Opinion | Why you should think twice before taking up a State job in Kenya

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Former principal secretary for Broadcasting and Telecommunications in the Ministry of Information, Mrs Fatuma Hirsi Mohamed. PHOTO/COURTESY

By LINAH BENYAWA

Are you a high-flying corporate honcho (or is it captain of industry?) in the prime of your private sector career, but now keen to take a shot at that top-notch job as principal secretary or even Cabinet secretary in the Kenyan public service? Well, think twice, or thrice. The lure and lustre of those dream jobs at the apex of State technocracy are increasingly proving to be the latest serial career killer in the Jubilee administration.

The Kenyan experience with highly qualified professionals leaving their well-paying and secure jobs in the private and international sectors and opting for a public service career is turning out to be a tale of wrecked careers — for those who are lucky to dodge the courts and possibly jail.

When the Jubilee administration came to power in 2013 and embarked on picking Cabinet secretaries from among highly qualified professionals who are non-politicians, many technocrats were excited. Many lobbied and scrambled to join the Jubilee bandwagon of crème de la crème in the public service. The new administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, gave Kenyans a new face of the Cabinet, despite the odd sprinkling of a politician or two. The Cabinet and the ranks of principal secretaries were teeming with talent: well-established, polished, high-calibre men and women from diverse spheres of professional practice who inspired a lot of hope among Kenyans.

Most of these professionals are no longer Cabinet or principal secretaries, after being dropped from their positions under different circumstances. Many are battling court cases while others have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Others are nursing misery and frustration after futile efforts to regain a foothold in their erstwhile professional fields.

While alleged corruption has emerged as the leading cause of the sackings and career doldrums facing senior Jubilee appointees, we cannot ignore the plight of some professionals in government whose careers have been ignominiously and unjustly sacrificed at the altar of political mischief, chicanery or plain heartless expediency.

The inhumane nature of some sackings in the public service deserves a wider conversation, as many senior officials learn of their dismissals either from the media or the grapevine. It matters less to the appointing authority that it is dealing with the livelihoods, careers, dignity and reputation of honest, hard-working, qualified and experienced professionals. Some of them were headhunted from their former stations to join the government on these considerations.

There is genuine fear among many qualified and experienced Kenyans who may otherwise have been contemplating switching jobs to serve their country in key government positions due to the humiliating and disgraceful manner in which their services may be dispensed with.

While I hold no brief for anyone, the case of the immediate former principal secretary for Broadcasting and Telecommunications in the Ministry of Information, Mrs Fatuma Hirsi Mohamed, comes to mind. Ms Mohamed, together with the former Cabinet secretary for Sports, Mr Rashid Echesa, were sacked by President Kenyatta during a mini government reorganisation on March 1.

Mrs Hirsi is a textbook case of professionals entrapped by Jubilee’s promise of a better government run by high-level and respected technocrats. She was lured into government from her senior position in a United Nations agency in Switzerland. Those who have followed Mrs Hirsi’s public service record cannot deny her credit for the surge in tourist numbers in Kenya when she was PS for Tourism.

It was during Mrs Hirsi’s short tenure as PS for Broadcasting that the long-standing debt crisis at the Government Advertising Agency moved towards a solution, with media houses being paid a large chunk of their money.

In developed economies, technocrats are the most respected people in the public service and governments go to great lengths to attract them. So, how does the Kenyan government expect to attract highly qualified and experienced professionals from the private sector into the public service if job insecurity is what defines premium jobs in government?

Linah Benyawa is a freelance journalist; lbenyawa@gmail.com

 

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