April 23, 2021

Summary

Those who are old enough will remember that political appointments were prevalent during the reign of His Excellency the President, the late Daniel Arap Moi’s reign. You see, one would wake up early in the morning and hear on the National News that so and so had been appointed to such and such post at a given Department, Ministry, Workstation or even Embassy.

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Political Appointments in Kenya – Still the Same Old Story?

Those who are old enough will remember that political appointments were prevalent during the reign of His Excellency the President, the late Daniel Arap Moi’s reign. You see, one would wake up early in the morning and hear on the National News that so and so had been appointed to such and such post at a given Department, Ministry, Workstation or even Embassy.

There were seldom interviews, vetting, looking at the suitability, qualifications, merit or at times even the budget to cover such appointments. All it required was a recommendation from someone who was close to the system; Deep State.

In a sense, I was a benefactor of these appointments.

My Story 

My first political appointment came in June 1993, when I returned from The Republic of Cambodia, where I was presiding over a General Election as an International Polling Station Officer. Our trip had been organised by the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the equivalent of our Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission of Kenya (IEBC).

On arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, I was met by a lady from the Diplomatic Service and told I had been officially appointed by His Excellency the President as the Deputy Managing Director of Muhoroni Sugar Company Limited.

I discovered that Muhoroni Sugar Company had been mismanaged and the government wanted experienced and qualified people to run the factory. Though I had not been vetted nor invited to apply for the position, I happened to be qualified, particularly having relocated to Kenya in 1992, from a similar expatriate appointment in the Kingdom of Swaziland, now renamed eSwatini.

I was delighted with the new role, but the fact remained that even if I was not, I would have taken it. Despite the fact that many of these appointments were made by the roadside or during the one o’clock news, you could not say no to the President.

However, these posts came with plenty of political maneuverings and so, were unstable.

Six months into my role, I was abruptly moved from Muhoroni Sugar to Chemelil Sugar Company. I discovered someone had petitioned the President for my position at Muhoroni. Luckily the President knew me personally, because my brother was his lawyer. Whereas someone else might have been discarded without a new role, I was given an alternate posting.

The problem was, at Chemelil, there was no ready position for me, so the role of Deputy Managing Director was created. The Managing Director of Chemilil resented it. To his credit, he did not have the budget for the post or any job description for a Deputy.

He asked me to take a two week leave so that they could prepare the post for me, since I’d need a suitable house, an office befitting my status, a car, driver and a secretary.

The Managing Director never gave me any duties, I had to create those for myself. Six months later however, I was given an appointment letter to return to Muhoroni, this time as the Managing Director. Once again, this was not necessarily on merit, but because the Managing Director there had displeased too many people, some thought him incompetent. All these voices banded together to oust him. My name was tabled as a good choice to replace him.

Naturally, being a promotion, approved by the President, I accepted the role. But on the first day, after a Heads of Department meeting, I got a phone call telling me the role had been revoked.

I did not let my Heads of Departments or staff know about the new developments because I was asked to keep it confidential. I worked normally at Muhoroni for two weeks until I received the official communication from the Permanent Secretary reversing the appointment of Managing Director at Muhoroni and reverting to my earlier position of Deputy Managing Director at Chemelil Sugar.

Imagine the surprise when my colleagues saw me returning to my old post. But that was the order of the day back then, we were shuffled like playing cards, and like playing cards, we had to play.

I worked at Chemelil for one and a half years, before being moved to Sony Sugar factory for another one and a half years. In four years, I’d worked at three companies.

Effects of Political Appointments

The political appointments which were prevalent during Moi’s time were marked by inconsistency. There was no consideration of qualification or necessity of the appointments. In my case, my position did not even exist when I joined Chemelil Sugar Company. The parastatal regulations had no Deputies, in fact, I was the first person to be appointed to the Deputy position from outside the Civil Service.

The import of such appointments was that they served to disrupt otherwise functioning systems. I walked into a hierarchy of Heads of Departments reporting directly to the Managing Director. My crafted ‘Deputy Position’ created confusion, because who were they to report to now? If still the Managing Director then what was my role? If to me, then what was the Managing Director’s role?

On some level, this disparity of arbitrary appointments was corrected by the Kenya Constitution Amendment of 2010 which made it compulsory that all senior appointments must be vetted by the Parliament before the President can action them.

The flip side is that, even those who are proposed for vetting are eventually answerable to their ‘Godfathers’ when the appointments are finalized.

A Flawed System

It’s a flawed system, the ‘who do you know’ mantra of Kenya. It’s a disservice to an otherwise brilliant-minded people.  Effective private sector institutions function because they place the right personnel who have earned the position in the right roles.

If we are to be transcendent in our government institutions and leadership in this country, I believe this is the first step. Let people earn their medals, not be granted them as pawns on a larger chessboard.

In the long run, being shifted around posts did little for my career as it did little for the positions where I did not last long enough to arguably make effective long-lasting ch

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