Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i appears to be the personification of the intransigence that has marked the initial stages of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s final term.
After eventful tenures in the ICT and Education dockets, the Cabinet Secretary has taken his tough, uncompromising style of delivery to the Interior ministry – arguably the most high-profile, but notoriously complex, portfolio.
Appointed acting Cabinet Secretary after the sudden death of his predecessor Maj-Gen (rtd) Joseph Nkaissery last July, Dr Matiang’i’s first assignment was to oversee the peaceful delivery of the country’s elections.
The Supreme Court would later nullify the August 8 election victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta and order a repeat vote on October 26, which was boycotted by opposition candidate Raila Odinga.
The aftermath of that poll was marked by opposition protests and culminated in the controversial January 30 “swearing-in” of Mr Raila Odinga as the “People’s President”, posing a test to the security sector under Dr Matiang’i.
In recent weeks, the government has come down hard on the media and opposition figures in a crackdown that Dr Matiang’i characterises as intended to enforce the law and assert the authority of the government.
“There is too much lawlessness in this country and that must stop. The law is broken by people of all walks of life – including leaders that want to govern the country – and that must not be allowed. Respect for the law is something we must enforce and that is what I will try to do as the Interior Cabinet Secretary,” he said, adding that the January 30 event was illegal.
CRACKDOWN TO GO ON
During a wide-ranging interview with the Nation at his Harambee House office, the CS said the crackdown following that event will continue until all those involved face the full force of the law.
“Nothing that we are doing contravenes the law and we will continue implementing that,” he said.
The Cabinet Secretary also criticised the Judiciary over recent rulings targeted at the Executive and said the Judiciary needs to be even-handed in its criticism of the Executive.
“We have complete respect for the courts and their rulings will always be obeyed as long as they are served. It is not fair to criticise the government for not obeying an order when it has not been served,” he said.
Not surprisingly, it is the robust reaction to the “oath” declaring Mr Odinga the “people’s president” – including banning the Nasa affiliated National Resistance Movement (NRM), several arrests, withdrawal of bodyguards and gun licences of opposition politicians, and the controversial deportation of ‘NRM General’ Miguna Miguna to Canada – that dominated most of the conversation.
“We have collected some information and we are holding some people and investigations are ongoing. We have to operate with a lot of care because if we rush to court with a weak case, we will be accused of shoddy work,” he said.
The CS said he was proud of how the security agencies conducted themselves on January 30, when Mr Odinga was “sworn in” at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, by withdrawing instead of confronting those attending the event that had been declared illegal.
“The government pulled a fast one on the organisers. Security management is a dynamic area. Sometimes, security can be managed with tact and brains instead of brawn. I enjoy sitting down with our heads of security – very smart guys,” he said.
He said that in the past few weeks, he has re-organised the regional administration and he is now looking at working with the police to clean up its image and ensure honest and diligent service delivery.
“We need to ask ourselves whether we are getting the right people into the forces and how we can motivate them to stop seeing the service as a utility area to collect bribes and grow rich,” he said, adding that this was going to be his key focus in the coming months.
Despite recent criticism of security agencies, especially over the brutal handling of opposition protests, Dr Matiang’i was full of praise for them.
Police reforms, he said, was a key priority with the recent launch of the standing orders and the new mobility structure of promotion “to remove guesswork” in career paths as a morale booster.
While some have criticised the Jubilee administration for supposedly taking the country back to the Kanu-era dictatorship of President Daniel arap Moi and disregarding the 2010 Constitution, Dr Matiang’i said everything the security agencies have been doing was, in fact, meant to enhance the rule of law and ensure people enjoy their freedoms without interference.
He also defended the withdrawal of firearms issued to opposition MPs and the revoking of passports for prominent opposition figures, moves which have been challenged in court.
GUIDED BY LAW
Dr Matiang’i said the government was guided by the provisions of Public Order Act, Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act 2011, and Firearms Act.
“When I was at ICT ministry people said I was turning the clock back to the Moi days; that I was draconian. This is the most liberal and tolerant government you can think of. People are saying I have brought the ruthlessness I had at Education (ministry) to Security. But was I ruthless, really? I am just carrying out my mandate,” he said.
Throughout the interview, the former university lecturer frequently excused himself to answer phone calls, including some he deemed too important to be received within our earshot. It is all in a day’s work, he quipped, an indication of the high-pressure environment he operates in.
True to form, as the conversation with the Nation progressed, Dr Matang’i did not shy away from broaching controversial issues.
And few things raise a bigger storm than criticism of the Judiciary – and its relationship with other arms of government.
“Time has come for Kenyans to have a robust debate on the quality and kind of Judiciary we have. We are pretending that we have a credible Judiciary — we do not have one. I am one of the people who have been frustrated by their blatant bias. And we have clear cases of incompetence; we are so frustrated by the behaviour of this Judiciary,” he said.
Dr Matiang’i gave one instance he says is frustrating: “In the last six months, we have disciplined 172 police officers and all of them got court orders that have enabled them to come back to work”
NOT TREATED FAIRLY
He said that despite what he called victories for “opposition and vexatious litigants” in the High Court, the government has not been treated fairly.
He gave examples where the Attorney-General is yet to get headway in seeking orders on Nasa’s People’s Assemblies, the contempt of court case filed by Jubilee regarding October 26 presidential election against the opposition, and matters touching on the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway. The cases are, however, in various stages in the court process.
Away from the aftermath of the “swearing-in” of Mr Odinga, Dr Matiang’i warned that, together with his Transport counterpart, his eyes are trained on matatu and boda boda riders who appear to have become a law unto themselves.