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Monica Juma, the brain behind Kenya’s Kenyatta

By Parselelo Kantai in Nairobi
Posted on Thursday, 4 June 2015 14:54

A highly regarded official in African diplomatic circles, Monica Juma has a reputation as a behind- the-scenes player, comfortable out of the spotlight.

At the AU, they began to rely on her on a whole range of issues on peace and security beyond ICC

Two years after being appointed principal secretary in the defence ministry, Juma was named principal secretary to the cabinet.

Not only does this make her the highest-ranking woman in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government, it is also a recognition of the pivotal role she has increasingly been playing.

For years, she was stationed in Addis Ababa as Kenya’s ambassador to ethiopia and djibouti as well as its permanent representative at the African Union (AU).

Juma’s strategy played a critical role in her government’s efforts to extricate its people from their cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC) as Kenya embarked on a long season of shuttle diplomacy on behalf of six people, including Kenyatta and the deputy president, William Ruto, who were indicted for involvement in post-election violence in 2007 and 2008.

The Kenyatta government was not successful in organising a continental walk-out from the ICC. however, in making Kenyatta’s case a cause célèbre at the AU, Juma proved herself an indispensable force for the beleaguered political establishment.

As an academic who did her doctorate in politics at the University of Oxford, her most notable work was on refugees and the internally displaced.

Familiar with the pioneering work of Barbara Harrell-Bond, founder of the refugee Studies Centre at Oxford, Juma returned to Kenya and to Moi University in Eldoret to set up a similar project there.

Later, she worked as a research fellow at the international Peace institute in New york and then moved to the Africa institute of South Africa in Pretoria.

And while many of her colleagues in academic and policy circles question her politics, few of them question her intellectual integrity.

In the ‘ICC Age’ in Kenya, as both ethnic politics and financial inducements have stained the reputations of many formerly respected professionals, Juma has retained the respect of many of her erstwhile colleagues.

“Monica is equipped to do serious policy thinking. At the AU she was the star in the Kenyan shuttle diplomacy game. Much of the credit goes to her. She has a way of doing it from behind the scenes.

“At the AU, they began to rely on her on a whole range of issues on peace and security beyond ICC,” says a Kenyan academic who has known Juma for a long time.

Her recent elevation may be regarded as little more than a reward for a relatively inexperienced bureaucrat for her earlier role at the AU.

Apart from the two years she has done in the Jubilee government, she briefly worked in the civil service in the early 1990s.

Indeed, her more recent roles in security will not be remembered for any more than the string of blunders committed by the government.

What is significant about her appointment, however, is that by promoting Juma, Kenyatta appears keen on removing members of the bureaucracy he had inherited from his predecessor.

Many stalwarts of the past few administrations are either being forced out or are retiring. Notable among them is Francis Kimemia, who Juma replaced as secretary to the cabinet.

Kimemia was a key member of former President Mwai Kibaki’s securocracy, and his influence had extended into the current administration.

But the rise of a coterie of younger bureaucrats and diplomats, whose influence on State House has grown substantially since the termination of Kenyatta’s case at the ICC in December 2014, is not without its pitfalls.

Kenyatta’s reliance on technocrats and professionals, mostly from academia and the private sector, has come at the cost of effectiveness.

Whether because of their relative inexperience or expected teething pains, Kenyatta appears to be increasingly frustrated by his government’s failure to deliver and has been deeply stung by public criticism.

This, it is said, is the underlying reason behind what appears to be a state of perennial reshuffles in his government.

Juma’s value to Kenyatta’s emerging system has evolved since the anti-ICC campaigns in Addis.

Then, her reputation in African diplomatic circles as well as her network of contacts gave the Kenyan government’s lobbying added gravitas.

Inside the civil service, her real test will be to keep a clear head in the rough and tumble of an entrenched civil service system that has over the years seen many brilliant professionals sink in its bureaucratic quicksands. ●

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