There was a general feeling that the government policies ‘favoured’ the student and were out of sync with the local context and prevailing circumstances. For example, the Act also recommended the inclusion of one member of the students’ council on every school board of management.

Kaimenyi did not back down despite the fierce criticism. Instead he tried a mix of consultative and firm hand approaches to ensure that all the policies were implemented. He even launched a toll free number through the Elimu Yetu Initiative to push for implementation of the policies, in the hope that government could track cases of hiked school fees, organised extra tuition and any form of misappropriation of public resources in schools. “Parents and other education stakeholders and, of course, civil society organisations such as Elimu Yetu Coalition must wake up to call us to account,” Kaimenyi told a meeting of stakeholders at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development on 15 October 2015.

However, it was not long before things took a nose dive for the Jubilee administration. Across various sectors, there was vehement opposition from vested interests to the government’s reforms and implementation strategies. The first cohort of professional and apolitical Cabinet secretaries faced a baptism by fire of sorts.

While in Information, Communications and Technology (ICT), Matiang’i had come out as a no-nonsense policy enforcer during the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting, the government was facing accusations of corruption in the Ministry of Lands, then headed by Charity Ngilu who faced the axe over a graft report that the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) presented to the President in 2015.

Ngilu and Najib Balala (the CS for Tourism) were the only exceptions in a Cabinet that did not feature individuals with a history in politics. Both had contested for senatorial positions in their respective counties and lost. While nominating them for public service, the President remarked that they had agreed not to let their political histories get in the way of their professional delivery. The Ministry of Devolution and Planning (headed by Anne Waiguru) was also targeted in the allegations of corruption. Ngilu and Waiguru ended up resigning from government.

It was not long before Kaimenyi’s turn at the guillotine came. His determination to implement policies under the Basic Education Act 2013 and the Basic Education Regulations 2015 met fierce resistance from KESSHA, KNUT and KUPPET and from the Kenya Private Schools Association, who felt they were being over-regulated. In July 2015, the Speaker of the National Assembly approved an impeachment motion moved by Matayos MP Geoffrey Odanga, who alleged that Kaimenyi had acted in contravention of various laws in the education sector. The hot potato issue at the time was the banning of the school ranking system in national examinations.

Odanga, a former teacher, accused the CS of exhibiting arrogance and disrespect during his interactions with key stakeholders in the sector. Kaimenyi survived impeachment by only a slim majority, but he lost his voice within the sector. A delay in the tendering process for the schools laptop project only made things worse.

Earlier, in January of the same year, Kaimenyi had aroused the wrath of teachers’ unions when teachers downed their tools and he responded by saying they were being insensitive to the goodwill directed towards the education sector. In an exclusive interview with KTN, a local television station, the CS maintained that the strike was illegal and added that teachers who had neglected their duties would face the law. Seven months later, the Jubilee government faced another strike that lasted 5 weeks as teachers demanded a 50–60 per cent pay rise. The President himself came out to dismiss their demands, reasoning that agreeing to them would raise the wage bill by more than 10 per cent. As the strike went on, teachers and parents went as far as suggesting the postponement of national exams for that year because students had been out of school for weeks.

Just before the end of 2015, the President opted for a Cabinet reshuffle as the stain of corruption allegations threatened the success of his regime. Although he and his deputy had promised to wipe out the demons of impropriety, at the time it was clear that the country was close to tipping point. As the reshuffle loomed, Kaimenyi’s fate was unclear. However, he was retained and moved to head the Ministry of Lands while the Education docket was handed to the tough-talking Matiang’i, who was deemed a match for the hostile players in the sector.

In Lands, Kaimenyi proved a silent but effective worker who oversaw the implementation of key reforms. During his tenure, he boosted the registration and issuance of 2.4 million title deeds in 1 year, compared to a cumulative 5.6 million title deeds issued by that time since Kenya attained independence. His time in Lands also saw the first tenure of the Jubilee government conducting more land surveys and maintenance of Kenya’s national and international borders. But perhaps his greatest achievement was the digitisation of land records and related services that resulted in the launch of the National Land Information Management System (NLIMS).

Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi who presents his credentials of ambassador of Kenya to His Majesty King Philippe

When the President named his second term Cabinet line-up in 2018, Kaimenyi was not among the six cabinet secretaries that were retained. He would later be deployed as the country’s ambassador to Belgium.