Who are the new power brokers?
Published on June 17, 2008, 12:00 am
By Moses Njagi
Mystery surrounds exactly who has President Kibaki’s ear in the Grand Coalition Government as he serves his second and last term after the historic peace deal with Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
The President appears to have broken ranks with his predecessors, Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi, who at the twilight of their days in power had a select and fairly known group of powerful politicians close to them.
Those familiar with Kibaki’s style are, however, not surprised. They say the President has constantly changed his Kitchen Cabinet to suit the political dynamics that have characterised his tenure in office.
Yet, with the rumbles of his succession already being heard across the ridges in his central Kenya backyard, it is their view that the complex nature of the 2012 change of guard may even push Kibaki deeper into the shadows.
Even close politicians, some of whom are perceived in public as being close to the President and thus viewed as advisers, admitted in interviews with The Standard that little is known of those who have his ear since the historic accord that hauled the country out of a crippling political crisis.
But there are also those who suspect that the President quietly maintains close association with powerful businessmen, who have bankrolled his political activities over the years even as he depicts exclusivity.
“Kibaki appears to be the only President who relies on businessmen to offer him political guidance. The only politicians who have made it to his Kitchen Cabinet have only done so part time,” says a vocal central Kenya politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mr Njeru Ndwiga, a former Cabinet minister, who many thought was an insider, told The Standard in one of many interviews in a month-long effort to unmask the faces that enjoy the President’s rapport, that Kibaki was not in the habit of keeping confidantes on a permanent basis.
“Kibaki does not have a Kitchen Cabinet. He will seek your advice from time to time if he thinks you can be of help to him. He is purely independent in his political decisions,” Ndwiga, who had close ties with the President since 1992, disclosed.
The ex-minister even dismissed “as pretenders” those perceived to be close to the President on a day-to-day basis.
In public though, the President is known to be close to personalities- mainly professionals and top businessmen – whom he largely confides in and depends on for political guidance.
It is this group that is known to the public as the President’s “golfing buddies”. It largely consists of elderly personalities who the President has had close ties with from his days in school, his time in opposition politics and now as Head of State.
Mr George Muhoho, the managing director of Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), the Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, Mr Joe Wanjui, and businessman Peter Kanyago top the list. Transcentury, a powerful business entity said to be worth billions, brings together the Kibaki stalwarts.
“Members of Transcentury are more or less a regular aspect of the President’s life. Others, especially politicians, have made only a brief stint before being hounded out from the ill-advice of the businessmen,” says an ex-MP who served in the Ninth Parliament.
He adds: “The President has kept shuffling or sacrificing his inner circle, depending on the political waves. As we talk now, even people like Njenga Karume, who Kenyans believed was closest to the President, has been edged out.”
In his Opposition days, Kibaki had a team of close and known politicians and businessmen, mainly from central Kenya, who many believed would remain on his list of kitchen Cabinet upon election in 2002.
Among them were former Defence minister and close ally, Karume, and former MPs Matu Wamae, Muhika Mutahi and Dr Chris Murungaru from his Nyeri backyard.
Others included former minister David Mwiraria and Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi from Meru, and Ndwiga and Mr Norman Nyagah from Embu.
Apart from the politicians, the President had also incorporated businessmen and professionals, who he could constantly reach out to.
But the dynamics of politics would drastically change fortunes for such personalities as Kibaki sought to capture the presidency.
The realignments started immediately he joined forces with former Vice-President, the late Michael Wamalwa, who was then Ford-Kenya chairman and the Water minister Charity Ngilu, then of Social Democratic Party, in 2001 to form the National Alliance Party of Kenya.
Sources disclose that after the formation of this alliance, Kibaki, who was then the DP leader, had to shed off some close political allies to accommodate the new “kids on the bloc”.
But he was again to shuffle his kitchen Cabinet just before the 2002 General Election after NAK joined forces with a Kanu splinter group, then Rainbow coalition, to form Narc.
After his election in 2002, Kibaki retained central Kenya loyalists, even as he reached to a number of politicians outside the Mt Kenya region.
Raila, who had forged a good working relationship with the President before the elections, where he (Raila) endorsed Kibaki as the suitable candidate to face Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta, made his way into the inner circle.
At the Coast, Kibaki courted the late Karisa Maitha, who had stood with him from his days in the opposition.
Other entrants in the league of trusted advisers of the President included the late Geoffrey Parpai.
But soon after the squabbles over the failed MoU, our source says the President realigned the allies, kicking out ‘dissidents’ sympathetic to forces against him.
“Another factor was that a group of central Kenya politicians, who came to be referred to as Mt Kenya mafia, had started straining relations and telling Kibaki to kick out the LDP brigade out of Government,” another ex-Kibaki confidante told The Standard.
Then State House Comptroller Matere Keriri, Murungaru, Mwiraria and Kiraitu took vintage positions in the inner circle.
But another group, consisting mainly of businessmen and golfers whose base was at Muthaiga Golf Club, who wanted to tame the relatively youthful politicians, in the fight for a place in the inner circuit, was also close the President.
After the defeat of the draft constitution on November 21, 2005 in a referendum, the President shuffled his Cabinet, kicking out ministers who had supported the Orange against the Banana side.
In their place, the President reached out to the Official Opposition — Kanu and Ford People.
Faces of his close advisers and kitchen Cabinet also changed. Losing out in the battle were insiders Murungaru, Mwiraria and Kiraitu, who were demoted to relatively less important ministries.
The Muthaiga group appeared to have won the first round of the battle with youthful politicians as MPs allied to them were elevated.
“One axis was led by Murungaru and Kiraitu, while the other had Muhoho, Michuki, (Stanley) Murage and Kanyago. The latter prevailed and out of it, the likes of Ms Martha Karua, who was sympathetic to them, was elevated to be Justice Minister,” says another source.
He said that was the last time Kiraitu’s group was in the Kitchen Cabinet as they were hounded out and were only contacted when their counsel was needed.
Karume, who had strained his relations with Kibaki ahead of the 2002 elections, made his way back to the Kitchen Cabinet together with Michuki, who replaced Murungaru at the Security ministry.
Also making their way to the President’s advisors’ team was Ford-People leader, Mr Simeon Nyachae, and his Ford-Kenya counterpart, Mr Musikari Kombo, who had greatly benefited from the post-referendum reshuffle.
But sources say even Nyachae, Kombo and other politicians belonged to an “outer Kitchen Cabinet”, as the inner one was reserved for the so-called moneyed businessmen.
It is this group that served as the President’s advisors and think-tank until shortly before last year’s elections.
For instance, sources say Muhoho, Wanjui, Karume and Kanyago played a vital role in convincing Uhuru to abandon his presidential bid in support of Kibaki.
Faces in the inner Cabinet were to change again after last year’s election, with those who were defeated losing their positions in the President’s inner circle.