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November 17, 2018

Uhuru can't just push graft battle to others

I was a little confused when President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke about releasing chicken thieves to make space in prisons. I was under the impression that the chicken thieves were not in prison, but in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and have been let go with a massive golden handshake – probably more money than most of us will see in a lifetime. 

Soon after this, Kenyatta presided over the State House Anti-Corruption and Accountability Summit and sounded positively plagued by chicken and their thieves: "Corruption is frustrating me. The pressure is on me to do something about corruption but my hands are tied." As the Star wrote: "But Uhuru blamed the EACC for advising him to fire his Cabinet secretaries, yet they had no tangible evidence to nail them two years later." And now, he claims, those fired ministers blame him and hate him. Pole! 

Fighting corruption is, of course, not easy. It can be extremely dangerous, too. With the sums involved, we all know that people don’t just stop stealing and go away quietly after having been told of. They fight back. This is hardly a secret, and pretending otherwise would be naïve. So I’m a bit at a loss to sympathize with Mr Kenyatta over this chicken maneno. You cannot just push a job back onto institutions that you know full well to be an integral part of a political playing field. 

Former President Kibaki’s tenure offered some lessons on this with John Githongo’s appointment. You will need a dedicated person, and a dedicated team. Mr Githongo took his appointment seriously and investigated a large scam that has cost the taxpayer not just millions, but hundreds of millions in hard currency. And then the next lesson is that those people need political backing – which Githongo had been denied as soon as it became clear that the alleged culprits in the AngloLeasing scandal were found in the president’s immediate vicinity. 

President Kenyatta has no incorruptible, focused anti-corruption champion. You can’t take a list compiled by political players out to settle scores. You can’t make unrealistic promises about a large number of people to be prosecuted in very a short period of time. You can’t leave this to institutions you know to be corrupt. None of this is rocket science. Mr Githongo, for one, spoke about this many times, and you can look it up on the Internet, even without expensive ‘study tours’ to far-away countries. You need to take a handful of people in high profile cases. The National Youth Service, for example, and that Nairobi City finance official, and one of those senior police officers – get them prosecuted swiftly, and locked up. That sets a very clear signal, and is a great starting point.

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