Dismantle the ‘political criminal nexus’ fueling graft in Kenya


The story is told of how a frog was placed in a pan full of cold water. The frog immediately liked its new home. But slowly the water temperature was raised. The frog gradually adjusted to the incremental heat. Finally, the water hit boiling point; the poor creature was unable to cope anymore and perished.

This unfortunately illustrates the predicament Kenya faces with regards to corruption. The lesson from this story is that if Kenya does not decisively confront the escalating corruption, it will soon perish like the proverbial frog. And if Kenyans are lulled into falsely thinking that all shall be well since we have been tolerating corruption anyway, the catastrophe will inevitably hit home.  

Corruption in Kenya did not start yesterday or with the Jubilee government. Corruption has thrived in Kenya since independence. Only that it has now reached alarming levels and threatens the very survival of the Nation. Pervasive corruption is now testing every sinew of the Kenyan State.

Eliminating corruption will require a new mindset. Firstly, we must go beyond the rather narrow approach where corruption to many means giving and receiving bribes. Graft is a multi-faceted affair at the heart of which is unjust enrichment. Even abuse of office to confer favor on relatives, friends and ethnic kinsmen amounts to corruption. So forget the nonsense of our man or tribe is being unfairly targeted.

Secondly, we will need to agree that corruption poses a mortal threat to national survival. This is because in its worst manifestations, corruption is intricately and inextricably linked to two equally dangerous phenomena: organized crime and impunity.

In fact, corruption has permeated Kenyan society so much that it is fueling organized crime and impunity. Organized crime involves groups of people engaged in criminal activities as a business generating profit. Such activities include but are not limited to narcotics trade, gun running, counterfeiting and human trafficking, to mention a few. In some cases, legitimate businesses may be used as a cover for organized crime. A good example is gambling used to mask money laundering.

Left unchecked, therefore, corruption creates the right environment for organized criminal networks to thrive. Studies have shown that organized crime networks tend to exploit entrenched corruption to infiltrate the political system. Corrupt public officials and politicians then shield these networks from investigation and prosecution. This then fuels impunity further damaging the country’s political, social and economic fabric.

‘Political criminal nexus’ is a term used where corruption and organized crime networks infiltrate and influence the political system. It was coined in the US in the late nineties to refer to “concentration and fusion of official political and professional criminal power.” It applies where the political system is so intimately joined and influenced by criminal networks that the former is merely an appendage of the latter.   

The unholy alliance between corruption and organized crime is what is choking Kenya. Some recent happenings reveal the true extent of the rot.

Take the crackdown on counterfeit products. The proliferation of such goods implies that the criminal networks involved enjoy political patronage if not protection. The saga of fake gold and cash in houses and banks also reveals the extent to which criminality has pervaded public and private spheres. That some political operatives have been linked to such activities does not augur well for Kenya’s governance system.    

Sadly, the growing noise depicting the ongoing war on corruption as a political or ethnic affair is misguided and aimed at deflecting public attention from the real problem. Truth is, Kenya is grappling with a hydra-headed monster which if not urgently tamed, will destroy the nation. It has no tribe or political affiliation. It is menacing, real and lurking in our midst.  

Kenya should learn from countries like Italy, Mexico and Colombia that have in the past borne the brunt of widespread “criminalization” of the State and public institutions by groups like the Mafia and powerful drug cartels. Experience shows that eliminating such gangs is not easy and may ultimately require the massive deployment of State power and violence.

All said, the ‘political criminal nexus’ subverts the rule of law and the constitutional order. Corrupt officials and their criminal accomplices tend to perceive themselves as being above the law. They also undermine democracy given their capacity to ‘hijack’ the political system and even influence the electoral process.

The ongoing war on corruption is therefore a watershed moment to rid Kenya of this problem once and for all. The President should not relent in his war on corruption. Instead, he should appreciate that some corrupt officials and their sympathizers in and out of government will be increasingly bold in their push back and determination to derail his effort.

The temperatures are rising dangerously. Kenyans have in the past been very tolerant of corruption. But to avert the painful and tragic fate of the proverbial frog-in-the-pan, it is time to say enough is enough.  

Mr Choto is a lawyer and public affairs specialist[email protected]