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November 16, 2018

Cabinet: Gaps and questions

President Uhuru Kenyatta chairs a Cabinet meeting at State House, Nairobi./FILE
President Uhuru Kenyatta chairs a Cabinet meeting at State House, Nairobi./FILE

On the 58th day, last Friday, a local daily was complimenting President Uhuru Kenyatta for breaking presidential record on delaying nominations to the Cabinet. When he did on the 59th day after being sworn-in, there were still gaps.

The list of Cabinet Secretaries had grown from 18 in the previous government to 22. But the last slot had a name without an assigned portfolio. Some ministries still have no principal secretaries, and 'chief administrative secretaries'.

When Uhuru named the second lot of proposed appointees, the exercise appeared 'rushed'. There was no position assigned to a proposed appointee to the Executive, Raphael Tuju, from Siaya county, like Defence CS Raychelle Omamo.

Names of some defectors, who had expected rewards, were missing from the list. The Miji Kenda are crying foul, saying Siaya has more than its fair share, without a vote for Uhuru. Women nominees at six fell short of the one-third constitutional threshold.

The Deputy President William Ruto was missing from Uhuru's side for the second time during an important State function. The excitement similar appointments raised in 2013, when the Jubilee regime was young, digital, and united in poise, dress, word, and deed, was missing. The Friday event lacked the sense of occasion of five years ago.

The Deputy President may have been busy on more pressing national assignments, but his absence sent mixed signals. The two are no longer joined at the hip. Time has loosened this grip of the once-upon-a-time dynamic duo. A Ruto show-up would have debunked this ominous feeling.

Uhuru enters a turbulent second term, with a promise he wants to focus on his legacy. This legacy is defined by the realisation of food security, housing, industrialisation, and universal healthcare.

But achieving these goals starts with building a team that would work to deliver the promises. The tone and tenor of this unity begins with a shared vision at the Presidency. The clash between legacy and 2022 presidential ambition could compromise this vision.

The President appeared lonely at the top, what with the huge expectations and the realisation that it is impossible to please everybody. It seemed even hard to excite the DP into dropping other national engagements to join the President when he announced the appointments.

The gaps gave the impression that the construction of government is work in progress. Rome, we are told, was not built in a day. There is still room for stubborn hope that those left out could still find a way in.

President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga took 50 days after the 2007 elections to constitute the Grand Coalition Government. Post-election violence, the ensuing stalemate, the international community-driven dialogue under the chairmanship of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and haggling over sharing of Cabinet positions delayed the formation of government.

President Moi took three days to establish a government after the 1988 General Election. The expectations were then still low under the one-party rule. President Moi knew who would be in the Executive, way before the election.

But President Moi took seven months before naming a Vice President after the 1997 General Election. When he reappointed George Saitoti to the position, the President was spiteful.

He wondered whether the reappointment would add sufurias of ugali on the tables of those who were pestering him to do so. Moi was then serving his last presidential term, which marked the end of his 24 years in State House.

The delay had to do with the Moi succession election of 2002. It was too early to expose his preferred Kanu presidential candidate. The ruling party imploded during the election year of 2002, when Moi named Uhuru, then a budding politician, as his preferred successor.

Founding President Kenyatta took office in 1963, with a complete Cabinet. He took oath with his ministers on the same day. The fight for Independence had created a unity of purpose: Kenyatta knew the expectations of the country and his compatriots.

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