Why Ruto’s ally Charles Keter holds the lucrative Ministry of Energy

Energy Cabinet Secretary(CS) Charles Keter [Pius Cheruiyot]

President Uhuru Kenyatta recently named part of his Cabinet and the man at the helm of what is dubbed the ‘lucrative Ministry of Energy’ kept his job: Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter (pictured0.

The Energy docket is deemed third, in terms of power and influence, to Internal Security and Finance, but it’s apparently more sought after going by its past holders. In fact, Kenyan presidents only vest it on trusted loyalists.

Under the Jubilee Coalition, Deputy President William Ruto kept the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum under Keter, who was a member of his United Republican Party (URP) and Kericho Senator before he was appointment in December 2015.  Keter, who for two years was the  Deputy Leader of Majority in Senate also served as Assistant Minister for Energy and Petroleum in the two years to  2010. 

The Energy docket is dished out selectively for various reasons, including the loaded liquidity of energy sector players who are crucial during election campaigns and attendant fundraisings.

It also provides a visible political carrot to the electorate: affordable power. Wasn’t the ‘Last Mile Connectivity Project’ part of Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign tool? The only change is that in the past, Energy ministers doubled up as political party heavyweights and regional kingpins.

During the rein of founding President Jomo Kenyatta, the docket,  then named the Ministry of Power and Communications, was reserved for loyalist Kanu chieftains and powermen. Think Eliud Ngala Mwendwa (1963 -66), James Nyamweya (1967-69) and Coast nationalist supremo Ronald Ngala (1970-72), before Isaac Omolo Okero, Kenyatta’s anti-Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Trojan horse, took over from 1973 to 1979.

When old Jomo exited, and retired President Daniel arap Moi succeeded him and swore to follow Mzee’s nyayo, and so the trend continued.

To placate Kenyatta’s former loyalists from Central Kenya as he set to consolidate his power, Moi gave the docket to pioneer Kenyan diplomat and scion of respected Kikuyu warrior lineage, Dr Munyua Waiyaki (1980-81), before sneaking in JH Okwanyo and Gilbert Kabere M’Mbijiwe from Meru in quick succession, and finally bringing it ‘close home’ to the late Nicholas Biwott in 1983 to 1985.

  Biwott showed what one could do with the docket as one source of his vast wealth was pegged on his tenure as Minister for Energy during his first stab  and again in 1990 and 1996) which established him as one of the trusted loyalists.

When the Opposition began giving Moi political migraine during the onset of the 1997 General Election, he dangled the carrot to the Mt Kenya region and handed the Energy ministry to Kirugi Laiboni M’Mukindia in 1996, who later passed it to Western region to Chris Okemo, in reward for work done in fighting off the strong Ford Kenya wave in the region.

The juggling would pass from one regional chieftain to another, among them Simeon Nyachae, before finally Moi dangled it to a real big fish in real war time masterstroke, when  Raila Odinga was convinced to disband his National Development Party (NDP), in exchange for ‘a share’ of government.

The slice of government was the Energy Ministry in 2002.    

After Moi’s exit, his successor Mwai Kibaki followed the same script, and used the docket to trash his  2002 pre-election power sharing MOU with Raila Odinga, while making a failed effort to  bypass Raila and entice the Luo stronghold by giving the docket to a political minion, Ochilo Ayacko, instead of a Raila appointee.

The trick was to retain close control of the docket through his own appointee, which he couldn’t have done under the power-sharing terms. The gamble backfired; badly.

Ayacko would finally give way to Simeon Nyachae under the Government of National Unity deal after the fallout between Kibaki and Raila following the 2005 referendum, after  which Kibaki loyalist and confidante, Kiraitu Murungi, finall, took over in 2006 and held on to it for a full five-year tenure from 2008 to 2012.

Among the big institutions in its stable include Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), Energy Tribunal, Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC), Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), Rural Electrification Authority (REA), Geothermal Development Company (GDC), Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO),  Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB),  Independent Power Producers (IPPs),  Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) and National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK).

These are huge institutions of strategic national interest that handle billions of shillings annually and offer plum jobs and business opportunities, making the man (there has never been a woman) at the helm of the Energy ministry one of the most powerful individuals in government.