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January 17, 2019

Uhuru leads African leaders in anti-graft war

President uhuru kenyatta with Rwanda's Paul Kagame
President uhuru kenyatta with Rwanda's Paul Kagame
Back in January, it was announced that the African Union had designated 2018 as the African Anti-Corruption Year. The theme, “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation”, was borne out of a frustration that not enough countries were making progress in this critical area — an estimated $50 billion is lost each year to tax evasion across the continent, and the realisation that for every Paul Kagame, there were plenty of leaders only paying lip service to the anti-graft fight.

 In a press release announcing the decision, the AU explained that there was an “urgent need to curb corruption, which is a major societal flaw causing setbacks in the socioeconomic and political development of the continent. Corruption continues to hamper efforts aimed at promoting democratic governance, socio-economic transformation, peace and security, and the enjoyment of human rights in the AU member states.”

 The timing of this decision is significant here in Kenya. Late last year, having finally ended a prolonged electioneering period, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced he would focus on the Big Four agenda in his second and last term. This ambitious programme includes lofty goals such as creating 1.3 million manufacturing jobs, achieving universal health coverage and building 500,000 affordable houses. 

 However, the President was well aware that his ability to implement this vision was severely hampered by the rampant corruption, which is estimated to drain over 10 per cent of the national budget. While this corruption predates Uhuru, and he most certainly cannot be held responsible for what is a long-standing, national problem, there was, I believe, recognition that in his first term, his focus was on other issues. Not enough was done to fight corruption.

 Over the subsequent six months, Uhuru has wholeheartedly embraced this continental directive, turning the fight against graft into a personal crusade. He has refreshed and revamped various anti-corruption agencies, bringing in new faces and renewed energy and determination to the war on graft.

This has resulted in dozens of arrests of senior officials for alleged corrupt practices, and a raft of new regulatory and preventative steps, including lifestyle audits of all public servants and fresh vetting for heads of procurement departments. It is clear Uhuru means business. 

 Equally strong has been Uhuru’s increasingly tough rhetoric, which has begun to describe the fight against corruption in almost its existential terms. This was perhaps best articulated in his address at the US-Kenya Trade Conference last month, where he explained the fight as “…a fight against the vice that denies our people jobs. It is a fight against the vice that denies our people essential services. It is a vice that denies us of our ability to develop our country and to protect the next generation.” 

 So committed has Uhuru become to the anti-graft fight that he has ruffled certain people’s feathers. The Council of Governors cautioned him not to overstep the mark with his crackdown on corruption, while certain allies of the Deputy President have claimed they are being unfairly targeted.

But the truth is that irrespective of the merits of these arguments, you cannot take on graft without controversy. As the saying goes, you cannot make an omelette without cracking eggs. When investigations begin, certain people will feel under attack, and this cannot be avoided. In fact, an element of fear is a good thing. Everyone must know the President is serious, and that nobody is above the law.

And in this regard, Uhuru has been unequivocal, explaining that “Mwizi ni mwizi" ("A thief is a thief"). Whether you are a Kikuyu, a Kamba, a Kalenjin or a Digo. You stole alone, you will be jailed alone.” He has made it clear the law will apply to everyone equally, noting that he and Deputy President William Ruto will face lifestyle audits along with the other public servants. He even explicitly said that his own brother would be prosecuted if there is evidence of his involvement in corruption. He has also made it clear he will work with anyone and everyone to achieve his goals, including his harshest critics such as Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho. 

There is no better time to take up this fight. With the AU declaring this year as the African Anti-Corruption year, all eyes are on the continent’s leaders to see who will deliver. With his renewed determination, Uhuru has shown himself to be a shining light within the continent, and I have no doubt with big results on the way, he will go down in history as one of the Africa’s leading anti-corruption crusaders.


Lesuuda is Samburu West MP


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