January 14, 2020 / 9:00 AM / 12 days ago

Kenya's president reshuffles cabinet amid rift with deputy president

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s president confirmed on Tuesday his acting finance minister would take the job permanently, during a cabinet reshuffle that put his allies in key positions amid a growing power struggle between the president and his deputy.

FILE PHOTO: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, speaks during a state funeral of Zimbabwe's longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, at the national sports stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe, September 14, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

Ukur Yatani was appointed acting finance minister in July after his predecessor, Henry, Rotich was arrested on suspicion of financial misconduct, charges Rotich denies. Yatani is considered a trusted pair of hands after taking steps to address growing government spending and debt.

President Uhuru Kenyatta also fired the agriculture minister, Mwangi Kiunjuri, a close ally of the deputy president. The president nominated as the new health minister Mutahi Kagwe, a man he has worked with previously.

The reshuffle follows headlines about a growing rift between Kenyatta, who must step down when his second five-year term finishes in 2022, and Deputy President William Ruto, who considers himself the heir apparent.

Kenyatta said during the last election that he would support Ruto in 2022, continuing an alliance between Ruto’s ethnic Kalenjin community and Kenyatta’s Kikuyu community that delivered two election wins for Kenyatta.

But Kenyatta is growing closer to veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, with both promoting a high-profile government initiative begun in November to tackle election violence by creating more positions, including a prime minister.

“It appears it is more and more Raila and Uhuru in one camp and the deputy president struggling to fit in,” said Macharia Munene, who teaches history and international relations at the USIU-Africa university in Nairobi.

In addition, Kenyatta nominated to become the minister of trade and industrialisation Betty Maina, a technocrat whose career has blossomed under Kenyatta.

Kenyatta also swapped the jobs of the defence minister, Raychelle Omamo, and the foreign affairs minister, Monica Juma, and appointed Peter Odoyo, a former lawmaker aligned with Odinga, to the number three position in the defence ministry.

ECONOMIC WOES

Kenyans are concerned about mounting debt, corruption scandals and a population growing faster than the job market. Last year, the government missed revenue targets. Kenyatta addressed some of these concerns in his speech.

“We must use politics to shift the economy and indeed to address the plight of the most vulnerable members of our society,” Kenyatta said. “We still have remnants of poverty despite years of progress.”

Several senior officials, including ministers, governors and heads of state firms, have been charged with corruption since 2018, but there have been no high-profile convictions. Kenyatta blamed the judiciary on Tuesday.

“The judiciary should give us convictions as an indication that we are winning in this war,” he said.

He urged the central bank to prevent predatory lending and to boost affordable, commercial bank lending to the micro, small and medium enterprises.

“This sector is indeed the lifeblood of our economy,” he said.

Editing by Katharine Houreld and

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