Friday, December 02, 2016

Matiang'i, Kenya's Magufuli

Fred Matiang'i (Education, Science and Technology), Joe Mucheru (Information, Communications and Technology), Joseph Nkaiserry (Interior and Co-ordination of National Government) and George Magoha (Kenya National Examinations Council) have collaborated over a period of months and have been credited with overseeing an examinations season that had the lowest incidences of cheating and other irregularities in a very long time. Many credit this positive development to the personal leadership of the education minister and he is praised for being the rare dedicated, determined and professional public officer who delivers on his mandate. 

He is nicknamed "Magufuli" after the hard-charging President of the United Republic of Tanzania and compared favourably to the frighteningly efficient John Njoroge Michuki, the late former transport minister who brought the matatu industry to heel. President Magufuli makes impromptu visits to public offices, shining a spotlight on the sclerosis that seems to have paralysed his government and determined to inject vim and vigour in the system. Kenyans can recall that both the late Emmanuel Karisa Maitha (former local government minister) and John Michuki had a penchant for the out-of-the-blue meeting, striking the fear of the lord in lazy civil servants. 

This style management by ministerial fear-mongering seems to have served Mr Matiang'i well because the results for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination have been released to much fanfare ahead of when they usually are released (usually, some time after Christmas). I have no doubt that Mr Matiang'i encountered a ministerial bureaucracy that had simply resisted all attempts to enter the twenty-first century and he had no choice but to adopt a Magufuli persona. It seems to be the only way in which ministers can effect positive change in the ministries they head and to deny that Mr Matiang'i has been effective is to be grossly uncharitable. But, as with the reins of terror of Messrs Maitha and Michuki, it remains to be seen whether Mr Matiang'i has engendered an institutional transformation or whether things will go back to the way they were as soon as he is shoved out of the Cabinet.

Mr Maitha tragically died too early in hi tenure for us to know whether he would have institutionalised the changes he wanted in the Ministry of Local Government, the ministry charged with overseeing the operations of local authorities nationwide. Bastions of sloth and corruption, not even their conversion into county governments has reversed their tendency for great corruption and incredible sloth. 

We had the opportunity to test the Michuki Way in three separate ministries: transport, internal security and environment. In all three, Mr Michuki is remembered as a hard taskmaster and a stickler for rules and procedures, perhaps a throwback to his days as a colonial-era provincial administrator. At every ministry he headed, visible change was overseen by him, guided by his firm hand. And when he left that ministry, true to form, things fell apart because he didn't institutionalise the changes. The matatu sector is back to its derring-do days; internal security continues to attract the most corrupt public officials in all of the land; and the environment ministry has once again become a backwater of mendacity and rent-seeking. (The jury is still out on whether President Magufuli will reform the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania in his image or not.)

So far Mr Matiang'i has operated in secret and his plans remain largely unknown. He enjoys quite a positive press right now and he should capitalise on it. He should publish the details of the reforms he proposes or is implementing in the education sector and invite stakeholders and the general public to buy in. No matter the outcome, on the basis of the positive results of the 2016 KCPE, Mr Matiang'i has friends and he probably always will. But if he carries on in Lone Ranger fashion, it is almost certain that his reforms will have the very short staying power of the Michuki Rules.

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