How Kenya’s politics influenced chase game in choice of the new EAC boss

Local politics could have influenced Kenya’s last-minute change of its nominee for the Secretary-General of the East African Community, who was due for swearing-in last week.

On Monday, Kenya replaced Caroline Mwende Mueke, its initial nominee for the post, with Veronica Mueni Nduva, the Principal Secretary for Performance and Delivery Management in the Ministry of Public Service.

Ms Nduva is awaiting swearing-in by the Summit after the Council of ministers adopted her nomination on April 16. An extraordinary Summit is expected in the coming days.

This chain of events was triggered by the recall on March 8 of Peter Mathuki, who was besieged by legislators over accountability claims at the Secretariat.

Read: Why EAC boss Peter Mathuki has to go

Amid a crescendo of accusations of unauthorised expenditure by the regional legislative assembly, President William Ruto recalled Dr Mathuki and nominated him as Kenya’s ambassador to Russia. And Parliament cleared him to take up the new job.


But the recall was criticised as unprocedural and against the EAC Treaty. Indeed, Ugandan lawyer Male Mabirizi went to the East African Court of Justice to challenge the decision by Kenya. The petition is still pending.

To correct the anomaly, Kenya wrote to the EAC formalising the Mathuki recall.

In an official letter addressed to the chairperson of the EAC Council of Ministers, Deng Alor Kuol, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for EAC Peninah Malonza posted a notice of withdrawal of Dr Mathuki.

“Kenya hereby gives notice of withdrawal of Dr Peter Mutuku Mathuki as the secretary-general, from the date to be determined by the summit of heads of State,” said Ms Malonza in a letter dated March 15 and copied to all partner states.

“This has been occasioned by his nomination on 8th March 2024 for appointment as the ambassador of Kenya to Moscow, Russia, by the President. He is now to serve the republic in a different capacity.”

That was seen as clearing a hurdle for Ms Mueke.

In a letter dated April 15, 2024 addressed to the chair of the EAC Council of Ministers, Ms Malonza announced the nomination of Ms Nduva and gave no reason for Kenya’s U-turn on Ms Mueke.

Read: Kenya makes shock U-turn on Mwende EAC nomination

But in an interview with The EastAfrican this week, Ms Malonza, while noting that it is the prerogative of the President to appoint whomever he wanted, conceded that local politics may just have influenced the final choice.

It is believed that she had a hand in the decision.

The trio of Mathuki, Mueke and Nduva come from the Kamba community in the lower eastern region of Kenya. Ms Malonza is one of the two ministers from the region.

It has emerged that the Kambas insisted it was their right to “finish” Dr Mathuki’s tenure, hence the consideration of Ms Mueke.

“We don’t know why he varied the appointment but because he had both CVs for the candidates, we believe that he made the best choice,” said Ms Malonza, adding, “Number two is the whole agenda of considering Ukambani region, given that Mathuki came from Ukambani — and this position, again, has been taken back to Ukambani, and more specific to Machakos, where Mathuki hails from.”

Ms Nduva hails from Machakos County while Ms Mueke was born in Nairobi but her parents are from Kitui County.

“Appointment is the jurisdiction of the President. He appoints as per the advice of his advisers on what he feels is the best in terms of the strength of the candidate,” said Ms Malonza in an interview with The EastAfrican.

“One thing that we are very happy about is that this appointment was first made of a woman. The second attempt was not thrown away because he replaced Mwende with a fellow woman.”

She is going to be the first woman EAC secretary-general.

Unlike Ms Mueke, who is based in Juba where she is a special adviser to the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss), Ms Nduva has been actively involved in Machakos County politics, which observers say could have influenced her most recent appointment.

Read: Kenya politicians continue using ethnicity to divide and rule

“We appreciate the move for us as a community and as a Cabinet Secretary I believe he made the right choice. We must congratulate him for making that choice,” Ms Malonza said.

Ms Mueke’s brother, Jonathan Mueke, is also a principal secretary and is a former deputy governor of Nairobi.

Machakos Deputy Governor Francis Mwangangi acknowledged that the turn of events was linked to the politics of the ruling United Democratic Alliance (UDA) in Ukambani.

However, sources within government said that Ms Mueke’s cautious response to the appointment added to the fact that she would need to serve a three-month notice, delaying the posting to Arusha, which Nairobi was eager to fill as soon as possible in view of the circumstances under which Dr Mathuki left.

Ms Mueke thanked the President for having considered her in the first place.

“I was deeply honoured to receive the initial nomination for the position of Secretary-General to serve the people of the East African Community. I thank His excellency the President of Kenya for this nomination,” she said. “I extend my congratulations to PS Veronica Nduva on her nomination. I will continue to serve the community in my current capacity at the United Nations.”

Curiously, days before she was dropped, she had told The EastAfrican she was ready to serve as the sixth Secretary-general because “I am East African at heart” and considered herself as a global citizen “by virtue of life and work experience.”

She said she was passionate about “the concept of servant leadership and inspiring others to work towards common goals through “consensus building, collaboration, and coordination.”

All that was changed by politics.

Read: A hot potato: EAC secretary general seat

In Ruto’s government, the other Kamba Cabinet Secretary is Alfred Mutua, a former Machakos County governor who now serves in the Tourism docket.

The incoming EAC secretary-general is a career civil servant, governance expert, an administrator and diplomat.

She has served in two ministries since her appointment in December 2022. Her first station as Pricipal Secretary was the State Department for Gender and Affirmative Action.

No stranger to the EAC, Ms Nduva was a lead researcher on the establishment of a Good Governance Review Mechanism for the East African Community in 2013.

“Being a PS and having worked in two State departments and of course looking at her historical background and as an attache at the US Embassy, she was exposed to diplomatic attributes that we are looking for and she also has experience on how the EAC works before,” said Ms Malonza.

Seen by many as a social and active participant in her home country of Machakos, Ms Nduva was born in Machakos County in 1976, and grew up in Nairobi.

She attended Donholm Primary school in the capital city completing in 1990. “I was the school’s head girl,” she told The EastAfrican.

She then went to State House Girls High School in the capital city, where she was the deputy house captain. She was an active debater and played hockey.

She joined the University of Nairobi, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Public Administration in 2000. She later studied for a Master’s in Communication Studies at the same university in 2016.

In 2003, she joined the Institute for Civic Affairs and Development where she worked as a programmes coordinator until 2006.

She later moved to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights in the Ministry of Justice, as the national coordinator.

Ms Nduva oversaw the publication of the Sessional Paper No. 3 of 2014, National Policy and Action Plan on Human Rights, marking an important government milestone in the promotion and protection of human rights, and effected Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Kenya.

Reporting to the inter-ministerial steering committee, she was tasked with the development of the policy and action plan.

During Kenya’s constitution-making process, Ms Nduva spearheaded the nationwide civic education on the draft Constitution as a Deputy Director, Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review from 2009 to 2010.

“I spearheaded nationwide civic education on the draft Constitution, contributing directly to the 72 percent voter turnout and a 67 percent approval of the 2010 referendum, leading to the successful promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya in August 2010,” she says.

In 2014, she was appointed senior political specialist/special adviser at the US Embassy, Nairobi.

“My political analysis has ensured a better understanding of Kenya’s complex political environment and helped build close relationships with virtually all major political players,” she says.

She was moved as a principal secretary to the State Department for Performance and Delivery Management in a reshuffle late last year.

Ms Malonza says the incoming EAC boss’s immediate task will be to widen and deepen the EAC integration process and pick up from where Dr Mathuki left.

“The expectation is that she conducts herself in the highest performance levels because Kenya is a founder member and largest economy in the regional bloc,” the CS said. “As a woman, the expectation is that she will also apply the inner attributes of a mother that show the strength of a woman in leadership.”

Ms Nduva is married with three children.

Meanwhile, the Council has nominated Deputy Secretary-General Annette Ssemuwemba to act in the position until a new appointment is made.

“The Council has decided that Deputy Secretary-General in charge of Customs, Trade and Monetary Affairs, Ms Annette Ssemuwemba, shall perform the duties of the Secretary-General of the Community with effect from 16 April 2024 until the appointment and assumption of duty by the new Secretary General,” reads an internal memo addressed to EAC staff.

Additional reporting by Aggrey Mutambo

Source:  The East African

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