John Michuki: Last of the ruthless and efficient ‘Jamhuri Ministers’

Few public officers in Kenya’s post-independence era left a remarkable track record of efficiency and stubborn implementation of the law than the late Cabinet Minister John Njoroge Michuki.

The order in public transport and subduing the outlawed Mungiki sect were some of the hallmarks of his time in government.

Michuki died aged 70, in February 2012.

For his ruthlessly efficient management style, Michuki, who served in the Transport and Communications, Internal Security and Environment dockets, was ranked as one of the best performing ministers under retired President Mwai Kibaki.

To date, the Michuki Rules he left in the transport sector, previously an ungovernable arena with an underworld of its own, are still being felt 15 years on.

Indeed, one month from April 2004, the hard-nosed, straight talking and no-nonsense Michuki forced Kenyans to walk to work as he brought sanity to the chaotic transport sector which had defeated previous ministers.

Michuki oversaw the implementation of seat belts and speed governors in between weeding out cartels and illegal militia that cared little for public safety, that April, just when La Nina rains were wreaking havoc.

Michuki also directed that Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) operate on clearly defined routes, carry a specified number of passengers and that drivers and conductors be disciplined, have a certificate of good conduct.

All the while, he was telling Kenyans “I last took a matatu 15 years ago!”

The rules also required the PSV crew to wear uniforms and display their passport-sized photos on the dash board.

Amid protests from notorious matatu operators, the minister stood his ground and Kenyans supported him by opting to walk to and from work.

The end result was that Kenyans were no longer packed like potatoes. There was no more standing. Or abusing passengers. Of higher significance, there was a drastic, 74 percent reduction in accidents involving PSVs across the country.

Implementing Michuki Rules has been erratic 2005 when he was moved from Transport ministry but they still form a reference point on how to rein in the often chaotic matatu sector.

While his successor, Chirau Ali Mwakwere, failed to fit in Michuki’s big shoes, the latter entered the Internal Security docket like fish to water.

The immediate threat he faced at Internal Security was the Mungiki militia, which had made parts of the country especially Central Kenya and Nairobi ungovernable.

As a minister, he issued a shoot-to-kill order, which saw security agents move to wipe the gang out leaving behind a trail of deaths, injuries, broken families and funerals.

Speaking in his native Murang’a, one of the area gripped by the Mungiki menace, Michuki warned: “We will straighten them and wipe them out.

“I cannot tell you today where those who have been arrested in connection with the recent killings are. What you will be hearing is that there will be a burial tomorrow. If you use a gun to kill you are also required to be executed.”

They didn’t nickname Michuki ‘General Kimendero’ (General Crusher) for nothing.

Political commentator Dr Wang’uhu Gitonga explains that Michuki’s management style was fleshed from the strict regime that the colonial administration inculcated in the career administrators who were bestowed with bigger roles as independence approached.

“Michuki was a British-trained career administrator who benefitted from their fathers’ ties with the colonial administration to study public administration in the UK.

“The others included Simeon Nyachae, who started as a District Officer and rose through the ranks to become Chief Secretary,” the London-trained economist told The Nairobian adding that “they were trained to be focused and firm.”

Michuki took the same zeal and work ethic to the Environment ministry. He sought to rehabilitate and restore the Nairobi River via massive cleanup exercise involving 17 ministries.

He promised once he was through, he would drink its water. The Kenya Forest Service renamed Mazingira Park, Michuki Memorial Conservation Park along the Nairobi River in his honour.

In recent months, following a presidential directive, various agencies have been rehabilitating the park by building gabions, paving the walkways and construction of a tree nursery of indigenous seedlings for sale.

The park, previously a hideout for crooks, now has a 500-seater amphitheatre, a new guard house and events’ grounds.

Michuki also served as acting Finance minister following the July 8, 2008 resignation of Amos Kimunya over the Grand Regency Hotel scandal.

It is at this time that some banks connived to kill M-Pesa, the then two-year-old mobile financial services platform, by trying to convince Michuki that it was nothing short of a pyramid scheme.

Michuki agreed that the Central Bank of Kenya should look at the platform as it could boomerang on the country’s financial sector.

Michuki was at the helm of the Communications docket when Safaricom started piloting M-Pesa, but it fell on then Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph to turn the tide. To make him see the big picture.

Michuki used the old fashioned legwork to pay his farm workers but Joseph used his phone to pay Michuki’s foreman who was called to confirmed he had received his wages.

Michuki was impressed by how convenient, fast, and easy M-Pesa was and shortly, CBK gave M-Pesa a clean bill of health.

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