Sunday, May 12, 2013

The emerging face of Kenya's new Cabinet under Uhuru

Cabinet Balala, Ngilu, Ruto, Uhuru and a cute kid!

Since the March 4, 2013 election, significant changes in the government and how it will move forward have been in the spotlight. This last week Kenyatta’s government has taken a refreshingly unfamiliar look. The executive branch has reduced the cabinet from 44 ministers to 18, removed many figureheads from the previous power-sharing coalition, and added six women.

For those who appreciate technocrats, as I do, the media is calling it a “cabinet of professionals” because a majority of the members is from the business world (Economist, 2013). A few notable appointments include Amina Mohammed, a former UN official, to the foreign ministry, making her the first woman and first ethnic Somali to hold the post. Further, Raychelle Omamo, was appointed as Kenya’s first female defense minister (Economist, 2013).

The nominees will have to go through a vetting process before their job placement is official. They must answer a serious of questions, ranging from their sources of income and assets they own to charges form the courts, to secure confirmation by the National Assembly (This is the Kenyan equivalent of Senate confirmation). A questionnaire, submitted May 8, 2013, will kick off a 12-day process t determine whether those nominated will be confirmed for their positions (Ndegwa & Kimutai, 2013). The questionnaire will ask about their wealth, tax statuses, charges of corruption and any investigatory reports by Parliament, and their overall conduct, i.e. if they are linked to nepotism and gender bias.

Once the personal information is collected, public hearings with a summarized document on the suitability of each nominee will be available. Each of the nominees will appear before the Committee of Appointments and respond to any issues raised. A full report on the nominees will be available May 14th in the House for a debate (Ndegwa & Kimutai, 2013).While Kenyatta’s cabinet is off to a good start, he still has two vacant positions, and there are concerns about a few appointees lack of experience, as well as a few old faces keeping their post. Charity Ngilu and Najib Balala remain even though they were both defeated in the election to the Senate, but Kenyatta included them because he had weak electoral support among their constituencies among Kamba and on the coast. Some observers fear Ngilu will block land reform (Economist, 2013), although in my view, there are plenty of politicians in Kenya with an interest in blocking land reform

Overall Kenyan citizens are looking forward and people are trying to support progress. For example, Kenyatta has vowed to protect media freedom. A range of politicians have offered their thoughts on how to fix major issues such as land ownership and ethnic divisions. Kenyatta promises to implement polices, programs, and initiatives that promote freedom of the media. “We expect the media to be at the forefront in educating, and informing Kenyans so that they hold the government to account from an informed point of view,” said Kenyatta. He also stressed that the media needs to uphold the highest standards of professionalism remaining free, fair, and objective (Leftie, 2013).

At a conference last week Raila Odinga suggested a way to end the country’s strong ethnic divisions: by switching from a Presidential to Parliamentary system. He explained that the Presidential system allows for an environment where communities pin their hopes on individuals based on their ethnicity and other policy issues and merit are not as big as a factor as they should be (Mutinga, 2013). Odinga stated that Kenya should focus on deepening reforms and strengthening institutions and switching to a parliamentary system, members from the smallest community has a chance to be president. An obvious critique of Odinga’s argument is that it would require a massive revision of the recently passed Kenyan Constitution (2010), which he was at the forefront of supporting. In my view, he should have made this argument about five years ago, not now. The horse has already left the barn.