IT is not very often in our history that any member of the Kenyan Cabinet manages to acquire a stature in the eyes of the public that raises them among their peers, and makes them – in the eyes of the public anyway – primus inter pares (first among equals).
This year has, surprisingly enough, yielded two such Cabinet Secretaries, in Dr Fred Matiang’i in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology; and Sicily Kariuki in the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs.
Not only have these two CSs managed to carve out a unique profile in the eyes of the public as dedicated public servants who are determined to make a difference and serve their President and their nation, but their dockets have actually been among the most difficult to manage for years. And yet they touched most critically on the lives of the youth of this country.
But they have managed to push through and achieve outstanding and transformational results.
Kariuki took over her Cabinet docket at a time when it was synonymous with massive, heartbreaking graft, which had denied tens of thousands of young Kenyans the only opportunities they had to get ahead in life, through the National Youth Service. Against all odds, she was able to turnaround the NYS, and to get it back on track.
But then the NYS expanded programme was a relatively new development. What Dr Matiang’i faced was an even more chilling challenge: Taking the fight to the long-entrenched “examinations leakage cartels” that generated millions of shillings in illicit earnings for those who worked to provide advance copies of exam questions to students whose parents were willing to pay.
This is something Kenyans had more or less come to accept as an unavoidable evil. After all, there are countries (such as India, for example) where exam cheating is a fine art, involving the most elaborate web of networks imaginable, from the classroom teacher all the way up to top officials in the ministry of Education (not to mention the parents who were only too eager to pay for this “service”).
Dr Matiang’i won a clear and decisive victory against the Kenyan exam cartels this year. And for this achievement he has been showered with the thanks of a grateful nation.
What remains to be seen is whether these CSs will entrench their achievements in institutional reforms that will outlast them.