Kitchen Cabinet: Men And Women In President Ruto’s Inner Circle
They are close, trusted friends of President William Ruto. Some have been with him for decades in politics, while others bankrolled his August 9 presidential campaigns.
They form an inner circle of men and women who wield immense power, and are believed to hold prominent seats on the table where the new administration’s power schemes are discussed.
Together with the officially appointed 22-member cabinet, the ‘kitchen cabinet’ is calling the shots in the running of the Kenya Kwanza government.
The term ‘Kitchen Cabinet’, which denotes a politician’s informal circle of advisers, has its origins in the presidency of Andrew Jackson, who came to power in 1828 after a bruising US election.
Very distrustful of the official statecraft in Washington, the real power in Jackson’s administration rested with a circle of friends and political cronies who often did not hold official positions.
In Kenya, where the President largely appoints the people he works with anyway, the phrase Kitchen Cabinet has come to characterise men and women – elected, appointed or otherwise – who have the leader’s ear.
Some of President Daniel arap Moi’s power men, for instance, were barely literate but held great sway, with politicians and senior civil servants ruing the day they crossed their lines.
In Kibaki’s regime, members of the wealthy Central Kenya elite, long-time friends from the Muthaiga Golf Club and professionals formed the inner cycle of his administration.
Most of them operated largely outside the public domain, but their influence is said to have been immense.
Unlike Moi, however, President Ruto listens to a wide range of experts and is said to be averse to playing favourites.
With his charisma and political tentacles in the remotest reaches of the country, President Ruto’s confidantes do not quite fit the popular profile of a Kitchen Cabinet member. Many of them hold or are set to hold official positions, while some are indeed merely his errand boys.
President Ruto also organised his campaign around sectors – legal, economic, political and coordination. Leaders and some members of these think-tanks fall in his inner circle of confidantes.
Interviews with people around the President and political analysts pointed to a lean group of politicians, who have remained close to him, business people said to have bankrolled his campaigns as well as technocrats he has tapped to help him deliver his campaign promises.
Some of these individuals have been nominated to the Cabinet while others are holding no positions in the government. They will, however, largely shape the country’s policy in the next five years.
First Lady Rachael Ruto, Cabinet secretary nominees Prof Kithure Kindiki (Interior), Kipchumba Murkomen (Transport and Roads), Davis Chirchir (Energy) and Aden Duale (Defence) form the inner circle.
Others mentioned are the President’s personal assistant Farouk Kibet, economist David Ndii, National Assembly Deputy Speaker Gladys Shollei, Mombasa-based businessman and founder of the DL Group David Lagat, MPs Oscar Sudi (Kapsaret), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu) and Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu MP), former Turkana Governor Josephat Nanok and Dr Korir Sing’oei, who served as legal advisor in the Office of the Deputy President.
Political analyst and university don Prof Macharia Munene holds that every regime is bound to have its own powerful men and women.
He says that these are the people with the President’s ear and are consulted for every major decision.
“It is not something new that there would be people who will be close to the President. These people don’t have to be in the cabinet. Of course there is the First Lady Rachael Ruto. Outside his immediate family, there are those people he talks to and he can rely on for advice,” says Prof Macharia.
“People like Murkomen are in that category. There are also people like Nanok; you don’t know what he is going to be in this government. These are people he listens to for advice. Whoever becomes the Chief of Staff and State House Comptroller are people who will be close to the President,” he observes.
In a recent interview, Moi-era State House Comptroller, Franklin Bett, told the Sunday Nation how private secretary to the President, State House Comptroller, Head of Public Service tend to become powerful in every regime because they are the eyes and ears of the president.
Prof Edward Kisiangani – who played a key role in President Ruto’s campaigns – said that the President was totally in charge and emergence of power brokers would be unlikely.
He says that President Ruto was not in the business of listening to people who badmouth others so as to be the favourites.
“He has people who he will consult but he remains in charge of his administration. I am persuaded that people around Ruto will play specific duties; there would be no room for people who will be moving from one ministry to the other every evening to collect money,” says Prof Kisiangani.
He adds, “The question of Kitchen Cabinet does not arise because the many moments that I have interacted with the President, I have realised he does not like talking about other people. He is not a ‘fitina’ person who will give you an audience to talk bad about others. I would be surprised if there would be a kitchen Cabinet in this administration.”
But political commentator and lawyer Danstan Omari says President Ruto will not run away from the norm that has in the past given rise to power brokers.
He says some of those powerful men and women would be operating outside the formal structure of the government.
He listed Mr Murkomen, Prof Kindiki, Ms Shollei, Mr Chirchir and Mr Lagat as some of the men and women likely to wield immense power.
“Worldwide, kitchen cabinets exist. They can be outside the cabinet or inside . In Ruto’s formation, there are those in the cabinet,” says Mr Omari.
He says Ms Shollei, who is outside the executive, will likely hold a lot of sway in the new administration. He cites her role in President Ruto’s campaign and at Bomas of Kenya.
“These are people he cannot ignore in his day-to-day running of the government. Some bankrolled the hustler movement campaigns. He will definitely not run the government outside the existing norms. He will have to listen to those who bankrolled the campaigns and those who helped him win the top seat,” he holds.
Critics, especially Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition lawmakers, say some of the people the President has placed at the heart of the running of his administration do not inspire confidence.
They cited integrity issues while, charging that some of the individuals are political flops.
“It is a collection of suspected criminals, hate mongers and perennial political flops. It inspires little confidence. Furthermore, the cabinet is highly deficient on reform credentials. What we have is an over-concentration of political court jesters without a discernible economic or political ideology,” says Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’.
His Vihiga counterpart Godfrey Osotsi says, “Clearly, the guiding principle in the cabinet pick was political patronage. Competency, ability and national values as stipulated under Article 10 was ignored. This Cabinet reminds us of the Moi-era cabinets.”
Given the different shades of personality in Ruto’s inner circle, it would perhaps be more accurate to call them “All the President’s men – and women”, he says.
The list is inconclusive, but the following would definitely find their names on it.
First Lady Rachel Ruto
She is not known to play active politics, but the election of her husband as the fifth President places her at the heart of power. She will be calling shots and determining who steps into the State House.
During the late President Mwai Kibaki’s regime, those who were in bad books with the then First Lady Lucy Kibaki could not access both the President and State House.
Ms Ruto has been involved in table banking and she is likely to create additional grassroot networks through the project.
Her role in the now monthly prayer meetings at State House also cements her place in the Kenya Kwanza administration. Her office also comes with immense trappings of power.
While Mr Kibet’s reputation as a ruthlessly efficient right hand man who gate-keeps on President Ruto is well-known, his wit and folk wisdom is less appreciated.
The man whose educational background is scanty, is a surprisingly brilliant organiser who cares for such nuanced issues as optics.
Conversations with people around the President reveal a man who doles out wisdom from time to time, wisdom that has shaped the course of the campaigns.
For instance, to the President’s allies who initially would relish attacking their opponents based on their modest education, Mr Kibet is said to have told the campaign to drop the taunt because the majority of voters, he said, were grade D material.
One of the earliest computer science graduates in Kenya, Chirchir’s confident articulation of issues, almost casual command of statistics, mathematics and computing concepts and vocabulary, makes him one of the most dependable men in a political contest.
President Kenyatta’s chief agent in 2013 and 2017, also played the same role in Ruto’s successful election, earning him a key place in the President’s corner.
A central figure in the political strategy department, the cabinet secretary nominee for the critical Energy docket has also played the Chief of Staff role.
The economist and maverick political activist is one of the surprise members of President Ruto’s inner circle.
A key strategist of Raila Odinga’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2017, he fell out with the veteran politician for “conniving with President Kenyatta to change the constitution to benefit a few people” under what became known as the Building Bridges Initiative.
Highly cerebral and intellectually arrogant, he is one of the few members of the inner circle said to enjoy the privilege to argue with the President.
He has reportedly refused to take up a public service job and would be content to work in a Kibaki-era-type national social and economic council advisory outfit. He joined President Ruto’s corner in 2020.
The 43-year-old eloquent lawyer is seen as the senior most elected leader from the Kalenjin Rift Valley after the President, having served as the Senate majority leader in the previous Jubilee administration before his ouster in the Jubilee purge targeting Ruto’s allies.
The Head of State regularly consults him on legal and political strategy. His nomination as the cabinet secretary for the powerful docket of Roads, Transport and Public Works – deemed lucrative due to the big-ticket infrastructure projects the ministry controls – attests to the level of trust the President has in him.
David Lagat, a Mombasa-based businessman and founder of the DL Group is said to be close to President Ruto.
Mr Lagat was part of the delegation that was to accompany Dr Ruto to Uganda last year before the trip aborted. They were required to seek clearance from President Kenyatta’s State House.
Others who were in the aborted Uganda trip included Mr Sudi, Turkish investor Harun Aydin, businessman David Muge, Simon Mogun and Nelson Kisalit.
He was recently photographed with President Ruto in the US, where he made his inaugural official trip and address at UN General Assembly.
Mr Lagat is known in Rift Valley as a bankroller of many politicians, something that he denies.
Dr Korir Sing’oei
Dr Sing’oei served as the Legal Advisor at the Office of the Deputy President. He also served as the Head of Law and Policy in the office.
Dr Sing’oei is a partner at Sing’oei Murkomen and Sigei (SMS) Advocates, a law firm he runs together with CS nominee Murkomen.
He is said to be one of the legal advisors of the Head of State.
When Dr Ruto signed the Executive Order appointing the six judges, he was one of the persons who was guiding the President.
The 36-year-old MP for Kiharu in Murang’a, now in his second term, is one of Ruto’s loyalists and was among those reportedly considered for the running mate position before the President eventually settled on Gachagua.
His oratorical power and business acumen endeared him to the President and marked him out as one of the rising political stars in the Mt Kenya region.
He accompanied the Head of State on his recent visit to the UK and the US.
The economist is set to clinch a powerful parliamentary committee leadership seat.
Also from Murang’a, the MP for Kandara, who has been nominated for the ministerial docket of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation, earned her place in the President’s corner for her bravery criticising then President Kenyatta publicly.
In April 2020, the lawyer described President Kenyatta as the biggest existential threat to Kenya’s economy, democracy, freedom of association, citing his push for the BBI constitutional amendments and the speculation that he was scheming to remain in power beyond 2022.
The popular MP for Kikuyu earned his place in President Ruto’s corner for his eloquence and courage to take on President Kenyatta despite coming from the latter’s presumed Kiambu stronghold.
Ichungwa was also one of the first politicians from central Kenya to cast his lot with Ruto after he fell out with his boss. For his steadfast support for Ruto, the former chair of the parliamentary budget and appropriations committee was de-whipped in 2020.
The cabinet secretary nominee for the powerful docket of Interior and National Administration had been seen as favourite for Ruto’s running mate in the August 9 election.
Ethnic considerations and political chutzpah in his competitor, Rigathi Gachagua, however carried the day.
The 50-year-old professor of law, who perhaps bore the biggest brunt of President Kenyatta’s wrath for the former’s loyalty to Ruto – he was de-whipped first from the position of Senate Majority Leader and Senate Deputy Speaker – remains a key cog of the UDA administration.
Prof Kithure has assumed the legal role in the KKA team.
Mr Nanok, who was once Mr Odinga’s close ally, was the man at the helm of Dr Ruto’s presidential campaign team after he was appointed the director general.
His duties included coordinating all the campaign activities as well as working with a team of strategists to come up with a manifesto.
He was not named in the 22-member Cabinet but continues to be close with the President. He makes appearances in major official functions attended by the President. Reports indicate that he is likely to land a powerful job at the State House.
Although he lacks the academic credentials and the pedigree of many of the people in the Ruto inner circle, the third-term MP for Kapseret is one of those footsoldiers the President would want to go to battle with.
Like Mark Too, the Moi-era Mr Fix It, Sudi is gifted with soft skills and is also said to be the man entrusted with running some of President Ruto’s high-profile errands.
Of all the people in the President’s inner circle, she is perhaps the closest to the heiress of a political dynasty – being the daughter of the wealthy Moi-era Nakuru politico Kihika Kimani.
The former Nakuru senator and county assembly speaker earned her place as one of the women in the President’s inner circle due to her grassroots mobilisation skills that saw Ruto carry the populous county with a landslide despite earlier concerns about the possibility of a recurrence of ethnic violence.
By Moses Nyamori & Onyango K’Onyango
Kitchen Cabinet: Men And Women In President Ruto’s Inner Circle