Let us put the war against corruption into some perspective.
Kenya has a Sh2 trillion budget. Remove the public sector wage bill and literally every shilling thereafter will be paid to someone or other to do something for the government (build something or supply a product or service). Like any other government, ours accumulates money to pay people to do things for it. This is what makes government the most sought-after source of business the world over.
Doing business with government is not wrong. Someone must supply the products and services government needs to function. What is wrong is when you do business that you do not deserve to do. This is where corruption comes in.
The kind of corruption Kenyans are so disgusted with is actually a business. Those involved have a single goal: get as much government business as they can, ethical business practice, professionalism, fairness, quality of product or service, etc be damned. It is all about making as much money as possible per deal. They will inflate the price a couple of hundred times or even fail to deliver if they can get away with it — as long as they get paid. In Kenya, corruption is therefore a well-organised industry.
Now imagine that a single cartel were to control 20 percent of Kenya’s budget (Sh400 billion).
To achieve such a feat such a cartel must have a massive government procurement infrastructure behind it. It must recruit or compromise large sections of the public service to both deliver the business, and protect the business and cartel from being discovered or adversely affected by third parties. This means hundreds of procurement officers and clerks, tender committee members, police officers, anti-corruption officers and even judges, will be incorporated into this organisation. To sustain the systems above will also requires services from the private sector, banking, lawyers, investment advice and even media and public relations practitioners (to cover up or redirect public attention).
Then we have suppliers of those with this ill-gotten wealth. More bankers and lawyers, private doctors, high-cost private learning institutions, real estate agents, insurers, private security firms, high-cost car dealers, etc.
Add on direct and indirect consumers. The politician who needs large sums of untraceable money to win local or national elections (and then hopefully fight the corruption impoverishing his people); the religious and charitable institutions who do not care where the money they get comes from, as long as it supports their projects; unsuspecting family members and friends who get gifts, holidays, access to education or healthcare, or just expensive drinks.
Then there is you and I, who do not really mind getting a bit of this money if it will help sort a desperate situation; a hospital bill, school fees, etc.
Then imagine Uhuru Kenyatta, who presumably does not have too many financial debts to settle, becomes President and decides to make the fight against corruption a legacy project. What do you expect the corruption czar, who controls Sh400 billion every year and is now looking at the very real possibility of losing this income and maybe even going to jail, to do?
What about the beneficiaries mentioned above, and everyone who depends on them? How much cooperation will they provide in such a war? All of them risk at least future financial and maybe even current loss of what they already have via the asset recovery folks. Then the exposure to public ridicule — not good!
Then remember corruption czars are like druglords, terrorists or warlords: used to power, organized and ruthless. They just look more polished. Any czar worth his salt must respond to President Kenyatta. He will most probably first leverage the fear of this multitude of scared beneficiaries to turn them into a vicious army at his beck and call. He will then bankroll them to undermine Uhuru’s government at every opportunity.
Then he will wage war on the government directly. Where he can he will compromise national security, bankroll a broke opposition, split the ruling coalition, underwrite acres of government-critical media articles, or even kill a few strategic people. He must do whatever needs to be done to stop the war against his cartel. If he runs a cartel dealing with military and security supplies he could even fund an armed insurrection.
This is the war Uhuru is in, and it will get worse before it gets better. Most presidents in Uhuru’s shoes leave it alone and just go through the motions of fighting; there are many other much easier legacies one can build. Uhuru is clearly not such a president.
So who will win this war, the President or the czar?
Ngunjiri Wambugu is a director of Change Associates, a political affairs consultancy.