MONEY LAUNDERING VENTURE

Harambee: Noble initiative bastardised by Moi, his ilk

Intention was to have many people contributing to development projects.

In Summary
  • The founding President’s intention was that citizens would make their contributions in honesty and willingness.
  • When President Daniel Moi took over upon Kenyatta’s death, he used Harambee to endear himself to the citizens as a generous man.
Catholic bishops and faithful at Subukia National Shrine during National Prayer Day on October 5.
Catholic bishops and faithful at Subukia National Shrine during National Prayer Day on October 5.
Image: BEN NDONGA

Since the government renewed its fight against corruption, the graft lords seem to have changed tack and targeted the church for sanitisation. The church is a safe target because it is considered hallowed and expects unquestioning obedience from mortals.

Participating in the mission of the church through material contributions and volunteerism is considered noble and philanthropic. Those who are generous to the church and empathise with the priestly duty of selfless devotion to God’s calling are considered special. It is made to appear as if the more you contribute and volunteer, the closer you come to heaven’s gates.

The increasing complexity of the nature of the church’s mission has put more pressure on its resources. Church leaders, therefore, find the tithe inadequate and unreliable. The church has invested in income-generating activities to augment its resource base.

However, the income from these investments is under scrutiny. The income cannot, therefore, satisfy the appetite for personal aggrandisement that has become the quest of modern clergy.

They, in these circumstances, fall easily to the allure of easy cash and wealth from political donations. Sometimes some of these donations are proceeds of organised crime. Through corruption cartels, holders of illicit wealth seek to atone for their trespasses through humongous donations to the church.

At the donation ceremonies, they supplicate themselves almost laying prostrate at the pulpit to demonstrate their piety. Others make their donations in secret and remain anonymous in the church register.

It is with this background that the frenzied efforts by leading politicians to donate generously to church mission have raised eyebrows. The huge donations have not been commensurate with the money in the official financial system. It was an indication that cash was being horded for illicit activities, some of which bordered on crime. This alarmed the Central Bank and one of the measures taken was to demonetise the Sh1,000 note effective October 1, 2019.

The church has therefore lost the moral authority to preach about upright living. The attempts by the Catholic Church to regulate donations to its parishes are too little too late

Kenyans should know how they came to embrace the harambee practice and how it was turned into an easy conduit for corruption. Soon after Independence, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta coined the clarion 'Harambee' to mobilise the population in nation-building. It was noted that the nascent state could not generate adequate resources from taxation to finance its development agenda.

The word was derived from the Asian community who had used it during the construction of the railway line. The founding President’s intention was that citizens would make their contributions in honesty and willingness. He himself led by example, always donating figures that appeared modest but consistent with his official earnings.

The intention was that as many people as possible made contribution to development projects. Most of these projects were in education and health, building schools and polytechnics, and health centres.

 

During Kenyatta’s rule, it was only JM Kariuki who sought to use huge contributions to shore up his populist agenda. He was frowned upon by the establishment. The President’s circle saw this as contempt for Kenyatta’s philosophy. Kariuki’s murder remains unresolved to date.

When President Daniel Moi took over upon Kenyatta’s death, he used Harambee to endear himself to the citizens as a generous man. He personalised the exercise to the extent that he would hold fundraisers almost every week. None of the guests at such functions would contribute more than 'Nyayo' even if they could afford to. Ministers and Kanu operatives who presided over fundraisers had to make donations on behalf of the president.

It was during this period that Kenyans began to witness huge amounts of cash being donated at harambees. The events became politicised and were used to build or destroy careers. Minions were made lords overnight and heavyweights were reduced to smithereens in a matter of days.

It was during this period that Kenyans began to witness huge amounts of cash being donated at harambees. The events became politicised and were used to build or destroy careers. Minions were made lords overnight and heavyweights were reduced to smithereens in a matter of days.

One such case was when Kuria Kanyingi was brought from the obscurity of Motor Vehicle Inspection Unit as a mechanic to bring down then Vice President Josephat Karanja. He had access to inexhaustible cash and launched many women's groups' projects in Kiambu. Soon after, Dr Karanja was forced to resign to escape a looming vote of no confidence against him in Parliament.

It is this Moi version of Harambee that has continued to haunt Kenyan politics. Many aspiring politicians use cash donations to lure voters. Elected politicians use the same to maintain supporters' loyalty and win over the opposition. A politician’s worth is measured more by the amounts of cash donated in fundraisers than his development plan.

The citizens have been indoctrinated into this culture of handouts that it has become unnecessary to sell one's political manifesto. Scenes of youths, women and old men alike lining up with outstretched palms to beg for handouts abound during campaign periods.

When multiparty politics was reintroduced in 1992, Kanu birthed YK ’92. With it came the infamous Sh500 note nicknamed Jirongo. The outfit literally bought votes during the general election. Except for ethnic balkanisation, the only other means of enticing voters was cash handouts.

Over the years the culture has been entrenched and permeated the sanctums of the church. After the handshake on March 9, 2018, the polarisation of the country fizzled and the nation experienced much-longed-for calm. The government appeared to embark on serious pursuit of the Big Four agenda.

It was then difficult for politicians aspiring for higher political offices to use development harambees as an avenue to the voters’ hearts. Yet they had been dyed in the wool purveyors of handout politics.

The anti-corruption purge was also making it difficult to utilise sleaze money for investment purposes. The church, thus, became the only remaining place for sanitising graft proceeds. The church has no restrictions on who should attend service; in fact, all are welcome.

More importantly, the church encourages its congregants to contribute generously. The clergy regularly quotes Bible verses that extol the virtue of giving so as to receive the abundance of God’s blessings. The church thus became the vaults where suspect cash would be deposited, ostensibly for the work of God.

Once the clergy receives the hefty contributions from these politicians, they would proceed to pray for them. Their acts of generosity would be lauded and Kenyans encouraged to emulate them. Congregants would be requested to consider them positively at election time.

Such politicians would claim martyrdom if they should find themselves in the corridors of justice. In fact, they once released on bond, they would troop back to those churches for intercessory prayers.

The church has therefore lost the moral authority to preach about upright living. The attempts by the Catholic Church to regulate donations to its parishes are too little too late. The evangelical churches have declared openly that their offertory baskets are empty, and open to all and sundry.

They will continue to receive donations from whomsoever is willing, irrespective of their background. The position of the church on harambee donations, therefore, makes the proposed bill Jeremiah Kioni to regulate fundraisers a nonstarter. It will not see the light of the day.

Political and public policy analyst