President Uhuru Kenyatta’s newly announced cabinet promises a bouquet of skills, with its 18-strong membership’s wide and varied experience in the worlds of business, banking, diplomacy and academia taking priority over that of career politicians. For the first time, two powerful portfolios go to women. Wanjohi Kabukuru reports from Nairobi.
A team of great expectations is probably the best summary of Kenya’s new cabinet, which not only reflects the new face the country would like to project but has also incorporated the country’s best skilled manpower.
If there is one thing that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Coalition has achieved since it was voted into office in early March, it is consistency with its pro-business agenda.
“We are giving Kenyans the best brains that will enable us to deliver our Jubilee manifesto and uplift the wellbeing of the nation,” said Kenyatta, announcing the new cabinet.
The country has taken a radical shift not only from the past but also from the usual practice of elevating favoured politicians to high positions in government.
A good number of the new cabinet are in fact apolitical and their achievements lie in other fields. This is also the first time that a larger number of women have been appointed to powerful positions. The overriding challenge facing the new government is how to channel the county’s $19.1bn budget to achieve the ambitious 7-10% economic growth target in the first two years, from the current 5% growth.
The new Kenyan constitution allows for a maximum of 22 in the cabinet, who will now be referred to as cabinet secretaries instead of ministers. In his first month in office, Kenyatta announced that he would pare down the usually bloated cabinet to 18 ministries and has, at the time of going to press, just made all 18 appointments.
During his inauguration, President Kenyatta made it clear that, henceforth, the private sector, rather than the state, would take the lead in economic development.
“To the private sector, my promise to you is that we will create an enabling environment, so that you can play your part in creating employment and fostering economic growth,” Kenyatta said. “For too long our nation has exported jobs that should rightly belong to our citizens. We have focused on exporting primary products, instead of promoting value addition and manufacturing finished goods thereby creating jobs and improving our standard of living.”
To underline his resolve, he has drafted in several people from the private sector to run the government departments. For example, the unobtrusive career banker Henry Rotich is the first cabinet secretary in charge of the national treasury. His prime task will be upscaling and widening the national revenue streams, allocating funds to key growth sectors and setting up the Development Bank of Kenya (DBK), aimed at supporting private sector players.
“I pledge that my administration will work towards diversifying our economic base,” Kenyatta said. “We will support the manufacturing industry and support all enterprises, both local and international, that strive to create finished goods using local labour and materials. I also pledge that this government, as the largest buyer of goods and services, will take the lead in supporting local industry, by buying Kenyan first.”
This is where the former longserving CEO of Barclays Bank of Kenya, Adan Mohamed, comes in. Mohamed has been appointed cabinet secretary in charge of Industrialisation and Enterprise Development. In his new posting, he is expected to drive the agenda of the country’s industrialisation under the Kenya Vision 2030 blueprint.
He will also be expected to convert the moribund state corporation, Kenya Industrial Estates (KIE), into a youth-oriented Biashara (Swahili for ‘business’) Kenya, merging it with the Youth Enterprise Fund (YEF) and offering financial support and tax breaks to youth-led commercial ventures.
Anne Waiguru, who previously worked at Citigroup, will be in charge of the Devolution and Planning department. This department has the tricky task of ensuring that development reaches all the country’s 47 new administrative counties. The former separate ministries dealing with East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, have been merged into one under Phyllis Kandie, formerly of Standard Investment Bank. Her task willbe to iron out and eliminate constraints besetting regional
integration, notably non-tariff barriers and the free flow of goods and services, and raising Kenya’s tourism from the current 1.5m visitors to 5m over the next five years. Ambassadors Raychelle Omamo and Amina Mohammed, with their law and diplomacy backgrounds, strike a first of sorts in the new cabinet. They are in charge of the powerful departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs respectively, becoming the first women to hold such portfolios in Kenya’s 50-year history. Ms Omamo was until recently Kenya’s ambassador to France, Portugal, the Holy See and Serbia, and her task will be to give more impetus to the ongoing modernisation of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and broadening their peacekeeping operations in the region.
Ms Mohammed, on the other hand, is expected to be tested on two fronts. The first is to enhance Kenya’s search for new trade partners by bolstering Nairobi’s communications, economic and financial hub status. The second will be to mend the current frosty relations with Kenya’s traditional partners, especially Washington, Paris, London and Brussels, in light of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) indictments of President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
Agriculture still king
For the last 50 years, Kenya’s economy has never wavered from its agricultural mainstay. While, in the last decade, attempts were made to diversify the economy by opening up other sectors, notably telecommunications, manufacturing and extractive sectors, agriculture still remains king, contributing 25% of the GDP and accounting for 75% of the country’s labour force.
In the Jubilee agenda, agriculture still retains this sentimental value. Felix Koskei will take charge of the now-expanded Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries ministry. His terms of reference are to change Kenya’s largely subsistence, rain-fed agribusiness model into a self-sustaining heavily industrialised farming template, making the country self-sufficient in food production. James Macharia resigned from his post as managing director of NIC Bank to take up the post of cabinet secretary in charge of the health department. Macharia has the daunting task of dealing with the scarcity of drugs, dilapidated hospitals and halting the tide of demoralised doctors and nurses migrating to Europe, South Africa, US and Australia. Former President Mwai Kibaki’s Permanent Secretary in charge of roads, Michael Kamau, had been short-listed for the same position in the new administration but was pleasantly surprised when he was appointed cabinet secretary in charge of Transport and Infrastructure.
Kamau had earned the respect of many for a speedy completion of the landmark $369.7m 50-km eight-lane Nairobi-Thika expressway, Arusha-Namanga-Athi River Highway and the expansion of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), among many other infrastructure projects. He is now in charge of the implementation of the $24.7bn Lapsset Corridor and the modernisation of the Mombasa-Malaba railway into a standardgauge electric line, among other key infrastructure installations.
Former tourism and health ministers Najib Balala and Charity Ngilu were appointed as cabinet secretaries in charge of Mining, and Land, Housing and Urban Development respectively. These two ministries, together with that of energy and petroleum to be steered by Davis Chirchir, will be keenly watched. These three ministries are interrelated and as the country has now emerged as an oil and gas frontier, the three cabinet secretaries are tasked with a heavy responsibility of making the benefits from the soon-to-bloom extractive industries sector permeate the entire economy.
Their immediate goals will be dealing with critical issues relating to the oil fields of Turkana, the cost of energy, titanium mining in the coastal region, coal extraction in eastern Kenya, landuser ownership rights, digitising land records and demarcating community lands to enable access and land productivity.
Professor Judy Wakhungu, Jacob Kaimenyi, Fred Matiang’i and Dr Hassan Wario are the four academics appointed as cabinet secretaries in charge of environment, water and natural resources; education, ICT and sports culture and the arts respectively.
Kaimenyi is expected to hire teachers to reduce the public teacher to student ratio from the current 1:80 to 1:40 and enhance quality education to bridge the professional skills gap. Dr Wario has to spearhead the professionalisation of the Kenyan sports and arts scenes while Professor Wakhungu will be hard pressed to curb rampant poaching in the country’s national parks and restate Kenya as the African capital of green energy. Matiang’i will oversee the realisation of Konza Technocity and bolster Kenya’s ICT lead.
The challenge now is for the new cabinet to deliver and fulfil the ‘Great Expectations’.