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Sunday, April 13, 2003 

The influential Young Turks of the 60s


Former Opposition leader Kenneth Matiba recalls that he was appointed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education in May 1963, when he was only 31.

"I felt proud that I was going to be in a prominent position while important political and constitutional changes were taking place. I was going to be a participant in that change," he recalls in his book, Aiming High.

Interestingly, those who lived to have a lasting impression on the nation during their careers in the Civil Service were appointed to key positions at a very tender age.

Born in 1932, Mr Matiba was to serve as Permanent Secretary in key ministries between 1963 and 1968. At different times, he was the PS for Education, Commerce, Home Affairs and Co-operatives.

When he was the PS for Commerce in 1964, the current President, Mr Mwai Kibaki, was the Minister. At only 32, Mr Matiba was the chief accounting officer of the ministry.

The Head of the Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet, Mr Francis Muthaura, is one of those who have made a mark, having held key positions at a tender age.

Born in Meru in 1946, his career started immediately he graduated from the University of Nairobi in 1972.

He served as a District Officer in Mombasa. But after only a year, he was elevated to an Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was 37.

Mr Duncan Ndegwa was appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya when he was only 39. He was born in 1925, and by 1964, he was Governor, a position he was to hold until 1982. He had started out as a statistician with the East Africa Community in 1956.

When MPs recently raised the alarm over the appointment and "recycling" of the old guard, Ford-People leader Simeon Nyachae, also a former career civil servant, defended the appointments.

Justifying Treasury secretary Joseph Magari's appointment, Mr Nyachae wondered who in Kenya was more experienced in financial matters than Mr Magari.

Records, however, indicate that Mr Nyachae is one of those who were able to excel largely because he was given a chance to prove himself at a young age.

Born in February 1932, Mr Nyachae had risen to the position of District Commissioner by December 1963. He was then 31. A book entitled, Kenya, Top 100 People, indicates that Mr Nyachae was appointed Provincial Commissioner in 1965. He was 33 then, and was to hold that position until 1979, when he was moved to the Office of the President as a Permanent Secretary. He was about 52, when he became the Head of the Public Service in 1984.

When Dr Richard Leakey set off on the path that was to gain him fame as a conservationist, he was less than 30 years old. Records indicate that he was born in December 1944, and in 1969, only 25 years later, he became the Director of the Kenya National Museums, a post he was to hold until 1989. He was only 45 when he was made the Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service in 1989.

When former Cabinet minister Jeremiah Nyagah became the PS in the Ministry of Power and Works in 1963, he was only 41. Born in 1920, Mr Nyagah first vied for a parliamentary election when he was barely 30. By 1966, aged 46, he was a Cabinet minister, a portfolio he was to hold until he retired from active politics in the late 1980s.

The first Minister for Information, Broadcasting and Tourism in independent Kenya, Ramogi Achieng Oneko, was 40 years old, when he was appointed to the position.

The Government did not expect less from him. Born in 1922, Mr Oneko was given the post in 1962, because he had been a publisher and a person who should be familiar with the area.

His one key brief was to help decolonise the Kenyan mind. Records on his performance talk of "the creative thinking that was evident especially in broadcasting" as his ministry struggled to re-orient the colonial thinking that had gripped Kenya for nearly a century.

President Kibaki is among those who joined the public service at a tender age. Born in 1931, he was elected MP for Bahati in Nairobi, from 1963 to 1974.

Aged only 32, Mr Kibaki became the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury. He was only 35, when he became the Minister for Commerce in 1966, a position he was to hold until 1969. When he moved to another key ministry, that of Finance and Economic Planning in 1969, he was only 38. Earlier, Mr Kibaki had at the age of only 29, been made the Kanu National Executive Officer in 1960, after he helped draft the party's constitution. When he became a member of the East Africa Central Legislative Assembly in 1962, he was only 31.

Now, as the President appoints people near or past retirement age to key positions, the nation is barely struggling to understand what he is up to and people are coming to many conclusions.

In the appointments, some read "a slow return to the old days" and an indication that President Kibaki's is a conservative, over cautious administration that does not want to take chances with people the Head of State does not know personally.

A Narc MP said: "There is a tendency by people to go back to what they know. Change is always scary. But what we are doing now is wrong. The country is well-endowed with talent and intellect. We need to tap it. We must pan out wide." 

Political scientist Jeremiah Owiti, the executive director of Centre for Independent Research, thinks President Kibaki and his team want to replicate an era they believe worked well: the Kenyatta presidency.

"They seem to think Kenyatta's was a golden era that they want to take Kenya back there. But it will not work. Circumstances have changed. Kenyatta reigned under friendly donors and during the period of economic boom worldwide. Kenyans were fewer and less critical than today."

An assistant minister said he understands these appointments to be products of "political patronage taking root" in Narc.

"Faith in old people is too conspicuous. People are being recycled as if there are no young Kenyans. The President is rewarding people he went to school with. He needs to breathe in some freshness. The energetic years of a human being are usually between 30 and 55. We should not fear to tap youthful energy."

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