Uhuru Should Stay Home and Forget the General Assembly

In the next few weeks, two significant events involving President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto will hit international headlines.

As the month of September begins, Ruto will be preparing to head to the Netherlands where he faces charges against humanity related to the 2007 post-election violence. The International Criminal Court trial will be a culmination of more than one-and-half years of activities  –  pre-trial hearings, legal and political interventions, behind-the-scenes intrigues and alleged witness tampering.

Soon after Ruto’s departure, President Kenyatta will cross the Atlantic for his first visit to the United States since becoming President in March. The visit will not be an official one. He will be leading the Kenya delegation to the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. What will happen in the US is what will heighten the buzz. Will he or will he not be granted an audience with President Obama?

Whatever happens in the US, and whatever transpires at the Hague, will be closely watched by Kenyans and the international community.

With the ICC trial opening on September 10, it can be assumed that Ruto, his family and close aides, will depart Nairobi for Europe around the 7th to give him time for resting, acclimatisation and consultations with his lawyers. The good news is that the Dutch Government has agreed to accord him full diplomatic immunity as Deputy President of Kenya, affording him all the hospitality allowed under international conventions.

On the other hand Uhuru, whose visit to New York was reportedly confirmed by the Kenyan envoy Macharia Kamau last week, will have to depart Kenya for America around the 15th if he is to arrive on time for the official opening of the General Assembly on the 17th.

The drafters of the Kenya constitution did not anticipate a scenario would arise where both the President and the Deputy President would be away at the same time, but this appears quite possible now.  What I know is that the Office of the President cannot stay vacant. Either Uhuru or Ruto will have to be in the country to take charge of the Government.

The ICC has already ruled that Ruto must be at the Hague for a continuous period of three weeks at a time. But it also ruled that the arrangement will only begin after all prosecution witnesses have given evidence, meaning Ruto may have to be away for much longer during the initial period.

It is sensible then to assume that Uhuru may have to stay home or turn back immediately after delivering his maiden speech to the Assembly. Unfortunately, the public debate by world leaders will not begin until the 24th, and there is no guarantee that Uhuru will be given preference to speak ahead of the others. Even if he were to be allowed to speak on the first day of the debate, and he decides to leave on the same day, the earliest we could expect him in Kenya would be the 26th – a whole nine days after the opening of the General Assembly.

Kenya cannot afford to have both Uhuru and Ruto away from the country. If they stay abroad, the country could open itself to all kinds of mischief. The insecurity paused by terrorism threats and internal strife, the volatile political situation spilling over from the last general elections, as well as a myriad domestic challenges, are issues only the President can handle. They are not matters that can be left to Cabinet Secretaries.

For this reason, I cannot see Uhuru travelling to New York for the General Assembly. Indeed, my view is that he should stay home and leave our able Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Amina Mohamed, to handle the New York assignment.

And that is my say.

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Corruption in judiciary: Has Raila been vindicated?

Regardless of whether or not Gladys Shollei is found “guilty” of violating procurement procedures, the fact that the axe has fallen on one of judiciary’s most senior officers is enough to confirm what Raila Odinga has been saying all along: that there is rampant corruption in the corridors of the Kenya Law Courts. And this is not a political matter. It is a matter of integrity, accountability and transparency in the way we do business.

Corruption and its twin sister, nepotism, have existed in the judiciary for decades. Judges and magistrates have been bribed to delay judgements, to favour certain parties in criminal and civil cases, to colluded with crooks in unlawful release of convicts, and to skew judgements in favour of the government in critical political cases like what we saw during the stage-managed Mwakenya trials of the 1980s. Senior judiciary officials have also been accused of employing relatives and cronies from their tribes.

No wonder various world surveys have rated the judiciary as one of the most bribery-prone institutions in Kenya.

When Chief Justice Willy Mutunga was sworn-in in June 2011, he emphasised his commitment to eradicate corruption in the judiciary: that he would “take a very hard stand on any officer who is found to be engaged in imprudent and corrupt activities.” The question is: Is Shollei’s suspension part of the fulfillment of that commitment?

Without saying anything touching on the inquiry, I want to submit that Shollei’s case is only a tip of the iceberg. What I am asking myself however is: Is it possible that the Chief Registrar – the second top-most officer in the judiciary – is being sacrificed at the altar of much bigger evils involving much bigger fish? Or, was she actually caught with her hand in the jar as the Judiciary Service Commission appears to imply? Shollei herself has said she did not do anything wrong, that corruption is fighting back, and that “certain individuals and corporations were undermining the judiciary.” We will know the truth after two weeks once the report is out.

Raila has been complaining about a tainted judiciary since the 2007 disputed elections when he refused to submit to the courts after Mwai Kibaki was declared winner of the presidential race. His hard-line stance led to the formation of the grand coalition government after a bitter political confrontation that attracted international intervention.

However, Mutunga’s appointment gave Raila renewed hope that things would change. That is why, when he lost to Uhuru in 2013, he petitioned the Supreme Court, although he protested later that most of his evidence was discarded. Since then he has declared war on the judiciary and on the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission, saying the two entities could not be trusted to deliver justice. Is he happy now that he has been vindicated? Judicial historians will have to ponder on this whole matter for many years to come.

In the meantime, the focus of Kenyans and of legal minds in the region will be on the work and findings of the two committees of inquiry appointed on Monday to deliberate on whether or not Shollei was involved and benefitted from some procurement deals at the judiciary. The focus will also be on the Chief Justice on how he manages the institution from now on.

We are still unclear as to the actual “charges” against Shollei. But one of the biggest scandals that could rope in more than just judiciary officials involves  the so-called “ultra-modern” Milimani Law Courts building. The project was originally planned to cost 600 million shillings, but it eventually gobbled one billion shillings. Within months after its “completion”, walls were caving in, water was leaking knocking off power cables, and lifts were not functioning.

If this project, which started before Shollei was hired, is what has put her in trouble, then we could as well be looking at a mega financial scandal of monumental proportions that could see many people in the private sector called in to answer questions.

Finally, the committees must be left to do their work without interference or influence. There should be no pre-judgements. There should be no intimidation.  Parliament, politicians and government officials must keep off.

What is important is that the men and women chosen to look into this matter must be thorough, fair, and apolitical in the conduct of their work. If they do that, their verdict would be respected regardless of the outcome.

And that is my say.

A VISIT TO CHINA? UHURU, BE CAREFUL!

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to Russia and China this week constitutes a major political statement to the world that Kenya, as a sovereign nation is prepared to go full blast in nurturing its official ties with the East regardless of what the West says or thinks. In many ways, Uhuru is taking a big gamble especially at this time when Kenya’s relations with its major allies -the United States and Britain – are wavering. The timing of the visit could easily be interpreted as Kenya’s way of thumbing its nose at the West- not a very good way of handling international relations with your major allies.

And this is not to say that we should not dialogue with all friendly nations, regardless of their ideologies. What I am saying is that we should be more careful in dealing with the East than with the West. I am sure London and Washington are following closely every step Uhuru will take in Beijing and Moscow.

Kenya’s final thrust to the East has been building up for sometime now. It picked up speed when relations with the West began to thaw during the Grand Coalition government and worsened when Uhuru and his deputy, William Ruto – both facing charges against humanity at the Hague – were elected president and deputy president earlier this year.

For almost two years before he left office, President Mwai Kibaki, had clamped a complete black-out on Western embassy officials wanting to consult him on bilateral issues. He kept envoys in abeyance without telling them the reasons why he had withheld diplomatic hospitality. That by itself created a major disconnect between the two divides. It is possible that Kibaki felt let down by the West for coercing him into signing a coalition agreement with Raila Odinga, the man he believed he beat in 2007. That agreement, to end post election violence and create a government of national unity was the creation of the West. That explains why Kibaki’s dealings with Raila were often so erratic and sometimes stormy during the entire five year period of the Grand Coalition government.

But relations between Nairobi and Washington took a dramatic turn when US officials warned Kenyans that there would be consequences if they elected the duo; and Britain declared that it would only maintain “essential contacts” with Nairobi if Uhuru and Ruto came to power. President Barack Obama’s reluctance to visit Kenya – the country of his father -during his first term also did not help much. He visited sub-Saharan Africa for the first time as president in 2009 but skipped Kenya, supposedly because he was unhappy about the conduct of the 2007 polls.

In the meantime, the ICC issue came into the picture and the two people alleged to have been most involved in the post election violence of 2008 were elected. Perhaps because of that, Obama once again saw no need of including Kenya in his recent itinerary to the continent. The fact that he came to Tanzania, just across the border, and avoided Kenya did not amuse Kenya leaders who made it clear that they really didn’t care.

It is now obvious that the Jubilee government will not be dissuaded by anyone about cooperating with any nation willing to help it fulfil goals it has set out in its manifesto. But while Kenyans are not too worried about the bilateral and business agreements Uhuru is likely to sign with the Russians, they are wary about deals with China.

What has made China so popular in Africa today is because – unlike the West – it does not set prior political or governance conditions while disbursing its aid or negotiating its loans. This has led to the tripling of its trading activities in the continent to more than 160 billion US dollars a year. It buys one third of its oil from Africa and has more African students studying on schorlaships in China – 12,000 of them – than any other country.

Since the Chinese influx to Kenya began 5 years ago at the height of the construction of the Thika highway, Kenya has not been the same. That there has been a noticeable increase in certain criminal activities linked to Chinese nationals is not in dispute. They have been caught smuggling animal trophies, selling fake mobile phones and killing and stewing snakes in national parks. And these are only the publicised cases.

I know that in other countries raids have been conducted and undesirable Chinese nationals have been thrown out. For example, for most of this year, Ghana has been deport hundreds of Chinese nationals for involvement in illegal gold mining. Other Chinese have been expelled for being in the country illegally. No such raids have been undertaken in Kenya. We neither know how many Chinese there are here nor their whereabouts. Chinese nationals can now be found in the remotest of places in the country and no one seems to be monitoring them to know exactly what they are doing.

Another reason why we have to be careful with the Chinese is that their trading culture is fraught with corruption and high-handedness. They are good at issuing huge loans without any initial conditions, but once the dotted lines have been signed, they quickly turn around to insist that tenders must only go to Chinese enterprises.

Presently, Kenyan officials are being arm-twisted to agree to a 1.2 trillion shilling deal for the modernisation of the railway line, when there are clear signs that the so-called Thika superhighway is turning out to be the biggest fraud ever performed on Kenya by a foreign government. I hope Kenyatta remembered to carry with him pictures of the recently flooded highway as evidence that the work the Chinese did was shoddy

Through dirty deals in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, China has been able to secure tenders for major infrastructural, agricultural, energy and water projects that have put a big question mark on the actual motive behind such magnanimity. They even spent billions to construct what they call the “gift to Africa” in the form of a 20-storey complex for the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

It is no secret that China is doing all this in order to exploit Africa’s raw material which it desperately need for its growing energy sector. And what does it do in return? It floods the continent with cheap, low quality goods including toys, useless jewelry and even basic household goods such as bath soap and matches.

But even more worrying to me is the bee-line of Kenyan officials planning to tour China. Recently, our MPs, seeing that everyone else is headed there, also thought of travelling to Beijing to buy furniture for their offices, a thought more driven by greed than anything else. There have also been reports that some cabinet secretaries have already been to Beijing for this and that.

Uhuru must therefore be very careful. He should not allow himself to be arm-twisted by the Chinese into putting his signature on any dotted lines without a second thought. With the discovery of commercial oil and other rich minerals, Kenya should be in no hurry to clinch deals with either China or Russia before very careful cost/benefit assessments are done to the satisfaction of Kenyans. More importantly, any deal that may lead to the destruction of our natural resources should not be allowed to pass.

Perhaps the only deal we should allow Uhuru to negotiate with the Chinese at the moment, is one that will allow convicted Kenyans in Chinese jails to come and complete their sentences at home. That would be on a reciprocal basis, also to benefit any Chinese criminal currently in our prisons.

Finally, Uhuru must find a way of lowering the temperature of misunderstanding between ourselves and the West. Britain is our traditional ally so is the United States of America. Both countries have stood with us on every aspect of our lives since independence. They have helped us with security, food and health. Many of the other European countries have also assisted us in a variety of ways. It is my view too that the West should also soften its stand, in recognition that both Uhuru and Ruto were popularly elected and they deserve to rule until we know the ICC verdict.

And that is my say.

Balala should step aside

One Roman wiseman once said that history repeats itself. Indeed it does, especially in Kenya when it comes to corruption involving cabinet officials.

In 2003 after Mwai Kibaki became president, Karisa Maitha, a minister in his government, faced a barrage of  accusations centered on corruption, abuse of office and breach of trust. Members of parliament and sections of non-governmental organisations called on Kibaki to sack him after revelations emerged that the minister had allegedly received millions of shillings in bribe money from a local insurance company to facilitate a tender award. 

Only a few months earlier at his swearing-in ceremony, Kibaki had issued a stern warning to corrupt officials that they faced dismissal if caught indulging in sleaze. He vowed to enact new, effective laws to deal with official corruption, a problem we have been grappling with since the 1970s.

But when the scandal broke out linking his Minister for Local Government, Kibaki did not walk the talk. Instead of suspending him and instituting an investigation, the president merely transferred him to the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, as if nothing had happened.

Now, it’s Uhuru Kenyatta’s turn. He is facing the same dilemma that Kibaki faced, as his cabinet secretary for mining Najib Balala fights off accusations of demanding a bribe from a mining company official. Last week when Jacob Juma, the Cortec’s country director called a press conference and made serious allegations against Balala, Kenyans gasped: oh my God, not again!

Juma was up-beat and talked with a lot of confidence about the bribe demand. Then he took his mobile phone and called a man he claimed was the commissioner of mines who alleged unequivocally that Balala indeed demanded the money. It would be interesting to know if that conversation was recorded.

The genesis of this made-for-television episode began a few weeks ago when the secretary suspended more than 500 mining licences and appointed a task force to determine whether they were issued properly or irregularly. Some of the cancelled licences belonged to Cortec. Both Juma and the man who claimed to be the commissioner of mines alleged that the demand was made in return for certain considerations. Balala hit back and claimed “impunity was fighting back.”

There is no doubt that these are very serious allegations against a senior government official. Although Balala has not disputed that he met Juma, he has vehemently denied that he asked for any money.

Since the matter is already in the hands of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commision (EACC), it would be inappropriate for me to comment on who between Cortec and Balala is telling the truth, or, even to speculate on the ongoing investigations. But it is within my right to suggest to President Kenyatta that Kenyans are keenly watching this episode with more than just passing interest.

The fact that the secretary’s name has been mentioned in  such a serious violation of ethics is enough for the ground to shift. In an ideal situation, Balala should step aside to allow the EACC a free hand. This is not to say he is culpable in any way. It is just the right thing for him to do. But since Kenyan officials don’t voluntarily step aside or resign, the onus is on Uhuru to decide the next course of action.

The question then is: will Uhuru suspend Balala to facilitate the investigations or, will he merely follow Kibaki’s footsteps and transfer the cabinet secretary to another ministry?.

And whatever action is anticipated it should not be one-sided. Should Juma be found to have misled the country then appropriate action must also be taken against him and the company he represents.

However, we should guard against politicising or ethnicising this matter. No one should say that Balala is being persecuted because of his regional or religious affiliation or that it is a conspirancy by his political enemies. Similarly, Jubilee leaders should not pronounce a verdict before the EACC completes its probe. If investigators find that Balala indeed committed an offence then the law must take its course. Otherwise he should be left to exercise his mandate of regulating the mining industry without hindrance.

The way to deal with corruption is not to condone it or to use kid gloves to fight it. The reason why previous governments failed to rein in corruption was because leaders refused to differentiate between individual and common interests. Common interests call for moral fortitude and accountability, so that as we move forward, it is the country, not individuals, that benefits.

That Kenya is one of the most corrupt countries in the world is not in doubt.

What is in doubt is whether or not Uhuru will break with the past and lead the war on corruption from the front.

And that is my say.

IS UHURU’S GOVERNMENT CURSED?

There are a lot of people out there who are cursing Uhuru Kenyatta’s government. Almost 50 per cent of Kenyans who didn’t vote for the Jubilee coalition wish that the five-month administration could just drop dead. Then there are teachers, doctors, nurses and civil servants whose pay demands have not been met; also the unemployed youths(and there are many), who were promised jobs that have not been delivered. There are also some foreign governments which have refused to eat on the same table with Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto until they are cleared by the International Criminal Court. And of course, there is Kamlesh Pattni and the hundreds of people who were rendered jobless after the Kenya Duty Free shops were demolished recently.The question is, will these curses stick?

In Africa, no one wants to be cursed. Jinx brings bad omen to individuals and families and is believed to lead to excrutiating sufferings and deaths in communities.If there is one curse that is most fatal it is that which is delivered by a parent to an incorrigibly wayward child.

The way things look, the government of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto is in big trouble, yes, really big trouble. That is why it is easy to believe that this government is cursed. That curse, I can say, was cast on the day the son of Jomo was declared the winner in March, and rooted when he was sworn-in at the Kasarani Sports Center on April 9, 2013. I believe so, because it was after he had read his Oath of Office that everything started to fall apart.

The initial euphoria, characterised by uniformed red ties, high-fives and hyped interviews of cabinet secretaries, has vanished. It has been replaced by a parliamentary probe over the use or misuse of a jet by the deputy president, protests at funerals, strikes by teachers, threats by doctors, disgruntlement in the devolved governments, and headaches of trying to figure out who set the big fire at the Nairobi Airport, who is poaching our wildlife, and who is plotting to overthrow the government.

During the election campaign, Ruto told us many times that, if elected, the Jubilee leaders will be waking up very early in the morning and sleeping very late at night. I bet that is what they are doing now as they struggle to steer the troubled ship away from the turbulent waters of mistrust and political intrigues. But while they are busy steering the ship, the cursers are busy cutting trees and stocking the fire beneath them. When it gets too hot, Uhuru comes to the upper deck and issues decrees that put his cabinet secretaries to shame. The cabinet secretaries, we were assured, were the creme de la creme of society and would deliver us to the promised land. We are still waiting for their show of wizadry. Nevertheless, I see good vibes ahead in this government. Whether those vibes will translate into economic growth, more jobs, better and affordable health services, quality education and all the other things in the Jubilee manifesto, only time will tell.

What is clear is that some of the cursers do not want this government to succeed. They are too bitter. They are distracting the government by creating too may diversions. Some are talking about the so-called Arab Spring riding into our shores. Some are reminding us of the events of September 1,1982, by posting on social media platforms, audio broadcasts of the day airforce officers briefly took over the Voice of Kenya studios. The cursers are not bitter because Uhuru and Ruto have not delivered. It is too early for that kind of judgement to be made. They are bitter because Raila Amolo Odinga did not win, period, and they want to make the process of governance for the two as difficult as possible. The cursers pray day and night that the Hague Court finds them guilty as soon as possible and send them to long prison terms, if not to the gallows if it was allowed. If that does not happen, they wish to see a peoples’ revolution to force early elections. So, they continue to curse.

That is why the non-cursers – people who voted for the Jubilee and wish the government well – see an evil hand in what happened this week at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. It is too early perhaps to arrive at that conclusion, but as some say, troubles come in bundles. Isn’t it astonishing that we are moving from one crisis to another?

The only way the government can avoid the curses is for it to take a fresh look at what it has not done, rather than what it has done, during the past five months. It must agree to incorporate Raila Odinga, not so much as a “partner” in government, but as a stabilising force. It must agree to give him a consultative role, a role that will be substantive yet non-executive, a role that will give him a platform where he can pacify his dissatisfied forces and allow him space to continue with his positive contributions to the well-being of this country. They should not ostracise him. They should not render him a pariah. Uhuru, Ruto and Raila have worked together before, and they can work together now. Mr. President, why dont you start with a friendly visit to his Karen home, not as the president of this great country, but as a friend. Just call him and invite yourself for tea. You will be surprised at the results.

And that is my say.

RAILA MUST THINK TWICE

The next general elections in Kenya are more than four years away but a whiff of preparedness in the political front appears to be in the air. As I said in my book, the Politics of Betrayal: Diary of a Kenyan Legislator, Kenyans are stuck on the campaign mode 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They never tire of politicking. With the way things are going, the 2017 campaigns will start much earlier; the elections will have fewer presidential candidates, will be more aggressively contested, and could be bloodier than any in the country’s history. This is not a doomsday prediction.

Indications that subtle campaigns have begun are increasingly seen in  the body languages of edgy junior politicians and in the crypted pronouncements of key party leaders who are themselves potential contenders in the big race.

When Raila Odinga was interviewed by a Kenyan-owned JamBoston online radio station in the US recently, he could not give a straight answer to a simple question of whether or not he would be in the race. He skirted around the question by saying his coalition has given the Jubilee leadership a chance to rule for the next five years, but when pressed he refused to say if he would be on the ballot. But reading between the lines, it was clear to me that the son of Jaramogi has not ruled out another stab at the presidency. 

I bet if you ask Raila that question this time next year, he would answer in the affirmative.

There is nothing the leader of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy is waiting as anxiously as the outcome of the Hague trials of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto.

It is the outcome or the direction of that trial that will determine Raila’s political future. In the unlikely event that the two are sent to prison for their alleged role in the 2007 election violence, or if they are found not guilty but barred by the constitution to hold public office, Raila would be the candidate to watch in whatever election that will follow. In fact, I can say it here and now that if that happens Raila will be the 5th president of the Republic of Kenya. But that is a long shot. The case against the two is so shaky I wouldnt be surprised if it is withdrawn before the end of the full hearing. If that happens then Uhuru and Ruto would most definitely earn a second term in office in 2017.

It is obvious from what we are seeing that Kenyans are attracted to youthful leadership. This situation is unlikely to change in the near future. So, let Raila not compare himself to Kenyatta, Moi or Mugabe in terms of age. The era of septuagenarians and octogenarians in top leadership is gone, and Mugabe’s re-election this month is only a very special case. Even if, as one columnist said recently, that Raila has 15 good years ahead of him, chances of him being accepted by the majority of Kenyans for the fourth time are slim. Moreover, a repeat confrontation in the polls between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga is too frightening to imagine. Kenya would most likely be plunged into a potracted civil strife that would make the 2007 violence look like a kindergarten play. Already tensions are so high between the winning side and losing side over the contentious nature of the last poll results that any one single mistep by either camp could spark a conflagration.

Like his close political friend, Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition MDC in Zimbabwe who has lost three elections in a row, Raila must think hard over whether or not he wants to allow himself to be humiliated further, and leave behind a legacy of election defeats. Raila has invested far too much in the history of this country to allow himself to be reduced to a serial wannabe. This is the time for a man of his stature to retire and retain the honour and respect many have for him.

The other two possible contenders, Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi are too battered to make any difference in the next elections. Their forced absence in mainstream politics will keep both the Wiper and the United Democratic Party far away from the minds of voters four years from now. My honest prediction is that by 2017, the two parties will either be dead on their own, or will have been swallowed by Jubilee or CORD coalition. Therefore, recent separate pronouncements by Kalonzo and Mudavadi that they were restructuring in readiness for the next elections are nothing but political chest-thumping.

And that is my say.

Let’s fire the Kenya Government Spokesman

If there is one office in Kenya that has received more flak than any other, it is the office of the government spokesman, officially known as the office of public communication. Since its establishment in June 2004 with the appointment of Dr. Alfred Mutua, a journalism professor fished out from a university in the Middle East, that office has never seen peace. Kenyans questioned its jurisdiction, as well as its ambiguous mandate. They also raised queries about the suitability of Dr Mutua, an “outsider”, as the official spin doctor, and the manner in which he was head-hunted.

Those questions have since followed his successor, Muthui Kariuki, who took over from Dr. Mutua after eight stormy years at the Kenyatta International Conference Center. These are the problems. First, I doubt the government was clear about the role and responsibilities of a spokesman. Two, I doubt Dr. Mutua himself understood his job description sufficiently well to allow him to effectively articulate official policies. Because of those gray areas, Dr. Mutua – seen by some as imperious and gregarious – often clashed with cabinet ministers on issues that did not concern him at all. He wanted to exercise supervisory functions but regulations did not allow him. The situation became even more befuddled when he was tasked to supervise the re-carpeting of roads in the port city of Mombasa. What? A government spokesman?

His successor, though qualified in communication and public relations, entered the job in November 2012 with a confrontational attitude tinged with juvenile insensibilities. A government spokesman is not employed to conflict with his seniors, regardless of their stations. By raving and ranting about vehicles issued to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, Kariuki did not only display ignorance about his role in government but he committed a fundamental error of judgement in public service – insubordination. Had the two leaders been in power, Kariuki would have been disciplined. Interestingly Kariuki has forgotten that Kalonzo was his boss for two years when he served as the VP’s spokesman before his promotion to the present position. Where is the respect, Mr. Kariuki?

That is why I commend the President for his recent decision to completely re-engineer what was previously known as the presidential press service. For the first time in half a century, there is a defined role for those entrusted with communication matters at State House. By appointing Manoah Esipisu, a seasoned journalist and former Commonwealth Deputy Director of Communication as his spokesman, Uhuru Kenyatta can now rest easy that his message will get through, not only to Kenyans, but to the world, and that he will be provided with regular and timely feedback to enable him make informed decisions.

I must mention that two of the greatest executive spokesmen this world has ever had were Pierre Salinger, who served as the media guru for both President John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson;and Bernard Ingram, now a Knight, who oversaw Prime Minister Thatcher’s communication apparatus. Unlike Dr. Mutua and Kariuki, those two professionals knew where to draw the line between politics and government. Their job was to defend the government, not to promote policies of the ruling party. And like Lee Njiru, President Moi’s long-serving press secretary, they knew their limits when it came to protecting their boss from overzealous journalists without them being seen as arrogant and uncooperative. Salinger was humble. He described himself as “a reporter for the rest of the press operating in a no man’s land between the President and the media.”

What we want to see in our President’s spokesman is an affable attitude – not chest-thumping; forthrightness not connivance; sobriety not frivolity. Knowing Manoah, I am sure he will deliver on all these and more.

Having said all that, I have this final word. Since we now have a highly skilled team at State House to spearhead the government’s communication policies, I see no need for the continued presence of the office of public communication. It should be scrapped.

And that is my say.