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February 21, 2019

Kenya’s war on corruption now on the right footing

Suspects in KPLC corruption  former MD Ben Chumo and former company Secretary Beatrice Meso  at a Milimani court on Tuesday,July 17 during the hearing of the bail application.
Suspects in KPLC corruption former MD Ben Chumo and former company Secretary Beatrice Meso at a Milimani court on Tuesday,July 17 during the hearing of the bail application. PHOTO/COLLINS KWEYU

For the first time in Kenya, the war against the perpetual systemic and endemic corruption has taken a new direction. With this momentum, the current misery and poverty caused by graft, which are now the normal conditions for ordinary citizens, will be history, that is if all patriotic Kenyans support President Uhuru Kenyatta’s clarion call.

On July 27, 2018, at 07:09 hours, the President tweeted:  “Wakenya wenzangu, the war against corruption and economic crimes is about the wellbeing of our Republic. Let’s all join hands and vigorously fight this vice”. This is a call for revulsion against acceptance of misery and poverty caused by greedy and selfish criminals in our society.

With this green light, what should happen in my judgment is to an end our almost inexhaustible patience to wait for corrupt people to fix corruption. We should now take the corruption dragon head on and slay it. There is really nothing for patriotic Kenyans to lose in this fight.

The public response to the President’s call has been climactic. As of last Saturday, at 3pm, the tweet had generated 6.1k likes, 1.4k Retweets, and 1.3k replies. A review of the first 200 replies shows 57 per cent of the respondents are skeptic compared to 43 per cent who are optimistic of this new approach to fight corruption.

The majority skeptics say corruption cannot be eradicated within the economic and political system we currently have, and that the President and his team are responsible for the runaway graft. In my opinion, this is an ominous fallacy.

The root causes and the solutions for corruption, in my belief, are anchored in society. I don't believe that any sort of legislation, no matter how strong or any anti-corruption agency, no matter how well-staffed, can yield any benefit until and unless it is accompanied by the will of the people.

Government doesn’t lead society; it reflects society. If people in government are corrupt, it is because this corruption, is pervasive throughout the society.

After the President’s appeal to the public, the question we need to ask ourselves is: Can the citizens make a difference in the war on corruption? The answer is, yes.  Research by the United States Institute of Peace published under the banner Governance, Corruption and Conflict reveals “Citizen’s campaigns at the local level can, in fact, be one of the most effective ways to fight corruption”.

In his Citizens Against Corruption book, Pierre Landell-Mills demonstrates how ordinary people are no longer prepared to accept the predatory activities of dishonest officials and are successfully challenging their scams.

The optimists are quite enthusiastic, and are even advocating lynching of corruption suspects. Geoffrey Nelson_Prof says: “Bwana Rais, kindly suspend the constitution for only 2 hours 49 minutes, then leave the rest to us. I guarantee you that there will be no more corruption once we are done”. This is a dangerous proposal that can lead to anarchy in this country. There is no evidence that mob justice will end corruption. A 2009 study by International Center on Nonviolent Conflict found that over the past 110 years, violent campaigns succeeded in only 26 per cent of all the cases compared to 53 per cent in nonviolent and civilian-backed campaigns.

We have even recently seen groups of courageous and dedicated citizens take direct and peaceful demonstrations against graft. Last year, 10 million Koreans assembled in Seoul and drove out President Park Geun-hye from Cheong Wa Dae (Blue House/State House) because of corruption. No stone was thrown, no bullet was fired but she has now been jailed for 32 years.

The approach by President Kenyatta is the right way to go, albeit for short-term results. In the long-run, this war cannot be independent from the reform of the Kenyan society.

If certain historical and cultural reforms are not made, corruption will continue to be a problem regardless   of the actions directly aimed at curbing it. This conclusion is based on two observations. In Kenya, the government is viewed as an instrument for wealth accumulation. In addition, politicians are required to present expensive gifts at weddings; donations during birthday parties, celebrations, anniversaries and fund raising ceremonies. This is a huge burden for elected leaders.

I conclude by suggesting two great rules. One; we must all tackle corruption from the position that anyone who engages in corruption is an enemy of the country and two, Kenyans must have pride in their country by keeping their purposes perfectly straight, perfectly pure, and perfectly aboveboard.


Kitau is first Kenyan Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (2009-2014)

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