It is very clear from what is happening that the President is done with Deputy President William Ruto.

Reactor Review has also learned that there are plans to install Matiang’i as a Maasai elder, signaling his bid to seek broad-based support.

The man, who said no to monkey business when he was appointed the Education CS, first made headlines when he was named the first Information, Communications, and Technology (ICT) CS after the 2013 General Election. 

Many did not know him then hence no one was keen to know who exactly Dr. Matiang’i was. However, for Borabu-born Fred Okengo Matiang’ i, this was an opportunity to showcase his true colors in leadership and nation-building.

In the view of many observers, this is the man who is eating Mr. Ruto’s lunch.

The government, during its second term, is structured in a totally different manner.

The partnership between the United Republican Party and The National Alliance has gone the way of the dodo and the political bromance between Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto is like a fire that has consumed itself out: if you drive your hand into the ashes, you need a high degree of sensitivity to detect the slightest whiff of warmth.

The reasons for that breakdown are a story for another day. And while there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, the partnership between the two men has been reduced to public civility and the maintenance of appearances. It is amazing the gulf between the optics and reality of Kenyan politics.

Enter Dr. Matiang’ i. Executive order No 1 of 2019 is very important in the recreation of the Jubilee government in its second term and the evolution of the so-called administrative state.

Interior CS Fred Matiang'i cancels event to avoid clashing with DP ...

Dr Matiangi with Dr William Ruto

In that document, Mr. Kenyatta appointed Dr. Matiang’ i to coordinate all government development projects and to handle the communication in respect of those projects. He took the Presidential Delivery Unit and placed it under Dr. Matiang’ i.

With his command of the provincial administration and the internal security organs sitting at his Harambee House office, Dr. Matiang’i have visibility of the entire country and its development process, from the cities to the humblest of hamlets.

With authority to chair a Cabinet sub-committee of basically all the ministers, the Executive Order created in Dr. Matiang’ i the most powerful person, at least administratively, outside of State House.

“I have had an amazing experience chairing the Cabinet committee,” he says and enthusiastically launches into a long list of achievements, from roads to boreholes in slums. According to the way he tells it, by having each ministry present to defend its projects before other Cabinet Secretaries, the projects are better thought-out and more realistic in cost.

A rider is called for here. Power in complex systems is a very relative term. There are Cabinet secretaries who have power because of their chemistry and relations with the President and there are offices that enjoy the absolute trust of the Head of State and, therefore, whose influence is not seen during the day and is not dependent on the normal operations of government. And there are those who have no formal office but who act as an extension of the presidential brain.

Conspicuously missing

On February 3, 2020, the President boarded his modest Fokker at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Presidential Pavilion headed to Washington, DC for the Annual Prayer Breakfast. Assembled to say goodbye was Dr. Matiang’i, Defence Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma, General Samson Mwathethe, then-Chief of Kenya Defence Forces and service commanders, among other worthies.

President-Uhuru-Kenyatta-with-Interior-CS-Fred-Matiangi

Conspicuously missing from the line-up was the Deputy President. After shaking hands with his usual gusto, the President headed up the stairs, having explicitly left Dr. Matiang’i in charge. And off he went, according to three sources with knowledge of government matters.

At 5am on February 4, 2020, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi placed an important, terrible call to Dr. Matiang’i. His father, Kenya’s second President, Daniel Arap Moi, was no more.

Mr. Kenyatta was determined to give Moi, who had been ailing for a long time, a send-off befitting a Head of State. It was Mr. Moi in 2002 who fished Mr Kenyatta out of relative obscurity and made him Kanu’s presidential candidate.

It fell on Dr Matiang’i to assemble military and security chiefs at Nairobi Hospital. There, a conference room was commandeered to act as the headquarters of the team. At the time, the President was still in the air but the carefully laid plan kicked into full gear, the sources said.

The body was handed over to the military and taken to Lee Funeral Home, the family was given the lead in breaking the bad news to the country. Once the former Commander-in-Chief was in the hands of the military, armed forces rituals, protocols, and procedures reigned. Throughout the mourning and finally the funeral, Dr Matiang’i was the President’s right-hand man, deputizing for him and personally inspecting preparations to ensure that everything worked right.

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Though Dr. Matiang’i’s office would not comment on this goings-on, is was very clear that the cogs of power have shifted in Jubilee.

There are two schools of thought. There are those who believe that some people have taken the chisel to the DP’s kneecaps and politically and administratively isolated him.

Then there are those who argue that the DP’s position is constitutional; it is within his power to summon all government officials and take over the operations of government whenever the President is away. Whichever school you buy into, the inescapable fact is that this is not the first term; things are way different.

The question is, who is the real Dr. Matiang’i? What is his thought process and how suited is he for the elevated responsibilities he now bears? What is his contribution to the country’s bench strength? What does democracy mean to the security minister and what is the place of human rights in his values? What is his assessment of how Kenya is managed and what does he see as an appropriate approach to filling the gaps?

Given the favoritism and corruption in the government, hasn’t the social contract between the people, to whom all power belongs, and the government been repudiated so that rather than the government serving the people, it is the people who are serving the government with their taxes, blood, and sweat and doesn’t this potentially create revolutionary conditions? From a geopolitical perspective, what is the future of our country in this unstable and complex region?

The security minister is usually the fist of any regime, the manager of the state’s monopolized violence and it is unrealistic to expect such a person to be a wilting liberal. And Dr. Matiang’i has had his fair share of controversy: the confrontation with the media during the digital migration, the establishment of the Government Advertising Agency, an unpopular agency to many journalists, the switching off of TV and radio stations during the mock swearing-in of Nasa leader Raila Odinga in January 2018, the arrests and crackdown on the so-called National Resistance Movement, the Ruai and Kariobangi evictions as well as the frequent deaths of civilians at the hands of police.

“Our intelligence gathering is now 10 times better,” he says of the reduction in terror attacks. “We have retooled and reorganized the security sector.”

Dr. Matiang’i was ebullient, as he always is, in private. He had taken the precaution of covering himself in a velvet carpet of media advisers.

A two-hour interview before TV cameras is probably the wrong forum for a subtle examination of an interviewee’s mind and it was quite clear that Dr. Matiang’i was in a difficult place in terms of being critical and outspoken about the government which he coordinates.

He’s at great pains to be a good leader, to publicly take the hit and be protective of those he leads and he is touchingly devoted to Mr. Kenyatta.

Odinga, Matiangi vow to mobilize support for BBI report during ...

Dr Matiang’i with Hon Raila Odinga in past event

On the positive side, his biggest asset is that he is obviously very effective at getting things done and squeezing results out of the people he supervises. From this administrative perspective, he probably has few equals in the Cabinet.

And, as a scholar, he is a clever and articulate fellow with a sophisticated understanding of the theory of government and rather sharp political instincts; the way he succeeds in not allowing his ambitions to peep from under the blanket of humility shows he has a future in politics.

“You can’t put everything in the Constitution. And how many people can you take to court? As citizens, we don’t have to be supervised to do the right thing,” he argues, explaining his understanding of democracy as “ethical living and being conscious of the other”. “I am the leader but I have to listen and incorporate what people say.”

But it is also quite obvious that he is still getting used to the saddle of power, is not given to public introspection, and is at a stage in his career where he does not have the full luxury of his views.

It might be premature for the people of South Nyanza to measure to fit the inauguration dresses, but this is certainly one to watch.

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