By Nzau Musau
He burst into the national arena in 2013 after the serious horse-trading that was the naming of the first Uhuru-Rut Cabinet. From duties at the American embassy to a towering Education and Interior CS, the man is now criticized and celebrated in equal measure.
In five years, he has transformed himself into a Mr. Fix-it-all, bestriding key public sectors like a colossus while taking no prisoners. If in doubt? Ask former bigwigs in the Kenya National Examinations Council. As a director of the USAID-funded State University of New York’s (SUNY) Parliamentary Strengthening Programme in the 10th Parliament, very little was known of him even though he rubbed shoulders with the country’s top politicians in the unicameral House.
Before that, his stint at the Institute for Education and Democracy (IED) – the same pot that brewed civil society giants like Koki Muli and the late Grace Githu – had been quite unremarkable. At the University of Nairobi and Egerton where he taught English, he was not striking either.
In fact, by 2009 and besides his substantive duties, he played interesting role in the American embassy. In the Wikileaks exposes released last year, Matiang’i was the source of American assurance that a censure motion against it by former Kabete MP Paul Muite would not see the light of the day.
In a separate incident involving the controversial re-appointment of Aaron Ringera as Director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, Matiang’i’s conversation with his future boss Uhuru Kenyatta was reported in one of the diplomatic cables.
“Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Uhuru Kenyatta reached out to Fred Matiang’i, the director of the USAID-funded State University of New York’s (SUNY) Parliamentary Strengthening Programme, to complain that he was being asked to ‘carry the water’ for the unpopular move by the President, Kilonzo and Muthaura,” the cable leaked out by Wikileaks and published in its website says.
But one year into the national stage in 2013, he became an instant hit, more like a shooting star – scoring unbelievable quick wins in hearts and minds of both his employers and the general public.
A slave-driver relishing in his employer’s confidence, he browbeat media houses into a forced digital migration that sent the industry sprawling with financial and job losses they are yet to recover from. After two and a half years of fighting hard, Matiang’i was removed from the ICT Ministry in a drastic overhaul of the docket whose true motives have never been satisfactorily explained. He was thrust into the bigger but murkier Education docket with a mandate to reform the sector.
From his demeanour, and the expanse of the docket, it was presumed to be a promotion. Starting off with random but highly-publicised visits to secondary schools, he set on the job with incomparable gusto – catching school managers flatfooted, cheered on by students and the public, and barking orders right, left and centre.
In his first year of office at Jogoo House, he pulled a rabbit out of a hat by slamming brakes on the number of A’s scored in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations. One skeptical analyst described the situation as “an epochal kill” where he left behind “a wasteland of academic carcasses”. “The no-nonsense CS told the country that he had cleaned up the system.
In one fell swoop, the son of Matiang’i slew the demons of cheating cartels and the web of syndicates that had completely corrupted the bone marrow of the education system,” incisive columnist Makau Mutua wrote. Mutua did not believe Matiang’i could do so without firing a single shot, sending a single culprit to jail and without a systemic overhaul of the sector. He concluded the CS had served a “KSCE Kool-Aid” on the nation, essentially a con act. But Matiang’i trudged on undeterred, applauded by his bosses and trusting Kenyans.
When his Lands colleague Charity Ngilu was forced out over corruption scandal, it was Matiang’i the president looked up to for help. [Ngilu has since been cleared by a court of law.] When his equally abrasive Interior colleague Joseph Nkaissery suddenly died before the election, it was Matiang’i who stepped into the big shoes.
Duing his temporary reign at the Office of the President, the police have been accused of dropping most of the standards they had started to adopt after 2010. The unapologetic police killings – especially of minors – over the election period shocked the country as was the unnecessary grandstanding over NASA leader Raila Odinga’s arrival from an overseas trip.
Similarly shocking was the talk attributed to Matiang’i, which appeared to suggest an approval for banned vigilante groups. The otherwise grave matter disappeared in the mist of growing dread for the man who describes himself as “just a simple man going about his life”. It is during his time as acting Interior CS that the civil society has felt the full wrath of the Jubilee administration.
The Fazul Mahamed-led NGO Coordination Board, which falls under Matiang’i, has flexed its muscles against established civil society organisations – threatening, discrediting and destroying a number of them. MAN OF THE YEAR And just when Kenyans were beginning to settle down after a very difficult year, Matiang’i pulled more surprises to earn himself the man of the year title.
In the 2017 KCSE results released in record time, the number of students qualified to join universities shrunk even further. He ordered merger of boards of schools sharing compounds, amalgamation of their management and mass transfer of school heads. We haven’t mentioned his fights with book publishers, his eternal blow on long-serving chair of Kenya Parents Association Musau Ndunda and his duels with teacher’s trade unions.
The man who avows to possessing only two ambitions in life – to live for God and to honour his President – appears dead-set on rolling out the new curriculum in the New Year. He has also promised radical reforms in the university sector. He is clearly unstoppable.
Source: Sunday Standard