On Jan 26 Adil Khawaja was appointed Board Chairman of Safaricom replacing John Ngumi who reportedly resigned after a sojourn of five months on the job to focus on sustainable energy projects in Africa, with a particular interest in hydrogen power.
But close telco watchers are convinced Ngumi’s goose was cooked soon after the swearing-in of William Ruto as Kenya’s fifth President, understandably because of his perceived coziness with the outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta who brazenly campaigned for Raila Odinga in the Presidential sweepstakes.
In other words, the 66-year-old local corporate dealmaker was reduced to collateral damage with his exit seen as imminent.
With a November 3 business story in the local People Daily newspaper for example running a forbidding business story titled Ngumi’s absence at Safaricom events raises eyebrows when the daily which is associated with Kenyatta writes that “Insiders at the telco believe Ngumi’s appointment as the next Safaricom’s chairman may have been flagged for political reasons and as a result, there is a growing conviction in some quarters that his appointment could be rescinded.”
The paper somewhat must have taken a cue from an Oct 28 Twitter handle belonging to outspoken lawyer Ahmed Nassir who partially commented that “ The blue-eyed boy of the Uhuru regime is persona non grata in the Ruto Administration…that is life!
Since coming into power on September 13 the Ruto administration has made notable appointments in State parastatals, purging allies of former President Kenyatta.
Notable changes have taken place so far in nine strategic public utilities including the Kenya Revenue Authority(KRA), Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco), Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), National Council for Population and Development (NCPD), National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), and Kenya Pipeline Company Limited (KPCL ).
Globally, concerns regarding protecting ofﬁcials from political manipulation by new political
rulers are as old as the hills but the push for change at the top remains a nagging constant.
“ Parties in power may have different policy priorities to those leaving ofﬁce, which bureaucrats
may not share. In addition, the new leaders may not trust nor know about the competence of bureaucrats who served under previous regimes. They may think that bureaucrats appointed by the previous set of incumbent politicians do not share the values of the current administration, which in turn may make them less likely to implement their preferences,” says Prof. Peter John of King’s College London.
Khawaja currently serves on various boards which include the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, Al Futtaim Automotive-CMC Motors Group Ltd, and Atua Enkop Africa Ltd, and has previously served on boards of other Kenyan firms, including KCB Bank Group, Kenya Power and Lighting Company, and as a Trustee of KWS.
According to the CEO of Kenya’s biggest telecoms operator and the most profitable company in East Africa Peter Ndegwa, Khawaja is expected to help lead Safaricom, and scale up operations in neighbouring Ethiopia after the launch of its network last year.
Ndegwa’s tenure at this lucrative company in the meantime collapses this March 2023, having made history on April 1 2020 when he became the first Kenyan CEO but he remains confident the Telco’s Board will renew his contract because of his “very successful three years”.
“Decisions about my future at Safaricom are made by the Board of Directors. I, however, know that the [business] strategy is clear, and the management is focused on ensuring that Safaricom continues to transform lives and play its role in Kenya,” Ndegwa said on Local Citizen TV’s News Night show this January.
Currently, the Government of Kenya including Vodacom has a combined 70 % stake – each claiming a 35 % apiece – making the duo a linchpin in deciding Ndegwa’s fate – with the Vodafone Group Plc owning 5% and the remaining 25% identified as a free float.