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November 18, 2018


Former Minister Simeon Nyachae in courts fort the defamation case against The People Daily photo Jeptum Chesyina.
Former Minister Simeon Nyachae in courts fort the defamation case against The People Daily photo Jeptum Chesyina.

The curtains fell this week on Kenya’s permanent secretaries some of whom were so powerful that they were considered small gods of the civil service.

All the PSs handed over their offices to their deputies on Wednesday pending the recruitment of substantive new office holders whom the new constitution has called “principal secretaries.”

Of the more than 40 permanent secretaries inherited from the bloated coalition government of former President Kibaki and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, only three might be retained in the new administration.

The three are Mutea Iringo (Internal Security), Prof Japheth Micheni (Fisheries) and Dr Karanja Kibicho (Industrialisation). Majority of their colleagues shied away from applying for the new jobs.

The expansion of the cabinet by Kibaki and Raila significantly whittled down the powers of permanent secretaries owing to split of portfolios and spread of dockets. But it was the constitution of Kenya 2010 and its system of checks and balances which delivered the final blow to the powerful PS’s syndrome.

Perhaps the biggest victim was the position of the titular head of the PS’s lastly held by Francis Kimemia; the position of Head of Civil Service, Secretary to the Cabinet and Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President.

Kimemia was strewn off the head of civil service and permanent secretary dockets and left with just one docket of cabinet secretary. He also had to face parliamentary vetting just like the new principal secretaries with the attendant risk of being knocked off the race.

Since independence, however, the structure of the civil service was such that it churned out very powerful PSs, some who grew to overshadow their own ministers- the political heads of their ministries. The most powerful position tended to be Kimemia’s previous three jobs in one.

Equally powerful was the PS Internal Security which fell within the OP and which controlled the provincial administration apparatus on behalf of the President. Some of the most powerful PS’s have held either of these positions.

Some of the most powerful PSs in the history of the country include Geoffrey Kariithi, Duncan Ndegwa, Kenneth Matiba, Francis Muthaura, Jeremiah Kiereini, Simeon Nyachae, Dr Sally Kosgey, Zakayo Cheruiyot and Hezekiah Oyugi.

Others powerful PSs are former Treasury PS John Michuki, former Information and Broadcasting PS Peter Gachathi and former Foreign Affairs PS in Moi’s government Bethuel Kiplagat.


Duncan Ndegwa

Ndegwa was the first post-independence head of civil service and Secretary to the Cabinet and later the founding governor of the Central Bank of Kenya.

At the pinnacle of Kenya’s civil service, Ndegwa was the de facto leader of the Africanisation programme which aimed at fostering an African capitalist class in commerce and industry. The two sectors were previously dominated by Europeans and Asians.

It is at this time that Ndegwa transformed into a wealthy businessman owning Insurance Company of East Africa together with its ICEA Building, Riverside Apartments, Information House and Hughes Building in Nairobi.

An arms-length from the overbearing Kenyatta presidency, Ndegwa was powerful at the most critical time of the nation’s history- post independence. He could make or break careers.

It was also indigenous Kenyan’s first time experience running a government and a mix-race bureaucracy. The decisions he made at the time were obviously of great impact to the nation.

As historian Prof Bethuel Ogot writes in one of Ndegwa’s memoirs, he “occupied not only a front-row seat in the great drama of the nation-building project but worked in the closest proximity with the greatest of the builders, the Founding Fathers, foremost among them being Mzee Jomo Kenyatta”


Geoffrey Kariithi

Reputed as Kenya’s longest serving head of civil service and permanent secretary in the OP, Kareithi succeed Ndegwa in 1967. He led the civil service in the turbulent of the times- with founding President Kenyatta’s health failing, the former white-highlands being appropriated by the power-men of the times, political fall-outs, shifta war, the 1971 attempted coup and most importantly, Kenyatta’s death in 1978.

Writing in the Star last year after Kariithi passed on, his biographer Gari Gituku said despite Kariithi being at the very pinnacle of the service and being offered an open cheque to wield immense, even vulgar power, the late civil servant carried himself around with “unusual sense of grace, duty and loyalty.”

Kariithi is said to have advised Kenyatta against travelling to Kisumu to open the New Nyanza “Russia” Hospital in 1969 in line with security indicators. Kenyatta ignored him saying Kisumu was in Kenya and he was the President of Kenya.

The aftermath of the now infamous visit continues to plague the country to date with ethnic strain between Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe and Odinga’s Luo seemingly widening with fall of time.

Other highlights of Kariithi’s time in power was the 1975 murder of popular politician JM Kariuki and the change-the-constitution pressure campaign preceding Kenyatta’s death.

Kariithi served until 1979 when Moi took power. He ventured into politics as Gichungu MP until 1992 when he was trounced by then little known lawyer Martha Karua.

During his funeral on July 6 last year in Kirinyaga, President Kibaki would mourn the late Kariithi as “a stalwart Kenyan and pioneer civil servant” and “Kenya’s longest serving head of civil service.”

“Kariithi presided over the civil service effectively in some of the most turbulent times in our national history. Throughout this time, Kariithi maintained high professional standards in his work and demonstrated the qualities of a loyal and committed public servant,” Kibaki recalled.

Kibaki said Kariithi was an organised man: “In him, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta knew he had a reliable person that he could always turn to, for wise and objective counsel.”


Jeremiah Kiereini

He took over from Kariithi and was the Chief Secretary, Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet up to 1984 when he retired. In his times as civil service boss, Kiereini’s power lay in being the closest Kikuyu to President Moi at a time when Nyayo was cracking his whip on the Central Kenya mafia.

Kiereini used his position to build vast business contacts which would come in handy after his retirement in 1984. He retired at a quite historic time when Moi was clipping the wings of his friend Charles Njonjo, the then Minister of Justice and Constitutional aAfairs.

On retirement, Kiereini bestrode the corporate sector like a colossus sitting in the boards of blue chip companies like Kenya Breweries, CMC Holdings, African Liaison & Consultant Services Limited, all as chairman.

Others were Gambit Holdings Limited, CFC Life Assurance Limited, CFC Financial Services Limited, Heritage A.I.I. Insurance Company Limited, Heritage A.I.I. Insurance Company (Tanzania) Limited, Norfolk Towers Limited, Longonot Place Limited and Unga Group Limited among others.

Last year, Kiereini’s long public service suffered a blemish after he was accused in media reports of complicity in fleecing CMC using a foreign account. He denied the claims and explained the account in question- to his knowledge was in the best interest of CMC employees.

“My ultimate vindication is my record of diligent and honourable service in both the public and private sectors. That record speaks for itself and will not be tainted by unproven, unsubstantiated and malicious allegations made against me,” he said.


Simeon Nyachae

Abrasive and combative are the best adjectives to describe Nyachae, the father to CIC chair Charles Nyachae. He served as the Chief Secretary, Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet between 1984 and 1987 when he retired from the civil service.

Nyachae’s power crystallised not only from his position but also due to his long career in the provincial administration starting from colonial era. He had served as a provincial administrator in almost almost every part of the country.

The position of the chief secretary was therefore the pinnacle of his career. It also coincided with a historic time when President Moi had grown politically paranoid and assertive at the same time owing to the 1982 attempted coup experience.

During his tenure, he came up with the now famous District Focus for Rural Development programmes aiming to curb rural to urban migration. Despite his high position at the time of retirement, Nyachae first foray in politics aborted in 1988.

In Multiparty politics in Kenya: The triumph of the system in the 1992 election, David Throup and Charles Hornsby describes Nyachae’s 30 months as Chief Secretary as characteristic of clashes with powermen Hezekiah Oyugi and Nicholas Biwott who resented his powers.

“Some of Nyachae’s critics alleged that the civil servant had become even more powerful than his political masters. When the post was abolished in 1986, Peter Oloo Aringo charged that Nyachae as Chief Secretary had attempted to ‘usurp the powers of the presidency by creating an alternative centre of power,” they say.

It is due to the abrasiveness with which he wielded his power which cost him politically in 1988. Dr Zachary Onyonka, then a cabinet minister blamed Nyachae for his woes in early 1980s when he lost his cabinet post and was held in custody over shooting of an opponent’s supporter.

He conspired with Gusii MPs and Kanu branch officials to block him. His political career would not start until 1992 general election when he won the Nyaribari Chache constituency seat.


Hezekiah Oyugi

Perhaps the most powerful Internal Security PS who rose to the position in mid-1980s at the height of former President Moi’s repressive era. Oyugi went by various titles, “governor”, ‘Kalam Maduong” meaning the big pen and “Woun Ogango.”

Long before rising to the position of the PS Internal Security and Provincial Administration, Oyugi had been the blue-eyed boy of the Moi administration. As a provincial commissioner in Moi’s Rift Valley, Oyugi could even tell off his boss, the PS Internal Security James Stanley Mathenge.

It is said that Oyugi influenced key appointments to government and brought down careers of big men in a flash. He is said to have influenced the political careers of Franklin Bett and Dalmas Otieno.

He is also said to have perennially resisted Moi’s attempt to elevate career assistant minister Okiki Amayo to full cabinet position because he did not like how he conducted himself as the Kanu chairman.

Oyugi’s story is never complete without mention of the late cabinet minister Robert Ouko. It’s said that Ouko’s trouble with Oyugi did not begin in late 1980s before his death but early the early 1980s when he was still a PC.

He (Oyugi) is said to have been responsible for Ouko’s demotion from the Foreign Affairs ministerial docket after the 1983 elections after they crossed each other.

Between 1983 and 1988, Ouko was shuffled from one ministry to another- a total of three, even as Oyugi groomed his replacement in Kisumu Rural constituency.

He is said to have been the brains behind the infamous mlolongo queue voting system used in the 1988 elections to rig in system favorites. Oyugi’s man against Ouko in Kisumu Rural- Joab Omino, however, lost to the minister who would later be murdered in circumstances linked to the man.

Another highlight of Oyugi’s unparalleled power was the claim that he built himself an insulated spy network which operated in parallel to the official Special Branch spy apparatus. His political fortunes sunk with the Ouko murder scam and he died in August 1992.


Kenneth Matiba

Matiba owes his networks to his times as a young civil servant. At 31 years of age and even before Kenya could attain independence; Matiba was making history as the first indigenous African permanent secretary for Education.

An old boy of Alliance High School, Matiba is said to have enjoyed mentorship of Carey Francis, his former headmaster who lobbied to have him appointed to the position. In 1964, Matiba was appointed the PS for Commerce under minister Mwai Kibaki.

Besides Carey Francis who passed on a few years after independence, Matiba was propped by his connection with his powerful in-laws, the family of Musa Gitau.

Gitau was one of the first Africans to become a minister in the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and had taught Kenyatta at the PCEA centre in Thogoto, Kikuyu.

As a son of Kenyatta’s former teacher, Matiba was therefore untouchable in the civil service. As the PS Commerce, Matiba spearheaded the Africanisation programme which was widely abused by bureaucrats and politicians of the times.

In, The Politics of Property Rights Institutions in Africa, Ato Kwamena Onoma narrates how Matiba partnered with SG Smith to form Alliance Investments Ltd which came to own interests in a string of hotels including African Sea Lodge, Jadini Beach hotel, Outrigger Hotel and Naro Moro River Lodge. He also owned a string of schools.

So influential was he that when a commission of inquiry was formed to investigate the potential for conflict of interests in politicians and bureaucrats involving themselves in business, he was named its secretary. The chairman was his boss at civil service Duncan Ndegwa.

‘In many ways, this was like assigning wolves to guard the sheep. Ndegwa and Matiba were two of the leading businessmen-politicians,” Onoma says. Predictably, the pair went on to make a finding that it was good for politicians and bureaucrats to do business.

Matiba went on to score many firsts as first African executive chairman of East Africa Breweries, first Kikuyu to be elected chair of the Kenya Football Federation and first Kenyan minister under Moi government to resign from the cabinet.


Zakayo Cheruiyot

Popularly known as ZK, Cheruiyot was the PS Internal Security between the year 1997 and 2003 when President Moi retired and President Kibaki took power. Serving in Moi’s sunset years, ZK was strategically placed in a position of influence at a time when succession politics were at the peak.

Other emerging power-brokers at the time of ZK’s helm in security were the then assistant ministers William Ruto, now the deputy President, Isaac Ruto, now Governor Bomet and old timers- cabinet ministers George Saitoti, Joseph Kamotho, Nicholas Biwott and Kalonzo Musyoka.


It is during his time as Security PS tthat Kenya became a target of terrorist attacks first the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy and the Kikambala bombing of 2002 and the capture of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.

Cheruiyot’s days in power also featured the famous “cooperation” between Raila Odinga’s NDP and Moi’s Kanu, the Inter party parliamentary Group (IPPG) arrangement and also marked the beginning of changing the constitution with Bomas 1 commencing a few months before the 2002 election.

Although Moi was largely in charge all through, he heavily relied on advice from his close aides among them Cheruiyot and the then Head of Public Service Dr Sally Kosgey.

Cheruiyot was to later carry a heavy burden of the Kanu rule when he was severally accused of corruption, illegal land acquisition and complicity in hiding wanted Rwandan fugitive Felicien Kabuga. He has denied all claims and was never convicted for anything. He was to win the Kuresoi parliamentary seat in 2007 general election and successfully defended the same in the March 4 polls.

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