Deputy President William Ruto hosted a close-knit team of trusted allies late on Thursday night to discuss the political implications of the move by President Uhuru Kenyatta to assign Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i a powerful role, elevating him to the level of a “chief minister”, the Sunday Nation has learnt.
The meeting, which started slightly after 2pm at Dr Ruto’s Karen home, lasted over eight hours before Mr Ruto excused himself and rushed to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to receive the President who was returning from the Democratic Republic of Congo where he had attended the inauguration of Mr Félix Tshisekedi as President.
Mr Kenyatta was in DRC alongside Opposition leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka, among others, to witness the first peaceful transfer of power in the troubled country.
The Karen meeting, according to multiple sources who spoke in confidence, largely dwelt on Dr Matiang’i’s new appointment as the chair of a Cabinet committee on national development implementation and communication.
Those in attendance, mainly legislators carefully selected due to their loyalty to the Deputy President, also looked at possible ways of countering the move as well as allaying fears within his political constituency, particularly the Rift Valley region.
In the meeting, Dr Ruto reportedly asked his key lieutenants not to engage in confrontational politics in the wake of Dr Matiangi’s appointment.
He asked them to stick to the development agenda and promised to continue visiting different areas of the country.
The general feeling in the DP’s corner is that the decision contained in the Executive Order One of 2019 issued last Tuesday should have naturally gone to him by virtue of being the president’s principal assistant and his lieutenants have come out to demand an explanation from Mr Kenyatta. They feel the move is geared towards humiliating their man.
And, as Dr Matiang’i is expected to chair the first meeting scheduled for Monday, it will be interesting to see if all Cabinet Secretaries will be present after indications that some could send Chief Administrative Secretaries to represent them.
The timing of the Karen meeting attended by House Majority Leaders Aden Duale (National Assembly) and Kipchumba Murkomen (Senate), Majority Whip Ben Washiali, Deputy Senate Speaker Kithure Kindiki and Nandi Governor Stephen Sang was, according to some insiders, convenient given the President was out of the country.
Mr Washiali, the Mumias East MP, told the Sunday Nation the meeting was “routine” and sought to diffuse speculation.
“We met at the DP’s place on Thursday evening and it is not the first time we were meeting there. We do that regularly. But I cannot give you the details of what transpired during the meeting because that is the preserve of the DP’s communications team,” Mr Washiali said.
Curiously, according to our sources in Dr Ruto’s camp, three cabinet secretaries were also in attendance. We gathered that while they may not have been in the original plan to attend the meeting, the three CSs had gone to consult with the DP on a number of issues in their ministries and ended up sitting through the session that, at some point, saw emotions run high as one of them was accused of being part of the conspiracy to undermine the Deputy President.
“It took the intervention of one of the CSs to calm down two members who thought his colleague had betrayed the DP,” a source said.
It is at the consultative meeting that those in attendance came to learn that the initial motive of the Executive Order was to ensure the smooth running of government operations given that the full Cabinet sometimes takes long to meet. But the idea was supposedly hijacked by powerful forces keen to cut the Deputy President to size, according to the version of events at the Karen meeting.
The Executive Order has resulted in a groundswell of public disaffection in the DP’s constituency, with feelings rife that he is increasingly being elbowed out of the power equation.
Earlier in the week, a press conference called by MPs allied to the DP, initially scheduled for Boulevard Hotel in Nairobi, had to be called off reportedly at the intervention of a leading Jubilee figure.
He was said to have expressed concern that going down that route would not only have caused an implosion in the ruling party but also engaged a no-reverse gear for the DP.
Ruto’s challenge now is how to contain the growing anger in his constituency with many allies urging him to take the President head-on.
In fact, the feeling that Dr Ruto is being targeted appears to be growing in his Rift Valley stronghold and also in parts of Central Kenya where he enjoys support.
The meeting also came after a consultative forum the team had with President Kenyatta together with speakers of the bicameral Parliament earlier in the week in Mombasa after intense acrimony in the party kicked off by former Jubilee party vice-chairman David Murathe, who vowed to lead forces to block Dr Ruto.
At the State House, Mombasa, meeting, the President was told that lack of synergy between the House and party leadership had given room to growing internal dissent, a scenario that had seen some members of the ruling party defy government decisions in Parliament. Mr Raphael Tuju, Jubilee Secretary-General, was instructed to work closely with Mr Duale and Mr Murkomen for ease of coordination.
At Mombasa Club, the venue of another meeting which took place after 3pm the same day, the DP’s team had also sought clarification on reports that the handshake with opposition chief Raila Odinga would lead to a ‘nusu-mkate’ (coalition government).
“The President said there was nothing of the sort. He said he hoped the Building Bridges Initiative (a product of the handshake) would help him come up with ways of fighting corruption and uniting the country,” one of the sources who attended the meeting said.
Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina said the decision by the President must have been made in the best interests of the country.
“The President’s action must have been taken after extensive considerations to help the country move forward. All those aligned to him should support that decision,” he said.
As details of Dr Matiangi’s rise emerged, his Kisii backyard was celebrating his elevation. Kisii Council of Elders Saturdat held a press conference where they stated that Dr Matiang’i is the region’s first kingpin since former cabinet minister Simeon Nyachae retired from politics.
Chairman James Matundura, who was flanked by former chairman of FORD People party Albert Nyaundi, asked Kenyans to support the president’s decision.
“The community has had a vacuum in political leadership since the retirement of Simeon Nyachae. But the slow but sure rise of Fred Matiang’i, albeit from the technocratic wing, is now proving to be a good development for the Abagusii since he has proved that he can be relied on to carry the leadership mantle which has been lacking,” he said.
Mr Matundura is a member of Building Bridges Initiative.
The functions assigned to Dr Matiang’i rival those that Mr Odinga enjoyed when he served as Prime Minister in the grand coalition government.
“The Prime Minister shall have authority to co-ordinate and supervise the execution of the functions and affairs of the government, including those of Ministries,” stated the Act of Parliament that now stands repealed.
In the President’s executive order, Dr Matiang’i will head the National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee whose functions will be to provide supervisory leadership throughout the delivery cycle of all National Government Programmes and Projects. He will also receive and deliberate on reports from the National Development Implementation Technical Committee.
The executive order also, in effect, transferred the functions of the Presidential Delivery Unit to the CS.
Additional reporting by David Mwere