Kenya’s President William Ruto is expected to unveil his first cabinet ministers and senior officials in the coming days, which is sure to prompt an intense scrutiny of the new government’s commitment to ethnic and gender diversity.
Local media reports suggest that President Ruto is likely to announce key civil service appointments once he returns from the US, where he delivered his maiden speech as Kenya’s leader at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.
With just 22 cabinet secretaries to be filled and 44 chief secretaries — according to the outgoing government — President Ruto faces a difficult task of managing legal requirements for diversity in public service, concerns about bloated public payrolls, and campaign promise expectations of appointments made to women and political parties in his Kenya-Kwanza coalition.
For example, to counter the nomination of a female vice president by his presidential rival Raila Odinga, he said he would reserve half of the cabinet posts for women.
Cabinet posts are fixed at 22 in Kenya’s constitution, but a president has some leeway in the number of people he can appoint as principal secretaries – the senior officials responsible for running ministries.
It is not clear whether President Ruto, who wanted to publicly play up his respect for the rule of law and bring the judiciary to justice, will retain the unconstitutional position of chief administrative secretary. The post, controversially created by former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017 and given roles similar to those of a deputy minister under the old constitution, was ruled illegal by a court last year.
Kenya’s Cohesion and Integration Law, enacted after the 2007 and 2008 election-related violence, requires that no public body should have more than a third of its staff from the same ethnic community.
The Public Service Commission, officially the employer of government staff, also introduced a diversity policy in 2015, requiring ethnic groups to be represented in government departments, departments and agencies according to their proportions in the national population.
However, a 2019 review of 24 public bodies by the National Assembly’s Committee on Cohesion and Equal Opportunities found that none of the institutions adequately represent all of Kenya’s 43 ethnic groups.
In a country where civil service appointments are often tied to the sharing of national resources and the stability of ethnic coalitions ahead of elections, President Ruto’s first cabinet will also be scrutinized as to who holds key ministries such as Treasury, Transport and Infrastructure, energy and agriculture.
Appointments to the four ministries are considered lucrative given their vast resources, including budget funds and high-profile government contracts.