‘Ms Fix It’
Waiguru has emerged the most powerful politician outside the Presidency. This is causing discomfort within the Jubilee camp. She doesn’t really care; she’s has the President’s ear.
By ALFAROUK MAALIM
She’s the woman of the moment – powerful, authoritative. Not just administrative power; she wields soft but imposing political influence. Along corridors of power, she’s more controlling than Deputy President William Ruto. She has twice flaunted her power, and two men who thought they were dominant were rendered jobless. She does it quietly.
In fact, everyone in government knows it. And she makes no qualms about it. Those who know her say she’s got President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ear.
The fine-looking lady in question is Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru. Not much is the public domain about her background, but all that is known points to a lady who is in her territory within the corridors of power; the de facto Prime Minister.
Waiguru studied Home Economics at Egerton University. Ideally, that’s a course that you don’t find in the highest of circles of politics. But somehow, when she completed her course in 1994, and then a decade later, she enrolled for her Masters in the University of Nairobi, Waiguru walked right into the Treasury building on Harambee Avenue.
To understand the power of Waiguru, you just have to look at a famous picture –the one that attracted public spotlight on her. In it, Waiguru and the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang’is are seen walking side-by-side, on the concrete pavement of the National Youth Service (NYS) Headquarters in Ruaraka.
She’s clad in a black skirt, a white expensive-looking blazer, and a baby-pink blouse. She has black shoes on. A yard to her right is her principal secretary Peter Mangiti. Then, half-a-yard to her left, is the Chinese Premier.
Nothing is wrong with that picture; right?
That’s until you see somebody out of step and out of place. Just to the Chinese Premier’s left, in a black suit, a white shirt, plus a maroon tie with little white dots — tucked right in the middle of the phalanx Chinese and Kenyan bodyguards — is Deputy President Ruto. He looks like one of those officials who handle protocol. He appears bored.
The grapevine went viral. There was talk that Waiguru had reminded Ruto about his place in the order of things. While that is just the grapevine, rumours and innuendo — Nairobi has a legendary reputation for such — it was not very far from the truth.
The fact is Waiguru is a Cabinet Minister with defined roles; Ruto is simply the President’s deputy without real portfolio. While she has targets to meet, agenda to drive and people to supervise, Ruto has to depend on the President to delegate roles.
While she wakes up in the morning to go to an office and do a job, Ruto’s diary depends on the President’s itinerary, and if Uhuru needs a hand. On some days, Ruto merely drives to the airport, shakes the President’s hand, waits for him to board the plane and then drive back to whatever event he wants to attend. Not so for Waiguru.
The only places where Ruto might have a say over Waiguru is in the Cabinet and in the Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council. But even so, that say in the Cabinet will not hold water.
By law, the Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council is chaired by the Deputy President, and is simply the place where the 47 county governments and the national government meet and agree on the schedule of how money from the Consolidated Fund is disbursed to the counties on the basis of cash flow projections. Waiguru leads the team of cabinet secretaries who sit in this team.
The council’s job is to make sure that the economic policies and decisions in the counties do not threaten the overall fiscal and economic outlook at the national level.
The President and his deputy know they have an ally in the fine-looking mother of two, and that’s why they poured money into the NYS, so that it gets 20,000 more youth into that system. As regards youth joblessness, that’s a drop in the ocean. But they believe that it is a good start. They are betting big on it.
And it is in that NYS that Waiguru’s job got the spotlight and almost saw her kicked out.
While there was not much ruckus when she “fired” Gor Semelang’o, hitherto chairman of the Youth Enterprise Development Fund, a lot of heat was generated with the replacement of Kiplimo Rugut at the NYS.
Semelang’o was appointed by retired President Mwai Kibaki in January 2013, and when he was fired this year and replaced with Bruce Odhiambo (Uhuru ally) — Semelang’o blamed Waiguru.
When journalists asked Waiguru why she fired Semelang’o, she quipped: “For the sake of clarity, the appointing authority of the chair to the Youth Fund is the President and he can do so under powers provided to him by the State Corporations Act and the regulations governing the Youth Fund.”
Then came the political hot potato – “sacking” hitherto NYS Director General Kiplimo Rugut. Unverified reports indicate that before Waiguru fired Rugut, she gave him a dressing down, and then sent him a text message that his services were not needed.
Rugut, a Kalenjin was fired and replaced with Dr Nelson Githinji, a Kikuyu and a former State House comptroller.
In the ethnic political matrix, these changes were viewed as a slap on the face of the Kalenjin community, coming at a time when the NYS was getting more money from the Chinese. A section of the Kalenjin leadership claimed its members were being denied their chance to share power in the ruling Jubilee Coalition, largely perceived as an alliance between the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu.
However, Waiguru and her allies are adamant that NYS needed fresh blood, and not Rugut, a career provincial administrator. They say, they did not sack him, they simply moved him to the position of Secretary of Sports.
“With regard to Kiplimo Rugut, the fact is that the Government, more than any other institution, routinely moves around its staff to different positions and locations to enhance service delivery to all Kenyans. Rugut has not been dismissed from Public Service, he has been moved to the Ministry of Sports and Culture and even promoted to a higher job group,” Waiguru told journalists.
MPs brought a motion to censure her. They said she was high-handed, and ought to be tamed. They insisted they were not happy with her management style.
“People have different perceptions about me, which they are entitled to. However, these perceptions are sometimes based on a gendered lens and our own socialisation where we perceive assertion as arrogance and insistence on efficiency and intolerance with sloppiness as bullying. The most important thing, for me, is the result of a job well done,” she told a local daily when asked about her style.
The motion to have her removed from office failed to fly on a technicality – partly because President Kenyatta and his deputy put pressure on the mover, Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi—to drop it; and partly because some of his colleagues believe, he was paid to let her off the hook.
As the head of the powerful Planning and Devolution ministry, the CS is in pole position to drive the Jubilee campaign agenda. She technically has eight former ministries under her docket –Devolution, Planning, Youth, Gender, Special Programmes, Arid and Semi-arid Lands, Public Service, and Local Government.
If you ask the President and his deputy about Waiguru, you will get a lengthy response about her experience. They will cite her days at the Treasury, as the boss of the Integrated Financial Management Information Systems, where she managed to automate the processes and seal loopholes through which theft took place. She was the Head of Governance at Treasury. She served briefly as a Senior Public Sector Manager/Assistant Vice President, at Citigroup NA.
Previously, she was Technical Advisor in the Cabinet Office, Office of the President. This position was initially seconded by the World Bank (DC). She also served as the Alternate to the Permanent Secretary/National Treasury in the Public Procurement oversight Authority Advisory Board and the Women Enterprise Fund Board.
Waiguru got to The Treasury in 2007, and between 2009 and 2011, she was under Kenyatta – then the minister for Finance.
Indeed, Devolution is key in the Jubilee agenda. This year, Sh226 billion will end up in the counties. Also, Sh33 billion will pass through her ministry on its way to the 290 constituencies via the Constituency Development Fund (CD).
If the counties have to succeed, it is Waiguru’s job. She knows it and desperately wants them to succeed, so that her boss, President Kenyatta, who is perceived anti-Devolution, gets a good name as the man who made sure that counties were set up according to the Constitution.
Now she has eight departments, a big budget and plenty of staff. With immense power come great responsibilities and many enemies.
Will she ride the storm the way she did with Linturi or will she wither when the pressure becomes too much? Will she continue to enjoy the political shelter under the powerful wings of the President, or will she chart her own path, make new friends. As always, time will tell.