SUCESSION POLITRICKS

Why allies believe war on graft targets DP Ruto

The target is the man, not the community.

In Summary

• Nandi Governor Stephen Sang has accused Uhuru of scheming with ODM leader Raila Odinga.

• Two questions emerge: One, is the government actually fighting corruption? And two, what is the link between corruption and presidential elections?

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto
Image: FILE

The gloves are off and Deputy President William Ruto and his allies have said the onslaught on graft is meant to scuttle his 2022 bid.

They have, consequently, gone full throttle after DCI George Kinoti and DPP Noordin Haji, appointees of President Uhuru Kenyatta, whom he has said he has full confidence in in the war on corruption. Ruto and his supporters accuse the duo of being after him through targeting, arresting and charging his allies.

Nandi Governor Stephen Sang recently accused President Kenyatta of scheming with ODM leader Raila Odinga to cause political animosity against the Kalenjins.

Sang accused Uhuru of appointing his ‘errand boy’ Kinoti as DCI with specific orders to harass the Kalenjin community. And it is not only politicians from the Rift Valley. Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah said, “The Deputy President said we must wage the war against corruption based on facts- the truth, evidence and not propaganda and lies. It is important we base our investigations on facts,” he said. These sentiments are not new.

However, allies of the President say he is out to end corruption, which has skyrocketed in the recent past.

“The war on corruption is not targetted at any individual or linked to 2022. Absolutely not. Supporting corruption should, in act propel one to the presidency,” Nyeri Town MP told the Star on the phone on Friday in response to a question.

During Uhuru’s second term in office, the country has had what is being referred to as an intensified crackdown on corruption. In the process, a number of corruption scandals have been unearthed, key among them being the National Youth Service scandal Season Two, the National Cereals and Produce Board scam, Kenya Bureau of Standards as well as dubious dealings at Kenya Power and at the Kenya Pipeline Company. Senior officials have been suspended (not fired) and charged.

 

LEAVING A LEGACY

Like President Mwai Kibaki in 2002, Uhuru wants his legacy to be slaying the corruption dragon, he told the BBC last year. But Ruto’s allies say it is witch-hunt targeting the DP, and linked to 2022 politics.

 

Kenya’s leading economist and adviser to NASA in the last election, Dr David Ndii, has also voiced similar sentiments in the past.

Two questions emerge: One, is the government actually fighting corruption? And two, what is the link between corruption and presidential elections?

To answer these questions, there is a need to look at history and explore the link between corruption and power, and thus elections, which are used to attain or retain power and wealth through political leadership.

“If you look at the history of the mega scandals in this country...it has always been in the years preceding election,” the then Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission Prof Patrick Lumumba told Reuters in March 2011.

True to Prof Lumumba remark, most of the scandals being reported now were executed between 2014 and 2016, just before the 2017 General Election. And already, three years before the 2022 elections, succession politics/campaigns are basically underway and have been linked to the so-called crackdown on graft. And this corruption manifests itself in various ways.

Former MP Joe Khamisi, in his book Looters and Grabbers: 54 Years of Corruption and Plunder by the Elite, 1963-2017 notes, “In Kenya, corruption has broadened into what some call ‘corruption complex’ that includes ‘nepotism, abuse of power, embezzlement and various forms of misappropriation, influence-peddling, prevarication, insider trading and abuse of public purse (funds)...’”. Here, there are skewed appointments in government – nepotism and tribalism -, brokerage of infrastructure projects and inflation of project cost and looting.

Khamisi quotes John Githongo, the former Governance and Ethics PS in the Kibaki administration, on the culture of “looting”, which Githongo describes as large-scale economic delinquency, scams, “whose figures are so huge that when they are successfully concluded, they have macro-economic implications fairly quickly – they cause banks to collapse, inflation to rise, and the exchange rate to decline”. When a third of the national budget goes to graft, looting is what is happening. But where does this money go to?

 

CAMPAIGNS AND CORRUPTION

Campaigns have become an expensive affair in this country, especially since the re-introduction of the 1992 multiparty politics. So bad that there have been unsuccessful attempts to introduce regulatory laws on campaign funding through the Election Campaign Finance Act.

The regulation has been proposed because of the huge amounts, some unaccounted for, that go into the campaigns. And here is the problem. Campaign financiers may be businesspersons or organisations that engage in illegal activities, and by the nature of their deals, they are willing and ready to sponsor a party or candidate that will protect them if and when they win an election, hence desiring to seek protection from political leadership upon victory after an election.Those in political power are able, most of the times illegally, to influence government tendering, appointments and control of power.

Samuel Kimeu of Transparency International says there is nothing wrong with contributing to political campaigns. The challenge, he writes, is however when such contributions are at a level that could influence not just the outcome of the elections, but also the choices of those funded after assuming office, or from illicit sources. He further argues that a sizeable chunk of the cash stolen from the public ends up buying political support and more opportunities for extra corrupt activities.

“This explains why since the advent of multiparty politics in Kenya, there has been a major or several corruption scandals associated with each General Election,” Kimeu says. Interestingly, he notes one of the characteristics of these graft scandals associated with elections is that they are not resolved. Examples include Anglo-Leasing, Goldenberg, Triton, Maize Scandal, NYS One and ChickenGate, among others.

This, he says, is because they are conceptualised and initiated or implemented from the country’s highest levels of political and economic leadership. For instance, while the UK in 2015 jailed two executives – Nicholas Smith and his father Christopher - of security printing firm Smith and Ouzman (S&O) for bribing Kenyan election and national examination officials to secure multi-million-shilling contracts, the cases of their Nairobi-based accomplices are still dragging in court.

Ngunjiri, however, said, “Anyone who feels targeted or thinks the crackdownis linked to 2022 campaign financing is then admitting he is corrupt or involved in corruption”.

Prof Herman Manyora told the Star that DP being the lead contender in 2022 has to be the target, especially if some people, including the President, have changed their mind.

“They will use many tools, corruption being one, to fight him. It could also mean one is corrupt,” he said.

Charles Kipkulei, a governance consultant,said the war against corruption has been hijacked by some forces as their main tool of ‘Ruto Containment’ “primarily because DP Ruto has emerged as a formidable front runner in the Uhuru succession”.

Being the Deputy President, he said, Ruto’s detractors know that the incumbency advantage gives him an upper hand on various fronts and are therefore trying to clutch at the straws of the war against corruption as their first line of offence against him in the run up to 2022.

“This weaponisation of the graft war aims at negatively profiling the DP and his allies with the hope that it will slow him down from his early and energetic forays to the grassroots while also putting him on the defensive thus distracting him from his plan to succeed his boss.” Kipkulei said.

 

1976 CHANGE CONSTITUTION MOVEMENT

When it became clear to President Jomo Kenyatta confidants that Vice President Daniel Moi would automatically replace him when his health deteriorated, there was the Change the Constitution movement, which was out to change the law to prevent him from ascending to power. The powers that be, which were also referred to as the Kiambu Mafia, wanted to protect their interests. This is because, as they expected, Moi would scuttle their deals and reduce their influence and power, and focus on his interests and those of his allies. There is unpopular saying in Kenya that when a certain community gets to power, then it is their turn to “eat”, at the exclusion of the others. The Kiambu Mafia feared for such a scenario.

True to their fears, when Moi succeeded Kenyatta, he first removed from positions of power all those who were against him, among them Kihika Kimani, Kenyatta’s cousin Ngethe Njoroge, who was Kenya’s High Commissioner to the UK, Dr Njoroge Mungai and Udi Gecaga, who was also a member of the President’s family. And Moi took over from where Kenyatta left, amassing his wealth as well as that of his close confidants. Fuata Nyayo, he called it.

The extent of corruption perpetrated by Moi and his allies is revealed the Kroll report, which laid bare a web of shell companies, secret trusts and frontmen used to steal over $2 billion from the state coffers. Mwai Kibaki was no different. When he came to power in 2002, he surrounded himself with what came to be known as the Mt Kenya Mafia. The massive graft cases that were unearthed during his presidency involved ministries of these allies. So keen was the Mt Kenya Mafia to retain power, it allegedly rigged the presidential election in 2007, which resulted in post-election violence.

 

CORRUPTION UNDER JUBILEE

Mega scandals involving billions of shillings have been revealed under the Jubilee administration. But on his last term, Uhuru has changed the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, Director of Criminal Investigations and the CEO of the anti-graft agency.

The DPP and the DCI have been credited with the efforts to fight graft, which have some interesting characteristics: Arresting so-called high profile suspects on Friday and having them stay in the cells until Monday, when they are presented before court, and the DPP arguing for denial of bail. Whether it is by design or otherwise, it is the allies of the Deputy President or people from his tribe/ region that some allege are being targeted. Thus the question, are the Kalenjin corrupt or victims of circumstances?

In an unprecedented move, however, the DPP in an attempt to trash claims that certain tribes are being targeted released the tribes of those charged with economic crimes. From 415 suspects, the Kikuyus were 141, 56 Luos and 46 Kalenjins. Others were the Kisii, the Mijikenda/Swahili, the Kamba and the Luhyas with 37, 34, 31 and 29, respectively.

But that is beside the point. The target is the man, not the community.

Interestingly, other than the claims by Rift Valley politicians that war on graft is intended to block their man from becoming President, the change the Constitution movement is repeating itself, still lead by the Kiambu elites. David Murathe, a former vice chairman of the ruling Jubilee Party, and an ally of Uhuru made two interesting remarks.

In March 2018, he told journalists, “People want Uhuru to go home at 60 yet Raila [Odinga] is trying to be president at 75. Where do you want Uhuru to go?” On the day he resigned from the party position, he said he was ready to form a new coalition that “will crush Ruto and his group”. “I can tell him for free that he will be lucky to be an opposition leader,” Murathe told reporters at his Garden Estate.

He followed it up with a TV interview, where he said he was forming a stop-Ruto movement. “We are dealing with a personality [Ruto] (the person not the community) whom some of us believe is not suitable for that office. He has his supporters; we have our own people who are thinking alike. We will have these formations and Kenyans will select which one will work best for them,” Murathe said during an interview on KTN News.

He further characterised the Deputy President as corrupt - the same narrative Dr Ndii mentioned - saying: “We have watched him how he runs things and it’s all out there. There are people whose toes he steps on. There are people he gives directives to do unorthodox stuff [read corruption], which ends them in trouble [in court] … These things came out when the fight against corruption became intensified. These things are now in the open. He is in court for example with his lawyer Ahmednassir fighting the issue of Weston for example. There are allegations of his involvement in the maize scandal where farmers in Rift Valley were short-changed. The sugar scandal came the other day…and every time these things are pointing fingers at an individual as either the god-father or getting involved.”

Murathe is a wealthy politician from Kiambu, and was behind the formation of the Jubilee Alliance (Ruto’s URP and Uhuru’s TNA) in 2013 and the formation of the Jubilee Party in 2017. Murathe in this push is just but a messenger.

This makes some sections of political leadership and citizenry wonder if Uhuru’s recent campaign against corruption is not so much about rooting out the vice, but about safeguarding power and political interests, which Kenyatta I and Kibaki also protected when in office.

Ngunjiri, however, said,” The recent meeting at Harambee Annex was to tell the DP that the ongoing war on graft must continue without political sideshows.”