Real deep State? Presidents come and go but Kinyua stays

Written by on 20 February 2023

For the last two decades, Joseph Kinyua straddled the civil service like a colossus as he went on to make history as the senior most public officer to have been relied upon by three presidents.

So when the then Head of the Public Service announced his exit from the public service on October 27, as he handed over to Felix Koskei after 44 years in the civil service, few could have imagined his services would still be required.

But unbeknown to many, Kinyua has never left the service, not even for a single day, according to government insiders.

“He has never left us even for a single day as President William Ruto retained him as part of his inner circle. In fact, he has played quite a pivotal role in shaping up the new administration,” a senior government official, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, told People Daily yesterday.

Multiple sources in government say Kinyua was retained in the Executive Office of the President where he undertakes some unspecified duties and only reports to Ruto, though he closely works with his successor, Koskei.

Airport drama

The source said Kinyua, who has been working on contract, could leave government sometimes in June.

And though he operates most of the time from State House, Nairobi, sources say Kinyua has another office at Harambee House which he occasionally reports to.

Ruto’s retention of Kinyua, after having sacked all high-ranking government officials who served under his predecessor, has left tongues wagging.

More baffling is the fact that most of the venomous communication from President Uhuru Kenyatta to his then deputy, Ruto, was relayed through Kinyua.

For instance, in August 2021, Ruto’s Communication Secretary David Mugonyi blamed Kinyua when his boss was denied permission to travel to Uganda.

“When he got to the airport, he (Ruto) was asked to seek clearance from Kinyua. We are surprised. This has never happened in the last nine years,” said Mugonyi at the time.

Kinyua was also part of the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) team accused by Ruto and his allies of allegedly attempting to frustrate his presidential bid.

Raila arrest

According Prof Gitile Naituli, a political analyst and lecturer at Multi-Media University, Kinyua may have been retained due to his wealth of experience in public service, critical and strategy thinking on politico-government issues and maturity.

“As one who has worked with him, Kinyua is not a victim of group and tribal thinking. Besides having institutional memory, Kinyua thinks outside the box and very fast,” Prof Naituli said.

Naituli cites one instance while working as a commissioner at the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) under the chairmanship of Francis ole Kaparo when they resolved to arrest opposition leader Raila Odinga for allegedly inciting members of two communities.

“When I approached Kinyua for a second opinion, he just asked me one question: After the arrest, where shall you put him? And when I asked Kaparo the same question, the whole idea was dropped,” Naituli said.

The university don says given the inexperience of almost all members of Ruto’s Cabinet, Kinyua’s services are still essential.

Those in government say despite having been retained on contract, Kinyua has kept a low profile, only interacting with the President and a select few high ranking technocrats in the Executive Office of the President.

Both Emmanuel Tallam, the Secretary to the Presidential Communication Service (PSC) and Hussein Mohamed, the State House spokesman, were not available to either confirm or deny Kinyua’s presence in government as their telephones went unanswered. Neither did they respond to short text messages.

The narration from government sources contradict reports that had gone viral on social media indicating that Ruto had recalled the former long serving civil servant to help get things back on track.

According to social media reports, the Chief of Staff Felix Koskei had been unable to steady the ship, forcing the President to recall Kinyua, a hands-on officer, who is also extremely experienced on matters of public service, to guide him.

Four governments

Kinyua handed over the mantle to Koskei last year bringing to an end one of the most illustrious careers in public service that had seen him serve in four administrations of presidents Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta, Mwai Kibaki and Daniel arap Moi.

In his short speech, after he ushered in his predecessor, Kinyua termed his 44 years of service as profound.

“I thank you and your predecessors for according me the privilege to serve in four successive administrations and in yours as well. It has been a profound honor and a humbling journey. I’m immensely grateful to be accorded the rare opportunity to serve Kenyan and the great men chosen to be President,” Kinyua had said in his farewell speech at State House, during the swearing-in of Ruto’s Cabinet.

On his part, the President had nice words for Kinyua for ensuring that there was a smooth transition after the August 2022 elections.

“Mr Kinyua has made this transition seamless. He has worked with me to make sure Kenya gives an example of what transition looks like,” said Ruto.

Kinyua ascended to high echelons of government in 2013 after being appointed by President Uhuru, becoming one of the oldest public servants.

The 70-year-old was a trusted ally of Uhuru who took him from a Principal Secretary at the National Treasury to the State House.

Kinyua rose to the position of the most powerful public servant in the State House, gaining President Uhuru’s full confidence to the point where even Cabinet Secretaries had to go via him before making any presentations to the President.

Retirement age

Described by peers and all those who know him as a workaholic, Kinyua is also said to be incorruptible and prudent in the use of State resources.

While at Treasury, he was alleged to have arrived at 4am, while others, including his boss Uhuru, arrived at 8am.

This is the second time Kinyua has been requested by a president to extend his stay in government. In 2013, Uhuru appointed Kinyua as Head of the Public Service despite having attained his retirement age, and in 2019, the then President extended his contract against his plea to step down.

Kinyua’s career began in 1978 as an assistant lecturer at the University of Nairobi before he moved the Central Bank of Kenya as an economist in 1980 and eventually attained the position of director of research.

Between 1985 and 1990, he served as an economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before he returned to CBK.

From January 2003 until his appointment as Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Planning and National Development in January 2003, Kinyua was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance.

He held positions on a number of State corporation boards. He serves as an Alternate Governor on the Board of Governors of the World Bank and on the Programme Committee of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC).

In 2020, Kinyua was tasked with chairing the Inter-ministerial Committee making arrangements for the State Funeral of former President Daniel arap Moi.

He also chaired the transition committee that oversaw the exit of Uhuru’s administration and the induction of President Ruto’s government.

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