Here’s a disclaimer: Yes, corruption occurs around the globe. So don’t come at me saying that Kenya is not the only corrupt country. Of course it’s not.
The problem with several decades of well-entrenched, extensive corruption (well, one of the problems) is that it leaves practically no good man or, for that matter, woman, standing. That was foremost on my mind when I followed the news about President Uhuru Kenyatta’s call for Cabinet secretaries, Principal secretaries, heads of parastatals, governors and others to ‘step aside’ (I’m also still not entirely sure what stepping aside is exactly – a suspension? Just not working, but getting a full salary with all the related perks like cars and houses and stuff?).
Mr Kenyatta’s statement was substantial in its ambitions, touching on the key sectors and institutions of the economy. And we all know that corruption runs through all those institutions and all the sectors mentioned. The hustle is strong. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, that anything and anyone in Kenya are up for sale. You won’t find a tender for pencils that isn’t corrupt. If Mr Kenyatta had really called out everyone involved in corrupt deals, then he could have just shut shop. We all know that.
If politicians speak out about corruption, it’s usually because they were left out of the deal – also evidenced by the fact that none of that lot will ever just go to the police and report the person that they accuse of being involved in a corrupt transaction. They would rather issue ominous threats about ‘speaking out’ if such and such a thing weren’t done. This always riles me: If you know of an economic crime being committed, it’s your duty to report it. Otherwise you’re just playing along.
Smart people in the private sector have found a way of navigating the realities of this if they want to stay relatively clean. Be smart about your allies and how to involve them, try to minimise business with government, make sure that overall, you deliver on the contract.
And there’s not really any shame in it; on the surface, everyone decries corruption. Beyond that, it’s all fair game. Let’s meet at the club and chat about ‘working together’ (I put this in big air quotes). And if you’re really good at theft, you’ll get mobbed by adoring crowds and can run for Westlands MP. There may be the indignity of having to ‘step aside’ or having to have interviews at the EACC (or one of its predecessors), which is admittedly inconvenient, but when it gets to that stage, you’ve made a pile already, so if anyone is serious about taking you to court, you can pay lawyers to drag this out until all eternity, and bag a parastatal job despite being sought for money laundering.
So that’s the bottom line: Mr Kenyatta has no competent, independent institution, nor people, left standing to see this through. It would certainly be beneficial for Kenya if overall corruption levels were lowered, and his is a big and bold promise, but how can it be seen through? Commissions of inquiries have always generated reports that may or may not be published, but are never acted on. And I don’t grasp what the due process is here.
Mr Kenyatta can, of course, dismiss people he has hired, but what about elected representatives? What is the legal procedure? Would they all not have to be officially charged and taken to court? If not, everyone can argue that this is merely a witch hunt based on rumours (as all the people named already do – they claim they have been tirelessly working for the good of the citizenry and it’s all malicious gossip).
Based on experience, how many people involved in grand corruption were ever successfully prosecuted and locked up in Kenya? Can any of this be achieved in the 60 days he stipulated?
Due process won’t necessarily prevent corruption, we’ve all seen how thieves become ever more sophisticated in responding to tenders.
But there is no way around it. It takes competent institutions to reduce corruption and, importantly, improve service delivery to citizens. And so it’s also worrying to see that in response to the horrific attack in Garissa, Mr Kenyatta chose to ignore the ruling of the Kenyan courts and order that the 10,000 aspiring police recruits whose hiring had been cancelled over widespread corruption in the recruitment process be taken on after all.
I don’t see how it helps anyone to overrule a court decision that stops corruption. I also don’t see how it would help the Kenyan security forces to take in recruits who were not chosen on merit and according to set criteria, but who bribed their way in. That’s the lowest level of the rot that permeates the system, and a decision to affirm this won’t help reform the police.
Read the IPOA’s report on the police’s response to the Mpeketoni massacre, how warnings were not heeded, how police officers are completely under-resourced and ill prepared, for a reminder that this is not about numbers, but about institutional quality and competence.
One – possibly not very promising – step forward, and then right away another step backward?