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Kenya: Cabinet reshuffle signals jump-start of development agenda

Photo by Jeff Angote/Nation Media Group
Photo by Jeff Angote/Nation Media Group

In a surprise speech from State House Mombasa, on 14 January 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a cabinet reshuffle, as well as several policy interventions. They are aimed at both injecting new impetus into the government’s development plans and rectifying some recent missteps. The most notable changes are at the helm of the Treasury, as well as the Ministries of Agriculture and Health. The two main areas of policy recalibration include healthcare and agriculture.

The changes appear driven by the president’s increasing concern regarding his legacy, and the realisation that he has limited time to cement it. The implementation of his flagship development programme, the Big 4 Agenda, has not been as efficient as hoped; economic performance has faltered somewhat over the past months and a number of key projects, programmes and policies appear to have stalled.

Limited politicking in reshuffle

This cabinet reshuffle is the widest-ranging since President Kenyatta’s re-election. Politically, it does not appear aimed at either the ongoing Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) or 2022 campaigning. The president had reportedly consulted his deputy – William Ruto, from whom he has informally distanced himself – prior to announcing the changes. The new nominees for cabinet secretaries (CSs), permanent secretaries (PSs) and chief administrative secretaries (CASs) will have to wait until Parliament resumes in February to be confirmed.

The most notable changes include: 

  • Treasury. The formal appointment of Ukur Yattani as CS demonstrates the president’s confidence in the minister’s performance in an acting capacity. It also signals that the fiscal consolidation driven by the Treasury will continue. This appointment also removes the possibility that Henry Rotich, who is currently facing corruption charges, will return to cabinet.
  • Agriculture. Former CS Mwangi Kiunjuri has been removed from the cabinet entirely and replaced by former Meru Governor and Trade CS Peter Munya. After the 2017 general elections, in which he was a critical campaigner for Jubilee, Kiunjuri was appointed as Agriculture CS. Over the past several months, he was both increasingly dissatisfied with his position and increasingly vocal, particularly in the fractious politics of central Kenya. Kiunjuri was also been implicated in a recent maize scandal due to his questionable withdrawals from the Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund to pay for imported maize. The agriculture ministry is critical to the implementation of the Big 4 Agenda goals of 100% food security and increased industrialisation through agricultural value-addition. A number of policy initiatives and programmes aimed at achieving these goals have stalled.
  • Health. Mutahi Kagwe, the former Senator for Nyeri (2013-2017) and MP for Mukurweini (2002-2007), has been nominated as Health CS. His predecessor Sicily Kariuki has been moved to Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation. Kagwe is a seasoned politician having been an MP and a Senator, with experience serving in cabinet as ICT CS under President Mwai Kibaki; he is credited with having played a critical role in the development of Kenya as an ICT hub. Kagwe is an ally of the current president, and recently led a section of Central Kenya politicians in backing BBI. With the planned roll-out of universal healthcare (UHC) for this year, it is hoped that the Kagwe will be able to provide experience and competence in a highly visible exercise.
  • ICT. The President moved the State Department of Youth Affairs from the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs to the Ministry of ICT.

Policy changes target health, agriculture and corruption

The president’s notable policy changes also appear development-driven:

  • Health. Kenyatta announced that he is suspending the new National Hospital Insurance Fund’s (NHIF) rules to allow for further consultation. Within the suspended framework, users had to pay an upfront one-year subscription at registration. The rules also limited the number of spouses and children that one could list as beneficiaries, causing a significant public outcry.
  • Agriculture. The president announced a number of changes to the tea, coffee, milk and fresh produce sectors:
    • In tea, changes announced focus on the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA). The government has resolved to restructure the entire marketing structure of the tea to boost farmers’ returns.
    • In coffee, the president has directed the Ministry of Agriculture to implement the recommendations of the Coffee Task Force established in 2016 and to operationalise a KES 3 billion (USD 300 million) fund that will enable farmers to access affordable finance.
    • In milk, the president has directed the Treasury to impose a 16% VAT on milk products originating outside the East African Community (EAC).
    • Finally, the president ordered the Treasury to release KES 300 million (USD 3 million) for the construction of cold storage facilities in Nyandarua, Meru and Kisii counties to enable farmers to store perishable goods.
  • Corruption. The president reiterated his commitment to the war on corruption and urged the judiciary to work with the executive on its implementation. In addition, he directed the National Intelligence Service to look into “cartels” operating in the agriculture sector and the public sector especially in budgeting, procurement, regulation and market rigging. Any tangible effects from this initiative are yet to come to the fore.

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