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Kenya’s divisive DP: Sorry, no jobs for those who didn’t vote for us

Saturday February 25 2023
Kenya's Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua

Kenya's Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, a sharp-tongued and gaffe-prone politician. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

By OTIENO OTIENO

During the campaigns for Kenya’s August 9, 2022 elections, President William Ruto’s rivals often taunted him with calls to “hand the mic to [Rigathi] Gachagua,” his then running mate.

Gachagua, a sharp-tongued and gaffe-prone politician, had the Ruto campaign handlers fretting throughout about his sexist and ethnic slurs and sick jokes that provided propaganda fodder for rival supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga.

He reserved some of his nastiest remarks for his opposite number on the other team, Martha Karua, whom Raila Odinga had picked as his running mate to try to appeal to voters in the Mt Kenya region where both she and Gachagua hail from.

Now deputy president after their victory in August and freshly bullish from seeing a number of corruption-related court cases against him recently withdrawn by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Gachagua remains just as unrestrained as he was during the election campaigns last year.

Company guaranteed by shares

His remarks last week likening the Ruto government to a company guaranteed by shares, in which preference will be given to people who voted for the President when dishing out State jobs, have kicked up a political storm in the country, with the opposition planning a motion of censure in Parliament.

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Opposition Members of Parliament have also threatened to start a public campaign urging their supporters not to pay taxes, accusing the Ruto administration of pursuing an exclusionist agenda.

But the Deputy President remains defiant, saying he is entitled to protect the interests of his Mt Kenya region in government. Past reports, including those of the commissions that inquired into the 2007 and 2008 post-election violence in Kenya, have cited skewed distribution of public jobs – real or perceived – among the reasons for uncomfortable ethnic relations and political fallouts.

Diversity and inclusion

The country’s cohesion and integration law enacted in the aftermath of the bloody 2007 and 2008 election-related violence requires diversity and inclusion in public.

The Public Service Commission, officially the employer of government staff, also introduced a diversity policy in 2015 that requires that job representation by ethnic groups in ministries, departments and agencies correspond with their respective proportions of the national population. But a review of 24 public agencies by the National Assembly's Cohesion and Equal Opportunity committee in 2019 found none of the institutions had equitable representation of all the 43 ethnic groups of Kenya.

The same employment pattern has emerged under the new administration, with a disproportionate share of senior public appointments by President Ruto going to communities in Rift Valley and Mt Kenya where he and the Deputy President hail from.

However, chances of a censure motion against Gachagua passing in the current Parliament, which is dominated by the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition, appear slim. President Ruto has also been seen to strengthen his control of Parliament by poaching opposition defectors, including about 30 MPs affiliated to the former ruling Jubilee Party who announced they were cutting ties with the opposition Azimio coalition when they visited State House on February 8.

But Gachagua’s allusion to the existence of an unofficial policy to alienate people perceived to be opposition supporters from government jobs undermines his boss’s efforts to unite the country.

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