Corrupt leaders facing the consequences of their actions have been in the news rather a lot recently, and rightly so, by the way. In France, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been ordered to stand trial on charges of corruption and influence peddling. In South Korea, former President Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 24 years in jail after she was found guilty of abuse of power and coercion. Last weekend, Brazil’s former president Lula da Silva began serving a 12-year sentence for a graft conviction.
Here in South Africa, former President Jacob Zuma was charged with corruption linked to a multibillion-dollar 1990s arms deal. According to a story in HuffPost South Africa, “Zuma is only the second African head of state to face charges of theft from the public purse in his own country — the first was Zambia’s Frederick Chiluba.”
All of these reports led me to thinking that in Kenya, where our national spirit keeps being crushed by all-pervasive corruption — our biggest mistake was the approach on corrupt former leaders adopted by the Kibaki administration. That is, treating former President Daniel arap Moi as a revered elder statesman, even though his 24 years in power had seen the already venal corruption of the first 15 years of independence under Jomo Kenyatta, become ingrained in the national psyche. At the time, the Kibaki administration made a point of insisting it had not granted Moi immunity from prosecution; they were merely focusing on others in his administration. Yeah, whatever!
I believe the real reason for not pursuing Moi was because the coalition that formed the new administration had not been picky about who joined it, and as such, there were many leading members of the new government and amongst its corporate supporters who had held prominent positions and benefitted from corruption under the Moi regime. In fact, there were even some who had established their corruption bona fides under the Kenyatta regime.
To have pursued Moi would have meant that a good number of members and financiers of the new administration would have found themselves in the dock, and the Kibaki administration was afraid that this might have caused serious political ructions.
That notwithstanding, I think if they had seized the “yote yawezekana” [everything is possible] window of opportunity that had accompanied the election euphoria and the immediate aftermath, they would have gotten away with it and perhaps nipped some of the worst cases of impunity we have witnessed since in the bud. It could have been Kenya’s “ili iwe funzo kwa wengine wenye tabia kama hizo” [let it be a warning] moment.
Prosecution and jail isn’t a cure all for high level corruption, but it helps. Back in 2011, Sarkozy’s political mentor, former French President Jacques Chirac, received a two-year suspended sentence at the age of 79, for for embezzling taxpayers’ money to fund his rise to presidency, becoming the first former French head of state to be prosecuted since the Nazi collaborator Marshall Pétain in 1945.