|Written by:||Meshack Masibo|
Last month January 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta handed the Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i sweeping powers that are to be used in the oversight of Government programmes. In this action the president displayed his confidence in the former university don to shape his legacy. This has caused quite a stir in political circles as many now tout the ‘Chief Minister’ to be the surprise candidate Uhuru might reveal in 2022.
In his new role, Dr Matiang’i will chair a key committee on the implementation of development programmes, whose membership includes all Cabinet secretaries, the Attorney General and Head of the Public Service. The move, however, drew mixed reaction from a cross section of leaders with some of Deputy President William Ruto allies saying it could be a move to undermine the Deputy President.
But could Dr Matiangi be the next president?
Born in Borabu, Dr. Fred Matiangi is a scholar and policy maker by heart. He formerly taught at Egerton University and the University of Nairobi. He has held various research and Programme implementation positions with various local and international organizations. He consulted previously for among others the World Bank, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the United Nations Development Programme.
He is a governance and programme implementation expert and the immediate former Country Director of the Kenya Parliamentary Support Programme. He left his position as the Eastern Africa regional Representative for the Centre for International Development, Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, the State University of New York to join government as the Cabinet Secretary for Information Communication and Technology. Dr Matiang’i is one of the world’s foremost experts on the Kenyan legislature. He has more than 12 years experience in democratic development, the last six years of which have been with the Kenya Parliamentary Strengthening Project, serving first as the Deputy Director & Senior Program Officer and, for the last three years, as Chief of Party.
Dr. Fred Matiangi has also been a columnist for the Daily Nation, Kenya’s leading newspaper and has consulted extensively with USAID, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the World Bank, The West Minister Foundation for Democracy, the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) and Transparency International. Dr. Matiangi’s education includes a Doctorate in Comparative Literature from the University of Nairobi, a Master’s Degree in English from the University of Nairobi, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Kenyatta University.
This means that Matiang’i is an experienced policy implementer that Kenya could definitely utilise. However effective his high handedness and dictatorial approach to solving security problems maybe, it seems like he lacks a certain mediatorial and negotiating flair that quickly characterize most of those who ascend to high political positions in the country.
That he is a fighter who brooks no nonsense showed early enough during President Kenyatta’s first Cabinet when he stared down and won against the local media owners over the digital migration debacle. During his tenure at ICT ministry, he also pushed for punitive laws aimed at bringing the “errant” media industry in the country under the heel of government. One of the controversial laws he supported was the Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Act of 2013 which, among others, prescribes fines of up to two years in prison and fines of Sh500,000 for journalists or the publication of information deemed defamatory toward parliament, its committees or its proceedings. He also championed the creation of Government Advertising Agency, to handle all state advertising in 2015 at a time when the State was mulling denying the local media companies government advertising revenue due to what it termed as undue negative reporting of the Jubilee Administration.
In December 2015, President Kenyatta again turned to him to restore sanity in the Education sector following the previous year’s largely compromised national examinations for primary and secondary schools. Within a year at the helm of the Education ministry, he restored confidence in the national exams, including sending home the Kenya National Examinations Council officials who presided over the compromised exams and rattling the entrenched profiteers in the sector.
It was also during his time at the ministry of Education that Dr Matiang’i got entangled in a questionable land deal following his recommendation that businessman Francis Mburu be compensated Sh3.2 billion for a 13.7 acre piece of land where two public schools stand in Ruaraka, Nairobi. When Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaiserry died in July last yea2017, President Kenyatta once again tapped Dr Matiang’i to take charge of the sensitive docket and was confirmed to lead the ministry when the President announced his Cabinet early last year.
He has however, been criticized as holding the media with the same attitude that US President Donald Trump does — saboteurs of government, agents of the opposition and purveyors of “fake news.” A case in point is the widespread crackdown he ordered against those who participated in Nasa leader Raila Odinga’s mock swearing-in ceremony at Uhuru Park on January 31 last year. Politically, he has broken the chains that had bound the education system for decades causing him to be named ‘Personality of the year’ by Nairobi News Newspaper. All of this makes Matiang’i an effective policy implementer but not a president especially with the immature politics Kenya still suffers from. He joins the leagues of Alfred Mutua and Prof Kivutha Kibwana, good leaders that Kenyans have so far turned a cold shoulder to.
The president delegated the powers to Matiang’i in an Executive Order that for the first time hands a CS an expansive responsibility to chair and coordinate government development programmes and projects. With four years left to his presidency, Uhuru is keen to streamline operations within his Cabinet to help deliver the Big Four Agenda. According to Executive Order number 1 of 2019 signed in Mombasa last month, Matiang’i will report to the President. Matiang’i will now chair the National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee whose vice-chairperson will be National Treasury and Planning CS Henry Rotich. Members of the committee include all Cabinet Secretaries, Attorney General Paul Kihara while Head of the Public Service forms the secretariat.
The move comes at a time that Uhuru is rushing to implement his Big Four Agenda against tight budgetary allocations. Last month, the president addressed security chiefs in Mombasa telling them national unity, development, security and zero tolerance to corruption were national priorities in the next four years. “I have given you authority to deal with anyone, and I mean anyone, coming to give you funny orders,” Uhuru is reported to have told them.
The Big Four Agenda items are food security, manufacturing (mainly focusing on job creation), affordable universal healthcare and affordable housing. In his new powerful role, Matiang’i will now provide supervisory leadership throughout the delivery circle of all national government programmes and projects. He will also receive and deliberate on reports from the National Development Implementation Technical Committee and provide timely guidance on appropriate measures to address challenges constraining effective implementation and delivery of projects.
Matiang’i, as the chairman, will also monitor and evaluate follow-up mechanisms for resources allocated for the projects to ensure proper utilisation and realisation of the targeted outcome. He will also provide coordinated strategic communication to the public and other stakeholders on the progress of the projects. The CS will prepare accurate and timely progress reports for presentation to the president and perform other functions as directed by the president.