Nation

By NATION TEAM
More by this Author

President Uhuru Kenyatta runs a highly centralised national administration with significant differences from his two predecessors in which trust is the key passport for entry into the inner circle.

Weeks-long interviews with insiders in the Kenyatta Government painted a picture of a President who, at the halfway point of his first term, has become confident enough to bring changes and oust most of President Kibaki’s core appointees while seeking to steer his government towards a private-sector led approach, all the time eyeing the 2017 presidential election.

But the differences between Mr Kenyatta and his predecessors are clear. Where Mr Kibaki prized competence above all else and paid little heed to loyalty – which led to an effective but unstable government – Mr Kenyatta is said to value trust more than any other virtue and detests unauthorised leaks to the media.

According to those familiar with the Kenyatta State House, among the lieutenants Mr Kenyatta trusts most are his private secretary Jomo Gecaga, a close relative who is often to be found quietly at his side in public and in private, and his younger brother Muhoho Kenyatta.

“When President Uhuru had a case at the ICC (International Criminal Court), it was MK (Muhoho Kenyatta) who was handling that when his brother was running the government. He comes to State House nearly on a daily basis. He is a sharp guy,” a source said.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, who is said to have lifted the gloom which attended State House due to the reputed difficult interpersonal relations First Lady Lucy Kibaki had with residential staff, is another important confidante.

On the formal issues of government operations, President Kenyatta is seen on a near-daily basis by several technocrats including Chief of Staff Joseph Kinyua, security chiefs and Secretary to the Cabinet-nominee Monica Juma.

Another key adviser is Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations Environmental Programme, Prof Martin Kimani. “These are the people who you see the President talking to on a daily basis. They are among the few with express entry,” sources working at State House told the Sunday Nation.

On a normal day, President Kenyatta meets several clusters of people. “I can categorise the type of people he interacts with into six. His family, strategic thinkers, delivery people, security cluster, his friends and the political class. His life revolves around these people,” the source, who cannot be named discussing the President, said.

Inside his strategic thinkers’ circle is his constitutional adviser Abdikadir Mohamed, Environment Cabinet Secretary Judy Wakhungu, Solicitor-General Njee Muturi, Chief of Staff Kinyua, State House spokesperson Manoah Esipisu, Dr Juma, and Prof Kimani.

When the President wants something done, he has his delivery people cluster largely comprising members of the Cabinet. But Devolution CS Ann Waiguru, Treasury CS Henry Rotich, Treasury PS Kamau Thugge, and Agriculture PS Cecily Kariuki see him frequently.

In addition to Cabinet meetings, President Kenyatta is said to give special attention to certain CSs depending on the magnitude of their undertaking at any given time.

For instance, Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery is a frequent visitor to State House by virtue of his arduous docket, as are security chiefs.  
Apart from Deputy President William Ruto, one of the most consistent visitors to State House, who comes almost every morning, is the Interior Principal Secretary.

Until last week, the position was occupied by Ms Juma who has since been nominated Secretary to the Cabinet. Maj-Gen (rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa has been nominated Interior PS and is expected to take up the heavy task that includes frequent briefings to the President.

Others who regularly come to State House are Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces Julius Karangi, Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet, Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi, Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale, Senate Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki and Solicitor-General Njee Muturi.

UNLIKE KIBAKI

Unlike Mr Kibaki, who relied on a close-knit group of long-time golfing buddies, sometimes referred to as the “Muthaiga club”, Mr Kenyatta’s kitchen Cabinet is mostly made up of state officials.

President Kenyatta receives security briefs twice a day from General Karangi, who is soon to be replaced by General Samson Mwathethe, National Intelligence Service boss Philip Kameru, Gen Nkaissery and the recently appointed Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet.

In the evening when he relaxes, some of his close friends including Raymond Matiba, Francis Michuki and his long-time political ally and now vice-chairman of the Jubilee Alliance Party David Murathe meet him, when he is not catching up with the family. Other close friends are Mr Bruce Odhiambo, who is chairman of the Youth Enterprise Development Fund, and businessman Moses Nderitu linked to Excloosive — a mobile toilets services provider. 

President Kenyatta’s style contrasts markedly with that of his predecessors. Mr Kibaki had little time for small talk and social engagements but is said by confidantes to have been extremely engaged any time someone came to him to discuss issues relating to the development budget. He had little interest in recurrent expenditure which he said was the province of bureaucrats such as his trusted head of public service, Mr Francis Muthaura.

Mr Kibaki’s emphasis on competence, which saw him tap into the brains of the likes of Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, Mr David Mwiraria, Mr Kiraitu Murungi, Ms Martha Karua, Mr Raila Odinga and others with whom he served in the Opposition in the 1990s is credited with helping to turn around the economy.

But unlike Mr Kenyatta, Mr Kibaki did not place great premium on trust and friendship, meaning his administration was rocked by numerous leaks and wrangles which hobbled the government.

President Moi, like Mr Kenyatta, took the counsel of a closed circle of trusted aides but unlike Mr Kenyatta President Moi had a presence in virtually every issue in which the government was engaged, famously calling even District Officers in remote parts of the country for briefings.

Paradoxically, the administration of founding President Jomo Kenyatta bore closest resemblance in the decision-making chain to the Kibaki one in terms of the power Cabinet ministers wielded to make autonomous decisions.

As they approach mid-term, President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have moved to promote the role of the private sector in decision-making including the establishment of a presidential delivery unit to be headed by Mr Nzioka Waita, who was brought in from mobile phone giant Safaricom.

According to insiders, President Kenyatta is said to be a good listener and trusts his close aides’ thinking but is often left behind with Chief of Staff Kinyua after meetings, possibly to discuss the execution stage or to help him arrive at a plan of action.

President Kenyatta is said to be protective of his relatives and friends and those who work closely with him. On one occasion last year, Mr Ruto drove to State House in a personal car with one bodyguard. President Kenyatta was upset.

“The President was shocked. He told Ruto that he must use at least three cars when on low key travel. Do you know Ruto was not allowed to leave State House until his motorcade arrived?” the source said. He also personally ordered that a detachment of his presidential guard be sent out to search and rescue the Deputy President’s spokesman David Mugonyi who had been carjacked as he went home in March last year.

Those with whom he works call him “Boss” because he dislikes being called Mheshimiwa.

COMMUNICATION UNIT
A prominent feature of the Kenyatta State House is the Presidential Strategic Communication Unit (PSCU) which replaced the Presidential Press Service (PPS).

The unit is headed by Mr Esipisu who is also the secretary of communications. Under Mr Esipisu are senior directors Munyori Buku, Dennis Itumbi, James Kinyua, Munira Mohammed and Eric Ng’eno.

Mr Esipisu, a long-serving journalist, arrived from the African Development Bank where he was the special assistant to the bank’s president. He also worked at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, where he was Spokesperson and Deputy Director of Communication and Public Affairs.
On the other hand, most of his deputies have been with Mr Kenyatta from his time as opposition leader.

The unit has been criticised for incoherent and sometimes insensitive statements targeting perceived political opponents of President Kenyatta. The latest one was the hashtag “Enough of sideshows #2yearsofsuccess” when the country was in deep mourning following the killing of 142 students at the Garissa University College by the Al-Shabaab.

But it is the Presidential Delivery Unit which will be the key unit to watch going forward. The PDU, which gauges the performance of the government, comprises a team of seven who are supposed to give an independent and realistic picture of his successes and failures. It is headed by the newly-appointed Mr Waita, formerly director of Corporate Affairs at Safaricom.

The PDU is the brainchild of former Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair and has offices at the KICC.
The team meets President Uhuru on a monthly basis to brief him on progress made on his flagship projects such as Standard Gauge Railway, primary school electrification programme and road construction.

Mr Kenyatta is said to love simplicity and does not seek to project himself as President when attending private meetings.
Early in April, while attending a funeral of a relative, the President rode to Langata cemetery in three personal vehicles accompanied mainly by family members, just to be sure that state protocol did not upset an otherwise private event.

His normal motorcade comprises of at least 10 escort vehicles carrying part of his security detail, his communication team and emergency responders.