If asked to name a Cabinet secretary whom I admire, the only name that springs to mind is that of Dr Fred Matiang’i, who heads the powerful Interior and Coordination of National Government docket.
I am not alone. Many view him as a hardworking resolute performer with a record of solid achievements in every ministry he has headed.
He is a doer who identifies priorities and gets to work with bull-headed determination, neither wavering nor looking out for the political wind vane or awaiting directions from State House.
It was in recognition of his undeniable effectiveness that President Uhuru Kenyatta elevated him to ‘Super CS’, giving him supervisory powers over his Cabinet colleagues.
With the awesome power at his command, Dr Matiang’i still comes across as friendly and affable. He is always ready to engage journalists, brief them on government initiatives, listen to suggestions and even ask for advice. In private, he will even admit and apologise for some mistakes and errors of judgment.
The problem is the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ in the man. Too often, the good in him plays second fiddle to the abrasive CS with a dictatorial streak, inflated sense of self-importance and a tendency to shoot from the hip with little regard to due process, the rights of citizens and legal limits to his power and authority.
These disturbing tendencies were on full display during the last General Election, when he took on the role of the Jubilee Party campaign enforcer, misusing the state security apparatus to harass and intimidate the Opposition, contemptuously ignoring court orders and defying the laws he is sworn to uphold and protect.
The bellicose Matiang’i took a break after election dispute rigours but was on display last Friday, June 7, with his unguarded statements on medical marijuana.
“We have an application on my desk right now by some lunatic who’s saying they need a licence to build a factory in Kenya that processes cannabis for pharmaceutical use,” Dr Matiang’i told a gathering, vowing that such an enterprise would never be allowed in the country. He said the application would not even be honoured with a reply.
Refusal to reply to a formal request indicates just how miffed Dr Matiang’i was, but that reaction betrays the fact that he is acting out of emotion rather than the reason and logic demanded of one in high office.
It remains unclear why the application for a medical marijuana processing factory was addressed to the CS for Interior but, if Dr Matiang’i felt incapable of handling the matter, the least he could have done was forward it to his counterparts in Health, Agriculture, Industrialisation, Trade or any other ministry.
If he felt the matter was too weighty for him, he could even have submitted it to the Cabinet for consideration and guidance.
Instead, he reverted to histrionics that left it unclear whether his decisions are dictated by ignorance, moral zeal or law and procedures.
True, the cultivation, processing, sale and possession of cannabis sativa is today illegal under Kenyan law. That does not mean, however, that it is illegal or outrageous to contemplate a relaxation of the law tomorrow. Never say never.
Dr Matiang’i, for all his education, also seemed unable to make the distinction between cannabis processed for medical use and smoking bhang for recreation.
Progressive governments across the world have been abandoning old-fashioned prohibitions and recognising that, apart from the ‘high’, the marijuana plant can be a vital source of pharmaceutical products. Repealing obsolete bans on the crop has unleashed industries worth billions of dollars in countries as diverse as South Africa, Argentina, United States, Germany, Canada, Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Portugal and Botswana. Nearer to home, Tanzania and Uganda are also moving in that direction.
Some countries have gone further to legalise recreational use of the drug, recognising that it is no more dangerous than the legal highs available from alcohol — or our own miraa (khat).
The ‘Legalise it’ debate is not alien in Kenya. Already, Kibra MP Ken Okoth has drafted a Bill for seeking legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes.
Compounds extracted from marijuana have proved effective in alleviating the pain and suffering of cancer patients. Mr Okoth is himself a cancer patient and has made regular trips to Europe for treatment.
It is likely that many of our political leaders and policymakers who travel abroad for medical treatment end up taking medical drugs derived from marijuana.
It is, therefore, hypocritical to take hardline stances that might be guided more by knee-jerk reactions rather than an educated analysis of the issues at hand