Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i spoke in a wide-ranging interview with the Nation.
Below are some excerpts of the interview.
What’s your assessment of security status? Is there a security threat that Kenyans should worry about ahead of elections?
Nearly two years ago, we began a process of deploying structures across the country to monitor community interactions. We mapped the country and looked at areas where we would have some vulnerabilities. I can assure Kenyans we have no evidence or indication whatsoever that there is any cause to worry.
Some political players have been on the campaign trail for four years, and nothing has happened. We are much better prepared for these elections than the past two. We have more resources.
There have been claims of plans to rig the elections. Does it worry you?
In 2017, a politician of national status claimed that we were moving 100 body bags to a part of the country because there were 100 people who had been killed by police. I challenged them, but they never gave any evidence. Another claimed we had massed groups of security agencies along ethnic lines including, unfortunately, military generals to Naivasha for a meeting. They even went to write to IEBC. Those were total lies. Kenyans have learnt to deal with these propagandists.
I am not aware of any plans to interfere with the General Election. Those who are making those claims have not substantiated them. We are treating the claims with the contempt they deserve. None of them have said how it’s going to happen.
On the neutrality of security agencies, what assurance can you give going to the elections that there’s no preferred outcome from a security standpoint?
We act strictly according to the law. We changed the Constitution but many of our political players didn’t change. The NPS is an independent entity. The law requires that if I have to direct the IG, I have to put it in writing. Since I became minister for Interior, I have only written once to Boinnet and once to Mutyambai. The IG and DCI do not work at my behest.
We are very conscious that whatever we do we will be held to account. I have asked security officials, let us do the right thing for this country. Our feelings, emotions and interests are secondary.
There have been concerns about Matiang’i being seen in campaigns for a political candidate in this election.
Don’t security officers anywhere in the world, even in some of the most advanced democracies, (appear at campaigns)? For example, the US soldiers, wherever they are, vote because they have preferences. Does the fact that I am the minister for Interior take away my feelings and preferences in the electoral process?
What should be measured is what I feel and desire to happen and how I act. When it comes to actions, I have to serve everyone equally. Even MPs, whatever the party, all come to my office, because if you want to discuss a sub-location, you have to discuss with the minister of Interior. That part of the country is served by one minister for Interior.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have friends. I am not a piece of metal. Public officers are not machines.
To Kenyans who might not support the presidential candidate you support, what assurance do you give them that the Interior CS is going into the elections with an open mind and neutrality?
I have made those assurances. We respect the law. Every one of our actions is stuff we are ready to be accountable for. There is no bias within our sector.
It’s a lie. I haven’t been on the campaign trail. I and the AG, because of the sensitivity of the jobs we do, have stayed away from public meetings and broad campaign activities for obvious reasons. I don’t think there is any evidence of bias at all. Some of our politicians will claim anything.
Even judges of the Supreme Court who make a decision and interpret the law on an election vote, they exercise their citizenship responsibility. But then they interpret the law and look at the facts before them.
That is what all of us are expected to do. If you come to me on a campaign issue, and I take a decision that you think is not entirely objective, then you are right to say I am biased.
Even during the Covid-19 enforcement measures, we stopped Jubilee meetings as much as we stopped the others. We require that before you hold a meeting, you notify the OCS. There are incidents when I have personally called the SG of Jubilee before to tell them, ‘You cannot go on with meetings because the police say you haven’t notified them’. They have complied. When Tuju was SG there were several times I would tell him we can’t do that because we all have to play by the rules.
You support Raila for the presidency, he has opponents, how are they supposed to trust you to ensure impartial elections?
How does that inhibit my objective action? I was in this role in 2017, the kind of accusations the government faced, including from ODM, who are now in a relationship with Jubilee, none of those could be substantiated.
Do you think it’s proper for people who hold public office, including Cabinet Secretaries, to be directly involved in partisan politics?
I think we are just pretentious. People are not machines or pieces of wood or stones. People have feelings. We can’t say we are a country that respects freedoms and rights, then we say there is a certain segment of society that is not supposed to enjoy such freedoms.
Everyone has the right to express themselves, provided you know if you hold a public office there are certain things expected of you.
But public officers are human beings, they have human rights too.
Comment on the banditry menace in the Rift Valley.
The challenge we have is the lifestyles, cultural ways and leadership. Cattle rustling is a big problem and low levels of education. It’s taking time to wean people off their retrogressive lifestyles. In West Pokot, there are no incidents because of collaboration with the people.
But even in the enclave between Elgeyo Marakwet, Tiaty in Baringo and the border with Samburu and Turkana, the activities are reducing.
But poor political leadership is a problem, where the focus is on encouraging their people to fight. They believe arming their people is an expression of superiority.
Some politicians in that side of the country even spend CDF money to buy bullets. We have several of them in courts.
I flew there once when there was a problem recently and I was with some politicians. Then an MP tells the pilot let’s land here. I ask him, ‘Why are we landing here?’. He responds, ‘This is where I meet people’. But there are no people. And true to his word, when we landed, people just emerged from the woodwork.
Each of those six constituencies has been receiving Sh100 million each year but when you go to the constituencies, you can’t see the Sh600 million.
But the long-term solution to this place is not bullets and guns. Not putting more policemen on the ground. The long-term solution is development, having more schools, social amenities, hospitals.
This is President Uhuru Kenyatta’s final term. What has it been like?
I am grateful for the opportunity that I got to serve my country. I thank the President for the trust he has bestowed on me through the years. My tour of duty has been very exciting. I have made very many friends. And some enemies too, but I have nothing against them because they are good people, it’s only that they see things differently than me. Interestingly, there is nobody in the entire ten years I have been in the Cabinet that I can tell you I hate so and so.
What do you have to say about things that have not gone right?
We are not in heaven. We are on earth. In heaven, where the Lord and angels are, is where things are 100 per cent perfect. But here, some things may not go according to plan.
On a scale of one to 10, most of what I have done in public service has revolved around eight and nine.
People say a lot of things about the police. Probably in the entire sub-Saharan Africa, we have one of the most organised and accomplished security systems; we are probably one of the safest destinations and we man our borders well.
What about the accusations that you have not obeyed court orders, like the one to allow lawyer Miguna Miguna to return home?
We have obeyed even the recent one when we were ordered to facilitate him to come. Our minister for Foreign Affairs organised with the mission in Germany.
We have two court rulings by the High Court on how you regain citizenship after you lost it in the old constitution that didn’t allow dual citizenship.
When the new Constitution was enacted, which provides for dual citizenship, the process was prescribed in the Act on how to enable those people to regain it.
We started doing the process until someone went to court and said we were violating the law. Now you have to fill out a form.
Since that time, over 300,000 Kenyans have regained their citizenship. The process is as simple as filling out a one-page document. We have opened immigration offices even in Canada. What is so difficult about filling that one-page letter. Over 300,000 Kenyans have filled out that paper.
I am bound by the law. There has been no administration that has been more respectful of the law than our administration.
What next for Dr Matiang’i? Do you have political ambitions?
Political ambitions are personal. Life is a journey. During this election cycle, I have had to defer some of my ambitions. I am flattered when people ask why I didn’t run for President. This journey of public service continues. Whenever I am called to serve my country I will always answer yes.
What if the presidential candidate you have publicly favoured in this election doesn’t win?
We are not a military junta. We are a democratically elected government which acts according to the law. We are not a criminal government. I would like to encourage our people to grow up in their perceptions about politics and public service. When elections are held in a country, people decide who is going to lead.
The country doesn’t end because a new administration comes in, even if that administration is from another party.
I would want to believe our democracy has grown enough for people to understand that the primitive and adversarial relationships between people on grounds of party and ideology is not expected of a democracy of Kenya’s size.