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November 20, 2018

Why President Uhuru’s corruption purge is doomed

Nakumatt's Chief Executive Officer Atul Shah outside Ukay Centre in Westlands, Nairobi county, during its demolition on August 10, 2018. /EZEKIEL AMING'A
Nakumatt's Chief Executive Officer Atul Shah outside Ukay Centre in Westlands, Nairobi county, during its demolition on August 10, 2018. /EZEKIEL AMING'A
We are in the middle of a Kafkaesque fight against corruption.

It is complex, perplexing and pointedly incongruous, yet, as someone has suggested, it seems to be a destructive endeavor by Uhuru Kenyatta to remake himself and the bad legacy of his father. It has been suggested that Uhuru and William Ruto lack the moral high ground to fight corruption as they have either been associated with, benefitted from or have been involved in aspects of corruption in one way or another. They have prime assets strewn all around the country, whose acquisition was not quite aboveboard, and so how does it go?

 Whether or not they have the moral high ground to fight corruption, the good news is that they are at least doing something about it, even if it will be hard to convince many that they are not just marveling at the suffering of others, when they, too, should be suffering. Uhuru made us believe he, too, is suffering, having lost many friends in the process. It is not clear why he had so many friends who were corrupt but, yes, losing them was quite painful for him nonetheless. He does not know how many more friends he will lose and he does not know when his own suffering will stop but perhaps, as Franz Kafka suggested, “…only when I have become satisfied with my sufferings can I stop.”

Will it will stop when Uhuru is satisfied with his own suffering or when he is satisfied with the suffering of everyone involved? Rhetoric aside, it may not be so soon in the coming because there are many faces to it and its extremely difficult to get to the bottom of it. It is as though Uhuru is solving a 5x5 Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. Such is the nature of corruption — faceless and shadowy.

 There are now many who are counting their losses and tears are freely flowing in the ongoing demolitions and evictions, and even the “first lady” of Uhuru’s home county found herself in the dock over corruption. They did not see it coming, neither did we. We were all resigned to our fate with corruption as a way of life. Most, however, are victims of very shrewd individuals or cartels and are second, third or even fourth owners of the properties when the earlier owners sold and shipped out. The government itself watched as all these happened, and it now coming ton ‘correct’ mistakes it took part in creating. But where does it start and where does it end?

 

RETROACTIVE FIGHT OF CORRUPTION

The prefix retro refers to anything that comes to us from the past. Corruption that happened in the past has its place and even though we got used to, or even overcame its effects, it still does affects us today. It is like a bullet lodged in the body. While the body ultimately gets used to its presence, it is never all well and it is probably a matter of time before it creates trouble. If you take your time to study the nature of Kenyan corruption, you will note it has had different characteristics over the years. In the colonial days, much of it involved theft by public servants – both European and African although the Africans often paid for it while the Europeans largely got away with it. But in establishing the colonial state, the British had to evict Africans to create ‘Crown Land’ over much of Kenya at virtually no cost. Much of this land was allocated to settler farmers particularly in highly productive land in the so-called White Highlands. To this day, European-owned multi-nationals in Tea and other sectors still hold huge tracts of land corruptly acquired from the Africans and they continue to quietly enjoy such corrupt holdings, shamelessly I might add. They, however, created a class of landless individuals most of whom turned to the gazetted forests in search of land for subsistence. The independence government badly bungled the resettlement programme and many landless and poor remained just so.

 Poor urban planning by the same government led to near chaos from where much of the evictions emanate. The destruction of buildings on riparian land cannot, therefore, be fully blamed on the victims. Many pictures on social media showed how major cities in the world are built right to the edge of the water — Paris, Venice, London and even New York. Even the Houses of Parliament in London are situated right by the Thames River and so it should have been wiser for the government to explain what the proximity of the Kenyan buildings to its rivers is affecting.

 After independence, corruption involving land dwelt largely on private land. From such matters as taking public loans to acquire land but without the intention of repaying it to outrightly dispossessing people from their ‘rightful’ private farms. The stories are many. Kenyatta One era saw many lose their private holdings to well-heeled individuals and those in power. In 1968 one powerful politician in my native Nandi county is said to have simply walked into the beautiful home of a remaining settler named Rawson-Shaw, and simply shooed him away. The settler lost nearly 2,000 acres of land walking away with only the clothes he was wearing.

 In the Moi era, most of the corruption on land mainly involved public land. Everything from school playgrounds, forestland, trust land, land owned by public corporations and research facilities, state houses and state lodges and road reserves etc. The key word in this period was ‘land grabbing’, which is an interesting word as it suggests the land was taken away ‘suddenly’ or ‘hurriedly’ which was often the case. Much of the stolen land was resold to state corporations and often at heavily inflated prices. DP Ruto’s cases with the Kenya Pipeline Company were along these lines.  In April 2004, Ruto was arrested and charged over a Sh272 million deal, in which Ngong Forest land was sold to Kenya Pipeline.

 In the post-Moi era, corruption mainly involved the theft of public funds at source. Scandals were mainly financial involving procurement of goods and did not involve the transfer of a public asset other than the money. We are still in that situation. If you look at the main corruption issues, the money was stolen from ministries and state corporations, and sanitised through purchase of prime property and construction of, among other things, housing and commercial facilities. Someone even suggested that most of the money led to the proliferation of shopping malls in Nairobi.

 

RETURN OF THE DEFRAUDED

The state corporations that lost their money by either being forced to purchase what was once public land or being forced to part with key land, which is now very valuable, are returning to reclaim their former possessions. The Kenya Railways is also doing the same even though much of Nairobi once belonged to it. It is perhaps the single biggest loser of land holdings. Another case is the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, which is claiming the parcel on which Weston Hotel, associated with DP Ruto, stands. Across the road from the same spot, Kenya Prisons lost land in Nairobi West, which is now under various developments, including the schools, medical facilities, entertainment and residential properties, among others. These developments are associated with powerful individuals and it will be very difficult to get them back without leading to major losses in income, jobs and other economic activities and of course, friends for Uhuru. There is also prime property opposite Kotetni Primary School in Kisumu county, which was controversially sold to a powerful individual and (now) Uhuru’s close friend. Would we do this? How far are we going to settle the grand monster of corruption.

 

DUTERTE METHOD

During the Anti-Corruption Summit at State House in 2016, Uhuru expressing his frustration over graft, famously stated, “Do you expect me to go and set up a firing squad at Uhuru Park so that people can be happy?” The statement received many reactions, including one that advised him that if the kitchen had become too smoky, perhaps it was time to vacate it. It is clear the weakest link in the war on corruption has been the Judiciary, and now, as we observed in utter horror this week, Parliament itself.

 Knowing that things would not get done as fast as he would have loved to, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte turned to extra-judicial methods, including once rolling a construction bulldozer over several luxury vehicles confiscated from corrupt individuals. Drug lords and dealers did not get to see the inside of a court. Even Uhuru once ordered the blowing up of a drug boat complete with its cargo in the Indian Ocean.

 Such kind of action must however be consistent, persistent and fearless. Uhuru must demand that Ruto demolishes Weston Hotel and this would of course not go down well with his friend or his friend’s friends, who are now fast becoming his enemies. Uhuru, too must return certain assets acquired by his father for which he was/is a beneficiary. Is this possible?

 It remains to be seen if DPP Noordin Haji will prosecute his father for being adversely mentioned in the acquisition of certain state land as was established by the 2003 Commission of Inquiry into the Illegal/Irregular Allocation of Public Land. His father, former Provincial Commissioner Yusuf Haji and now a senator, was also adversely mentioned in other reports for human rights abuses and even abuse of office among a litany of other charges.

I honestly do not believe that this is possible. I certainly would not do that to my father and for this, the fight against corruption will always fail.

 

 

 

 

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