Kenya’s improved ranking on Transparency International corruption perception index 2020

In Summary

•The steady rise in Kenya’s ranking under the CPI coincides with the tenure of current EACC CEO Major (Rtd.) Twalib Mbarak.

•He breathed new life into the war against corruption. 

EACC chief executive Twalib Mbarak
EACC chief executive Twalib Mbarak

 “CPI doesn’t actually claim to measure corruption at all; it measures perceptions of corruption. The two are not synonymous.” Dan Hough – The Washington Post[1].

There is no universally acceptable method of measuring corruption empirically. Even the definition of corruption itself presents challenges. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) does not define corruption and neither does Kenyan law. At best, we have descriptions of what entails corrupt conduct. So how do we measure something we cannot even define?

Enter the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Developed by Transparency International, the CPI ranks countries based on perceived levels of corruption. Considering that the perception relied upon is that of “experts and business executives”, there are genuine concerns regarding the accuracy of the index. For instance, many multinational corporations in Kenya are headed by foreigners whose appreciation of nuance may be limited through no fault of their own. In addition, the CPI relies on “proxy indicators” which include factors such as ease of conducting business and speed of service delivery. Whereas these may appear useful to analysts, they “do not measure the real level of corruption, and can only function as imperfect proxies[2].” This approach tends to render an imperfect view of the status of corruption in any given country.

In the analysis of corruption, context is vital. Countries have different experiences attributable to many factors such as culture, history, geography and so on. It would be better to assess a country in the light of its specific circumstances. Nonetheless, the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index remains a generally accepted measure of the phenomenon, or at least, our perception of it.

In 2018, Kenya was ranked 144th out of 180 countries with a score of 27. The following year 2019, Kenya rose 7 positions up to 137th with a score of 28. By 2020, Kenya had jumped another 13 places to 124th with an improved score of 31. Are we prepared to, at the very least, acknowledge the improvement? Or shall we continue to be discouraged by the doom merchants who find statistics to be an inconvenience?

Contrast Kenya’s ranking in the Abidjan-based AfDB Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (5 out of 37) with the CPI and there appears to be a more sympathetic evaluation where the assessor is in a position to appreciate the unique circumstances of an emerging African economy like Kenya.

With its broad constitutional rights and freedoms, Kenya probably reports corruption more freely than most African states. Ironically, this contributes to the impression that corruption in Kenya is more rampant than it actually is and consequently affects our ranking in indices that rely on perception. It has been suggested that the CPI could be biased against a free press in that the prominence given to corruption reports in a comparatively free media could work against the country.

The steady rise in Kenya’s ranking under the CPI coincides with the tenure of current Ethics and Anti-Corruption (EACC) CEO Major (Rtd.) Twalib Mbarak who has breathed new life into the war against corruption. Together with the Commissioners, the leadership of EACC has endeavoured to implement the institutions Strategic Plan 2018-2023 which places emphasis on high-impact investigations. These involve high profile individuals, high value assets and high levels of public interest. As a result, we have witnessed high-profile prosecutions involving Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries, County Governors and Members of Parliament to name a few. At the same time, the EACC has recovered assets valued at over Kshs. 25 Billion in the last 5 years. All this bodes well for an institution that does not enjoy popular opinion despite its recent unprecedented achievements.

As we celebrated the 5th edition of the African Anti-Corruption Day on Sunday the 11th of July 2021, we took the opportunity to reflect on the gains made in spite of the challenges Kenya has experienced. Not least, the Covid-19 pandemic which has hindered our ability to be fully effective whilst at the same time creating a crisis that has been exploited by corruption. Winning the war against graft is a generational undertaking and the sooner we get behind our law enforcement agencies to support them, the sooner we can mitigate the effects of corruption and reap the rewards of our hard work.

The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya



Measuring Corruption in Africa: The International Dimension Matters. African Governance Report IV © 2016 United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Peterson, Jacqueline & Orme, William & Roca, Thomas. (2010). Fear and Loathing of the Corruption Perception Index: Does Transparency International Penalize Press Freedom?. NA. 10.2139/ssrn.1694211.

[1] Dan Hough. There’s more to measuring corruption than Transparency International’s annual index, just released. The Washington Post Jan. 26, 2017.

[2] Measuring corruption in Africa: The international dimension matters