Kenya’s new President William Ruto has surrounded himself witih a group of top politicians, technocrats and bureaucrats. He hopes they can help him navigate a tricky political and economic landscape.
Faced with a historic drought, a weaker shilling, and delicate regional security dynamics, Ruto will need all hands on deck.
On 2 December, Ruto witnessed the swearing in of 51 principal secretaries (PSs) – the top accounting officers in his 21 ministries.
“You are not only responsible for your state department, but you serve under the collective responsibility of the entire government of […] Kenya,” Ruto said. “You must carry out your responsibilities with that understanding and all of us must work in a manner that creates synergy.”
Members of the cabinet include institutional bureaucrats, trusted friends and politicians, who were critical to delivering Ruto’s ‘hustler’ vision.
Rigathi Gachagua has proven to be a strong political weapon against critics and recently took it upon himself to keep opposition chief Raila Odinga in check.
“This old man, we have seen him [from] far. He is selling fear to our president, threatening to hold demonstrations,” Gachagua said on 4 December. “Our president, we plead with you, we don’t want this […] old man anywhere near our government.”
Gachagua, who also sits in the National Security Council, has since been assigned several oversight and coordination duties of the administration. This is a departure from the previous regime in which Ruto complained of being sidelined by his boss at the time, Uhuru Kenyatta.
Musalia Mudavadi’s role is to “assist the president and the deputy president in the coordination and supervision of government ministries and state departments”.
In the Kenya Kwanza coalition agreement, Mudavadi and National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula brokered a deal to get 30% share of government seats. It is through this deal that Susan Wafula was appointed to the cabinet.
The security chiefs
The situations in Eastern DRC, Somalia and Ethiopia make security a top priority for Ruto.
The National Security Council (NSC) is mandated to take charge of the country’s security internally, regionally and at the international front. It comprises presidential appointees at the cabinet level and heads of security agencies. The council comprises top security chiefs: the Chief of Defence Forces (Robert Kibochi), the Police Inspector General (Japhet Koome) and Director of Intelligence (Philip Kameru).
Also in the council, which is chaired by the president, are the deputy president; cabinet secretaries of defence (Aden Duale), internal security (Kithure Kindiki) and foreign affairs (Alfred Mutua); as well as the Attorney General (Justin Muturi)
The constitution requires the council to “exercise supervisory control over national security organs”.
Robert Kibochi was appointed to this position in April 2020 and is also advisor to the president on military, operational and administrative issues of the KDF. He was instrumental in the recent deployment of 900 member forces to the DRC.
Kibochi, 63, has been in the military since 1979 and would have been scheduled to retire in April 2024 when his four-year term expires. He may, however, leave earlier, having attained the retirement age of 62.
Japhet Koome, 55, was recently appointed as the fourth inspector general of the National Police Service. He became the president’s first pick in the plot to reorganise the security sector.
He has the onerous task of silencing guns in the North Rift region that has been rocked by inter-ethnic conflicts driven by cattle rustling.
Kithure Kindiki, 50, brings political, academic and legal experience to the sector. The constitution allows the CS to “give a direction to the Inspector-General with respect to any matter of policy for the National Police Service”.
Ahead of the 2022 election, he had expected Ruto to pick him as running mate, but was dropped for Gachagua. Kindiki then vowed to keep off politics, but later changed his mind. “My party persuaded me […], I have no problem submitting to authority. My friend Rigathi Gachagua, now deputy president, is my boss and I have no problem serving under him alongside the president,” he told MPs during his vetting in October.
Adan Duale had served as Garissa Town MP since 2007, each time winning election while in the same party with Ruto. In 2013, Duale became the leader of majority in parliament, serving until 2020, when he fell out with Kenyatta after siding with Ruto. He is now the direct link between the KDF and the cabinet. Duale, who is of Somali descent, is said to have strong business links with Mogadishu.
In October 2021, Kenya lost a case at the International Court of Justice involving a maritime border dispute with Somalia. Kenya disputed the judgement, with Kenyatta vowing that “not an inch less; not an inch more” would be let go.
We can always sort out our maritime boundary dispute in a peaceful environment.
“We can always sort out our maritime boundary dispute in a peaceful environment,” Ruto told Al Jazeera in September. “[Our priority now is] stabilising Somalia, making sure that Somalia is functional, having functional security arrangement[s] so that we can pull out our troops.”
Kenya has sent thousands of KDF troops to Somalia since 2011, under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Ruto spoke months after Somalia had a transition of power involving Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, whom Ruto describes as someone “much more progressive, [and] committed to fighting terrorism.[…]”.
For many years, Alfred Mutua had never been on the same side of politics with Ruto. He served as the first governor of Machakos County in 2013, when he won the election on a Wiper ticket, a party led by Kalonzo Musyoka.
He then founded the Maendeleo Chap Chap Party for the 2017 election, before ditching Odinga for Ruto in 2022.
Monica Juma, a former ambassador of Kenya to Ethiopia, Djibouti and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, has a wealth of experience on security and diplomacy matters. She served as PS in the ministries of defence and interior during Kenyatta’s first term (2013 – 2017). Between 2018 and 2022, she served as CS in three ministries: foreign affairs, defence and energy.
Juma is believed to have played a critical role in shuttle diplomacy for Kenya when Kenyatta and Ruto had been charged at the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity. The ICC cases eventually collapsed in what is believed to be Nairobi’s diplomatic initiatives.
Troops in parliament
Parliament is managed through parties or coalitions and Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza currently controls both houses: the Senate and the National Assembly.
Kenya Kwanza has at least 179 MPs out of 349 at the National Assembly. Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichungwa, allied to Ruto, is the leader of majority and it is through his office that the government’s legislative agenda is introduced in the house. He was a lead figure during the election campaigns in Mt. Kenya region and across the country.
At the Senate, Ruto has entrusted Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho Senator) to lead the majority coalition. Cheruiyot is responsible for rallying the Senate to support the government’s legislative and devolution agenda.
Moses Wetangula, 66, is the 8th speaker of the National Assembly. He is the third in command and would act as president if Ruto and Gachagua were to be incapacitated. He leads the key legislative house of parliament and chairs the Parliamentary Service Commission.
Wetangula will be key in fostering Ruto’s legislative agenda. Even though the constitution grants parliament independence from the executive, that Wetangula was a co-founder of Kenya Kwanza aligns with Ruto’s priorities.
In his second term in office, Ndindi Nyoro, 36, beat many odds to make a national impression in a short time. He was recently elected to chair the influential budget and appropriations committee, which Ichung’wa once chaired. The committee is in charge of scrutinising the national government’s budget policy. It also has the power to make alterations to the government’s expenditure plans.
Justin Muturi, 66, may well be one of the most experienced officers in Ruto’s cabinet. During Kenyatta’s reign, he served as the Speaker of the National Assembly for close to 10 years. He is also a former MP for Siakago in Embu County (1999-2007).
Muturi recently advised the National Treasury to release funds to the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) after a close-to-four-month stalemate, which saw MPs threaten to boycott house business. CDF sponsors poor students to access education and boosts security and education projects.
Muturi will be critical in advising on the legal consequences of all actions Ruto may wish to engage in. All legislative proposals by ministries and departments must also get a nod from the attorney general.
Njuguna Ndung’u, the 63-year-old economist, has the mandate of managing the country’s economy, public debt, fiscal policy and formulation of the national budget.
Ndung’u, a former governor of the Central Bank of Kenya, was instrumental in the crafting of the Kenya Kwanza manifesto. He has his work cut out as Ruto champions more elaborate tax collection and boosting of a national saving culture.
“I have said that in matters paying taxes, I will lead the way. No company, no individual, no section of our society will be exempt from paying tax,” Ruto said on 2 December. “Tax is the only instrument that confirms our patriotism and our independence as a nation.”
Ndung’u will work closely with Ruto’s presidential council of economic advisors, which is chaired by a fellow economist, David Ndii, who was also instrumental in crafting the Kenya Kwanza manifesto.
Simon Chelugui, 51, was in Kenyatta’s cabinet and is now the inaugural minister of the newly formed Cooperatives and SMEs docket, under which the ‘hustler’ fund was launched.
The fund is a KSh50bn ($404m) loan and savings programme for entrepreneurs at the “bottom of the pyramid”. It provides low interest short-term loans of between KSh500 – KSh50,000 ($4.08 – $408), repayable in 14 days at a daily interest rate of 0.02%.
The hustler fund was a key pillar in the Kenya Kwanza manifesto that resonated with voters. For a president who may seek a second term, Chelugui’s assignment is close to Ruto’s heart.
Kipchumba Murkomen had served as senator of Elgeyo Marakwet since 2013. He is one of the closest confidants of the president. In his new role, he has control over hundreds of billions worth of infrastructural contracts. Ruto appears to prefer public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects.
Davis Chirchir, 62, served in Kenyatta’s first cabinet as energy CS until 2015, when he was forced to resign after being named in a graft report. He is another close confidant of the president, who was instrumental in the management of the 2022 presidential campaign and the subsequent parallel results tallying system. Chirchir also once served as commissioner of the defunct Independent Electoral Commission (2009 – 2011).
Until Ruto’s election as president, Chirchir was his chief of staff at the office of the deputy president.
Until her appointment, Mercy Wanjau, 50, was serving as the deputy director general of Kenya’s Communications Authority. She is now tasked with recording the minutes of cabinet meetings and communicating decisions made to CSs as well as government institutions.
Felix Koskei, a former cabinet secretary, succeeded Joseph Kinyua, who had served Kenyatta in the same capacity. He will be critical in implementing Ruto’s agenda in the public service, which is the engine that executes government business across the country.
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