When Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta became the fourth president of Kenya in March last year, he entered into the powerful office on the land as the youngest yet, but with the least powers of any of his predecessors, including his late father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the architect of Kenya’s imperial presidency system today.
President Uhuru is also different in as being the only one of the Kenyan presidents to operate with a well-knitted and hidden but publicly unacknowledged kitchen cabinet, a fact he denies its very existence of publicly.
His father’s powerbrokers were well known and included Kenyans from many tribes, with a core clique from his home area that came to be known as the “Kiambu Mafia”.
Jomo Kenyatta’s early powerbrokers included late Tom Mboya and James Gichuru. His inner and permanent team (which however did not always act as a team) included late Mbiyu Koinange, Charles Njonjo, and Njoroge Mungai who passed on this year.
Daniel Moi, the second and longest serving president of Kenya had Nicholas Biwott, Joshua Kulei and Mark Too (Mr Fix it) as well as regional kingpins such as the Coast’s Shariff Nassir, the Kikuyu Rift Valley’s Kariuki Chotara, late Kanu secretary general John Joseph Kamotho, Western Kenya political titan Moses Budamba Mudavadi and security/administration PS, the late Hezekiah Oyugi, a Luo who ultimately came to grief.
Mwai Kibaki ascended to the third presidency of Kenya and served the shortest stint, two terms for a total of 10 years and enshrined in the constitution. His powerbrokers included Francis Muthaura, Nick Wanjohi (who is still his private secretary), industrialist Joe Wanjui and minister Amos Kimunya.
However, with the rough passage of the Security Laws (Amendment) Act on Thursday last week and its assent by Uhuru the next day, a law which gives the presidency and the Jubilee administration sweeping police and intelligence powers, the kitchen cabinet of the fourth president will become much more high profile and ultimately, he will have to publicly acknowledge their existence and their roles than the case has been. The timing of the introduction of the controversial and contentious laws immediately the International Criminal Court dropped charges against Uhuru is subject to discussion in certain quarters.
All kinds of analysts – media, investor/corporate, diplomatic, intelligence and military – are keenly watching the people around the president to see who will emerge the first among equals, or primus inter pares, in the manner of Njonjo, Biwott and Muthaura.
Uhuru’s kitchen cabinet is a multiple layer group formed of members of his family, political appointees, State House and presidency staffers, operatives and members of the Armed Forces and other security agencies.
This group dominates strategic political, economic and security decision-making. The core members of the kitchen cabinet were responsible for convincing Uhuru to gun for the draconian Security Laws (Amendment) Act.
As Kenyans brace themselves for the New Year 2015, the heat is truly beating the kitchen cabinet and the country. By the end of next year, there will be civil society activists, media houses and individual managers/journalists, NGO operatives, as well as, hopefully, big-time actual terrorists, who will be thoroughly in trouble under the Terror Act.
Uhuru’s kitchen cabinet comprises a small clique of unelected but highly specialised and experienced individuals, some of them among the richest people in Kenya.
One of the world’s most distinguished researchers, Faustino Taderera, in his book Organisational Management and Strategy, which is considered to be essential reading for kitchen cabinets in both public and private sectors in the West, top government and corporate strategists should be knowledgeable about the status of the world economy; corporate warfare, boardroom coups and leadership dynamics; turn-around management; crisis management; change management; marketing plans; sustainable competitive advantage; core competencies; corporate and national branding; mergers and acquisitions; globalisation strategies for firms and nations; and controversial tenders and corruption.
By this measure, Uhuru’s unacknowledged but much consulted kitchen cabinet reads more than fits the bill.
Mama Ngina and Muhoho Kenyatta
Uhuru’s elite kitchen cabinet clique has as its undisputed head, Kenya’s First Lady, his mother, Mama Ngina Muhoho Kenyatta. She has the final say on a wide range of decisions and she is understood to have rallied William Ruto to join hands with Uhuru to go for the the country’s leadership which the duo won. Her closest adviser is Uhuru’s younger brother, Muhoho Kenyatta, who is named after her father, a former Senior Chief Muhoho. The combination of Mama Ngina and Muhoho is neat and massively powerful. They control the vast Kenyatta family corporate fortune and were instrumental in Uhuru’s long journey to the seat of throne. Combined, they are the only force in Kenya that can overrule him, but of course, only far behind closed doors in the corridors-of-power.
Mama Ngina is an astute businesswoman who has presided over the growth of her late husband’s business empire as the matriarch of the founding First Family. She has an institutional memory of the presidency and power play in Kenya that is second to none. She is in the bracket of the richest women in Africa ranked in third position.
Her son, Muhoho, is a natural-born business thinker and leader. He maintains a low profile, leaving his elder brother, Uhuru, to be the celebrity politician of the family. He has run the family business empire for 15 years.
George Kamau Muhoho
George Kamau Muhoho, born in 1936, is Uhuru’s uncle and a former director general of the Kenya Airports Authority. Muhoho is a son of late Chief Muhoho and brother of Mama Ngina.
He studied the Catholic doctrine at the Collegio San Pietro in Rome church law until 1968. In 1971, he was appointed as the first black African diplomat to the Vatican Embassy as attaché at the EU in Brussels. In 1972, he was commissioned by Pope Paul VI and returned to the lay state. He was then responsible for the public relations department of the UNEP in Nairobi. He married lawyer Jean Njeri Koinange in 1976 and was subsequently appointed by former President Daniel arap Moi into the Cabinet. He is one of the ruling class still living today under the wings of his nephew Uhuru.
First Lady Margaret Wanjiru Gakuo Kenyatta, is the daughter of a former Kenya Railways employee, the late Mzee Gakuo. They share a name with her step sister-in-law, Margaret Wambui Kenyatta, who served as Nairobi mayor of Nairobi (1970-1976). The First Lady is a former Kianda School student. She is liked by many for her simplicity as regards to her nature and dressing style.
Since the inauguration of her husband, Margaret has been running a campaign to reduce child maternal mortality rate in the entire country in a campaign dubbed Beyond Zero. On October 24, she was named UN Person of the Year.
The next most powerful focal point in the president’s kitchen cabinet is his private secretary Jomo Gechaga. The son of former multi-national corporation chairman Udi Gechaga and Uhuru’s stepsister Jeni, Gechaga is absolutely loyal to and trusted by his president uncle and the rest of the family, including Mama Ngina and Muhoho. His father was the chairman of Lonrho Africa in the 1970s, when the founder of that British conglomerate, the late Rowland Tiny Rowlands was at the height of his powers and a friend of several African presidents.
Jomo ‘s father Udi is the son of BM Gechaga and Jemima Gechaga, Njoroge Mungai’s sister. BM Gechaga, who is now in his 90s, was the chairman of BAT, the multi-national cigarette manufacturers and the Nation Media Group for more than 30 years.
General Julius W Karangi
The most powerful element of Uhuru’s kitchen cabinet is Chief of the Defence Forces General Julius Waweru Karangi. The earliest signs that Karangi is a trusted Uhuru strategist emerged very early in his presidency, when he was hosted by the general at his Nyeri home and even spent the night there. No other Armed Forces chief in Kenyan history has hosted his Commander-in-Chief overnight in his own home.
Karangi is also Kenya’s first military chief to go to war in a neighbouring country, the KDF incursion into Somalia in hot pursuit of the al Shabaab terror militia.
Not long after US President Barack Obama announced that he had included Uhuru in his invitation to more than 45 leaders for the inaugural US-Africa Leadership Forum, Gen Karangi quietly left the country at the invitation of US Army General Martin Dempsey, the head of America’s Chiefs of Staff, the world’s most powerful military’s leaders and managers. Karangi was received with full honours at the Pentagon, where he inspected multi-service guards of honour.
Gen Dempsey then took Karangi to his private room, where they dined. Dempsey awarded Karangi America’s highest honour, the Legion of Merit (LOM).
During his US tour, which the Kenyan media was not even aware of, but which was far more significant than Cord-ODM supremo Raila Odinga’s three-month tour at Boston University’s African Presidential Centre, and which paved the way for Uhuru’s two tours of the US this year – in August and September – Karangi actually navigated an F-16 fighter jet. Impeccable sources indicate that the Kenya Air Force is soon upgrading its jet fighter fleet with F16s, which will make it a regional power in East, Central, Great Lakes and Horn of Africa.
That Karangi has extraordinary powers was underscored by two events in 2014. First was the part he quietly played in the events leading up to the highly volatile Saba Saba Day rally. At that time, it looked like Cord, which had also threatened to march to State House, was out to cause chaos in Kenya by precipitating a massively violent uprising and sabotaging Uhuru’s invitation to America by Obama.
Karangi personally intervened with top media owners, managers and editors and put the fear of God into them if they tried to transmit the Saba Saba Day rally live all day.
The media bosses, who were invited to an innocent breakfast meeting at the Serena Hotel, across the road from Uhuru Park, where Cord planned to spend the day, took one look at a furious Karangi and cut their broadcast of the Cord rally down to the speeches only, with express instructions to editors to cut transmission the minute there was any violence or violent utterance, for instance suggestions to invade State House.
The general had impressed on the media operators that they would be in serious breach of national security and be held corporately and personally liable if they did not cooperate. They did not have to guess the consequences. The media had never encountered the military in this manner.
It is widely believed that the KDF is behind Uhuru’s frequent donning of military fatigues as C-in-C, a fact that is highly resented by the opposition coalition.
Karangi’s powerful influence was also seen in the appointment of two senior military men, one of them retired, to head the National Intelligence Service and the Immigration Department. Major General Philip Kameru is now the NIS boss and Major General (Rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa heads Immigration.
Although he is slated to retire by Easter 2015, Karangi remains extremely powerful and will continue to mastermind many aspects of Jubilee’s security strategies and implementations.
Tycoon Chris Kirubi
Billionaire businessman Chris Kirubi has for years tried to join presidential kitchen cabinets in Kenya but with mixed results. However, under the Jubilee regime, he has finally arrived and is basking in the reflected glory of his special relationship with Uhuru.
In the 1990s, Kirubi was the face of the Central Province Development Support Group organised by himself, then late Kanu secretary general Kamotho and media mogul SK Macharia as a ploy to get Moi and his handlers to believe that he still had Kikuyu backing and the community was worthy of succeeding him when the right time came.
Kirubi was assigned an office at State House, Nairobi, throughout the 1997 general election campaign, where he spent the time talking on the phone to his contacts and walking without shoes on the red carpet to show off his silk socks.
However, when the Kikuyu voted overwhelmingly for Mwai Kibaki at that year’s polls, a furious Joshua Kulei, Moi’s private secretary and a tycoon in his own right, locked Kirubi out of State House and started a vicious propaganda campaign against him and a long deceased white cabinet minister in Kenya, Bruce Mackenzie.
During the Kibaki era, Kirubi tried to join another presidential inner circle but was again rebuffed and even hauled to court in the Uchumi supermarkets saga.
Today, the man who used to host Hollywood superstar John Travolta at his home in Nairobi is feeling no pain. Kirubi gets to accompany the president on trips to billionaire playgrounds in the Gulf States and elsewhere and firms associated with him are winning mega tenders left, right and centre.
Away from the world of mega deals, power and patronage, a media sector player who is well connected and acquainted throughout the sector, aging Kirubi is also useful to the Uhuru inner circle for outreach purposes.
President Uhuru’s Chief of Staff and Head of Civil Service is a top flight career civil servant who was well-regarded and even trusted by multi-lateral and bilateral donors during his many years at Treasury. Although well within retirement age, he was fished back and given two of the most influential posts in government by the young Uhuru administration.
Kinyua first came to the notice of Kenyans when John Harun Mwau, the Boss, was briefly appointed the chair of Kenya’s first anti-corruption outfit and went straight for Kinyua and his team at Treasury. However, the then Finance minister, Simeon Nyachae, also a billionaire tycoon, came to Kinyua’s aid and stood by him until Mwau himself was sent packing and faced a commission of inquiry into his conduct.
Kinyua is a hard worker and a master of detail. He is also so self-effacing that he was still using an old VW Passat even after being appointed head of public service, until Uhuru ordered him to get a Mercedes and a motorcade.
Engineer Michael Kamau, the Transport cabinet secretary, is entrusted with the most iconic infrastructure projects of the Jubilee era. The Single Gauge Railway scandal, in which an Italian firm has succeeded in stopping a Kenya Railways tender to a consortium of Chinese and Kenyan companies through both the courts and Parliament, is his biggest headache.
Kamau is pouring all his energies into returning SGR on track but he would have to be a miracle worker to save the deal in its present form.
He is of value to the kitchen cabinet as a John Michuki-like no-nonsense operative who delivers results. Friends and associates say Kamau is getting sleepless nights from the SGR nightmare, which has seen Uhuru cancel at least one Coast tour. Analysts say that parliament’s stoppage of the SGR deal is a case of a clash of competing gravy trains and that Kamau is suffering because he refused to entertain MPs’ usual demands.
Solicitor General Njee Muturi is a long-distance Uhuru loyalist and friend. He gave up law practice to become Uhuru’s legal aide before the 2002 presidential poll in which Kibaki trounced Uhuru and has stuck with him through thick and thin since then.
He is clearly Uhuru’s preferred choice for Attorney General and has big chances of making it. The level of trust placed in Muturi by Uhuru was indicated when he was dispatched to Britain to appear in court for Kenya after the Anglo Leasing masterminds ambushed the country by unleashing judgments procured from Swiss and British jurisdictions at just a time Kenya was floating Africa’s biggest sovereign bond yet.
Muturi’s late father, Harun Muturi, was an agent of Uhuru’s late father Jomo from the eve of independence and went on to make a fortune for himself. At one time, he was a business associate of billionaire businessman Stanley Githunguri, another friend of the first family, whom he made executive chairman of the National Bank of Kenya.
But Githunguri, who, like Charles Njonjo, seems to prefer Raila over Uhuru, is now so completely out of the centre of power that Mama Ngina does not even acknowledge his greetings, not even a handshake. To add on,Githunguri’s health of late is waning.
Anne Waiguru is the iron lady of the kitchen cabinet and one of Uhuru’s trusted lieutenants within the corridors of power as cabinet secretary in charge of Devolution and Planning. She is viewed as one of the strongest pillars surrounding Uhuru presidency. She is spearheading the slum upgrading of Kibera slums which is Uhuru’s pet project.
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