Some quick thoughts on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s new cabinet nominations

Two months after being sworn in for his second and final term, President Uhuru Kenyatta has nominated members of his new cabinet (see list below). Kenyatta also created a new position in government, the office of Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS), which is different than the Principal Secretary (PS) position. Essentially, CASs will be the new assistant ministers as was the case under the old constitution.

The cabinet appointments are underwhelming.

In his second inaugural address, Kenyatta promised to focus on four key areas (the “Big Four”) in his second term. I had therefore expected that appointments would mirror a shift in approach, at least in the key ministries that touch on the “Big Four” areas (manufacturing, agriculture, health, and infrastructure). But Adan Mohamed was retained at Industrialization (he hasn’t been particularly bad. But he hasn’t been bold either). The new CS of health is untested in the docket. Nominations for the agriculture, water, lands, and devolution portfolios are explicit political appointees that will likely be distracted by patronage politics.

James Macharia at transport is probably the only “Big Four” appointment/retention that makes sense considering the president’s stated policy goals.

It would appear that the only recipe for success in the next five years would be for Kenyatta to shield the actual operations of these ministries from most of the Cabinet Secretaries. In principle, it should be possible to create islands of success separate from the messy political economy considerations that informed the structure of the overall cabinet.

The creation of the position of CAS and appointment of politicians to this position will further complicate matters by injecting even more patronage politics into the functions of ministries.

From a purely administrative standpoint, this looks like a really bad idea.

If all Kenyatta is doing is rewarding politicians for their political support, there are other economically cheaper but more impactful ways of doing so. I wish State House took the science of the industrial organization of public administration more seriously.

Now that this is done, the onus is on the president and his team to make it work. That will not be an easy task. There is bound to be conflict over contracts, bribes, and jobs between CSs and CASs. In addition, by essentially creating multiple principals at the top, the president has saddled state agencies with principal-agent problems that will be hard to solve without a strict allocation of tasks. And this is before we even consider the potentially messy interaction between parliamentary committees and the CSs and CASs. Smart chairs of departmental committees in the National Assembly will play these two against each other and extract bribes like never before.

MPs are not fighting to head these committees out of a sense of public duty.

I wish Nzioka Waita and his team all the best of luck.

Finally, the cabinet has (broadly speaking) good regional balance. The two biggest surprises are the total exclusion of big name politicos from Lower Eastern and the Gideon Moi faction of the Rift Valley from the CS list. At first glance, it appears that Deputy President William Ruto got a good deal with these appointments (see here for background). There are only 6/22 (27%) women on the list, in violation of the constitutional requirement of at least 33%.

Kobia and Juma look well-matched to their portfolios. Mohammed’s move to education looks like a demotion, but her new docket has a bigger budget than Foreign Affairs. Education is a tough docket, but a part of me thinks that she is likely to emerge as the best-performing minister on account of her management skills and incredible work ethic (if, and only if, she can handle the politics of education well).

Here is the list:

1. Margaret Kobia – CS Youth and Public Service.
2. John Munyes – CS Petroleum and Mining.
3. Eugene Wamalwa – CS Devolution.
4. Racheal Omamo – CS Defense. 
5. Monica Juma -CS Foreign affairs.
6. Simon Chergui – CS Water.
7. Keriako Tobiko – CS environment
8. Adan Mohammed – CS Industrialization
9. James Macharia – CS transport
10. Joseph Mucheru – CS ICT
11. Henry Rotich – CS Treasury
12. Fred Matiangi – CS Interior
13. Mwangi Kiunjuri – CS Agriculture
14. Sicily Kariuki – CS Health
15. Rashid Achesa – CS Sports
16. Najib Balala – CS Tourism
17. Amina Mohammed – CS Education
18. Farida Karoney – CS Lands
19. Ukur Yattany – CS Labour
20. Peter Munya – CS EAC
21. Charles Keter – CS Energy
22. Raphel Tuju – CS (without portfolio)

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