The elevation of Interior CS Fred Matiang’I to a ‘super minister’ evokes memories of some of the most powerful technocrats in Kenya’s history.
Some of the most influential PSs include Geoffrey Kariithi, Duncan Ndegwa, Kenneth Matiba, Francis Muthaura, Jeremiah Kiereini, Simeon Nyachae, Sally Kosgey, Zakayo Cheruiyot and Hezekiah Oyugi.
Ndegwa was the first post-independence head of civil service and Secretary to the Cabinet and later the founding governor of the Central Bank of Kenya.
At the pinnacle of Kenya’s civil service, Ndegwa was the de facto leader of the Africanisation programme which fostered an African capitalist class in commerce and industry. The sectors were previously dominated by Europeans and Asians.
An arms-length from the overbearing Kenyatta presidency, Ndegwa was powerful at the most critical time of the nation’s history- post independence. He could make or break careers.
Remembered as the longest-serving head of civil service and permanent secretary in the OP, Kareithi succeed Ndegwa in 1967.
He led the civil service in the turbulent of the times – with founding President Kenyatta’s health failing, the former white-highlands being appropriated by the power-men of the times, political fall-outs, shifta war, the 1971 attempted coup and, most importantly, Kenyatta’s death in 1978.
He took over from Kariithi and was the Chief Secretary, Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet up to 1984 when he retired. Kiereini’s power lay in being the closest Kikuyu to President Moi at a time when Nyayo was cracking his whip on the Mt Kenya mafia.
Abrasive and combative are the best adjectives to describe Nyachae. He served as the Chief Secretary, Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet between 1984 and 1987 when he retired from the civil service.
Nyachae’s power crystallised not only from his position, but also due to his long career in the provincial administration. He had served as a provincial administrator in almost every part of Kenya.
The position of the chief secretary was therefore the pinnacle of his career. It also coincided with a historic time when President Moi had grown politically paranoid and assertive at the same time as a result of the 1982 attempted coup.
During his tenure, he came up with the now famous District Focus for Rural Development programmes to curb rural-urban migration. Despite his high position at the time of retirement, Nyachae first foray in politics aborted in 1988.
Perhaps the most powerful Internal Security PS yet, he rose to the position in mid-1980s at the height of Moi’s repressive era. Oyugi went by various titles, “governor”, ‘Kalam Maduong” meaning the big pen and “Wuon Ogango. (father of Ogango)”
Long before rising to the position of the PS Internal Security and Provincial Administration, Oyugi had been the blue-eyed boy of the Moi administration. As a provincial commissioner in Moi’s Rift Valley, Oyugi could even tell off his boss, the PS Internal Security James Stanley Mathenge.
Matiba owes his networks to his times as a young civil servant. At 31 years of age and even before Kenya could attain independence; Matiba was making history as the first African permanent secretary for Education.
Popularly known as ZK, Cheruiyot was the PS Internal Security between 1997 and 2003 when President Moi retired and President Kibaki took power in 2003. Serving in Moi’s sunset years, ZK was strategically placed in a position of influence at a time when succession politics were at the peak.
It is during his time as Security PS that Kenya became a target of terrorist attacks, first the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy and the Kikambala bombing of 2002 and the capture of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.