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On Grand Corruption in Kenya

Hasn’t this story been pundited to death yet?

Apparently not.

Most of the reporting and commentary on the Anglo-leasing scandal (and now Goldenberg) has focused on individuals, and calls for resignation and prosecution, but like I’ve said before there’s not enough being said about the bigger picture. How many corruption cases has the Attorney-General successfully prosecuted? Almost nil. He is part of the “grand corruption network” – the Yes man. Rumor has it that he has Githongo-type incontrovertible evidence of being asked to do the dirty work for both the Moi and Kibaki government and that’s why he’s untouchable.

But that’s a side story.

What’s the bigger picture?

First, the existing corruption networks within the civil service. I would like to see investigations and resignations go beyond the big-wigs and I think there should be a purge of some sorts within the civil service. Someone showed Murungaru et. al. how things work…who are these guys? According to the Standard report:

“The third link in the chain was the bureaucrats in both the Office of the President and in the Ministry of Finance, who pushed through the paperwork and payments. The office of the Financial Secretary in particular has since the 1990s been a key player in the facilitation of the dubious payments. In 2001, an attempt by an international merchant bank to audit Kenya’s stock of commercial debt at the instigation of the IMF, for example, floundered as a result of the reluctance of key officials at the Treasury and the Office of the President to make the necessary documents to establish whether some of the debts existed at all.”

Most of these guys can’t remember the last time they did actual work and are not about to give up the gravy train….they are just as dangerous if not more dangerous than the politicians. They are below the radar and even if something is done at the Cabinet level or even if a new government comes into power, they will still be around…2007 will not really resolve anything, even if we have the new faces that we are all desperate for. The Standard report notes:

“In his speech on taking the oath of service on December 31, 2002, President Kibaki declared that the era of corruption was over. The networks should have been his first target in the war against corruption. But, either by default or otherwise, key civil servants at the centre of the multi-billion shilling contracts in which huge amounts of cash were paid out to non-existent companies were retained in their positions. These mainly middle ranking officials – based at the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the President (most performing accounting functions) helped to keep alive the network that perpetrated grand corruption and made the seamless transition from the Kanu regime to Narc. The Standard’s investigations have revealed that a number of officers, some of them Chief Finance Officers including one who is currently being prosecuted for theft from the CID, provided the vital linkage from one regime to the next and explain the continuation of dubious contracts initiated under Kanu and continued under Narc. The corruption networks, which were in place in the previous Government, remained almost intact in 2003.”

The other part of the bigger picture – political patronage, campaign finance, and the expectations that Kenyan voters have of their leaders – is astutely covered in this op-ed by Jaindi Kisero. He writes:

When we elect a leader in Africa, we enter into unwritten contracts committing him to reward our political loyalty with appointment to parastatal jobs, to raise money to build rural schools, and to award the elite of our tribes with contracts at inflated prices. As we learn from Goldenberg, the Ndung’u Report and Anglo Leasing, an elected leader must – to remain in power – hand out benefits such as lucrative supplies contracts and public land to their relations and political allies. Worse, the winner-take-all type of politics that we practise puts the stakes of being dethroned from power either through a no-confidence vote or losing in an election too high.

Beyond the patronage is the attitude of the electorate. And this is not just in shags or limited to the “non-elite.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this statement in Nairobi, “At least in Moi’s days EVERYBODY ate.” Jaindi again:

Here in Kenya, we talk of the “national cake” and say that one must “eat where he works”. A retired senior public official who migrates to the rural areas to a simple life is treated with derision by the villagers – often taunted and blamed for not having taken full advantage of his high office….What is my point? That when we are finally through with Anglo Leasing, Goldenberg and the Ndung’u Report, we must start thinking about how to address the root cause of political corruption in Kenya. If we don’t do so, then we must be prepared to go through this boring ritual of replacing one corrupt administration with another after every five years

And can people please quit with this has all come about because of some grand neo-imperialist conspiracy by “some donors who lost their contracts are pissed” and “Githongo is a UK lackey” red herring. Even if it was true, so-freaking-what? Does that diminish the fact that Kenyan taxpayer money is being squandered left right and center on a daily basis by fellow Kenyans?

So what is to be done?

In a previous post, I wrote: “Kenyans need to question their government more either as individual citizens or through their MPs…”

Irena (in the comment section) felt that this is not enough, asking: Are they going to reply to those queries if they deny in the daylight that they are not guilty of corruption?

My response – they might not respond to the queries initially, but it’s a start. We need to move away from a political culture where nothing is questioned, because “that’s how things work.” You cannot begin to challenge impunity if you don’t question…and who knows, like in the case of the luxury car report sometimes the answers may lie elsewhere and we just need to be more innovative about exposing these guys. Let them be pushed into the corner and start dodging the press like Murungi is. Let them issue press statements that make them look even more ridiculous. Let them start sweating and knowing that people are beginning to pay attention and will keep pestering them until they are satisfied.

Irena adds, First of, we need to educate the masses,( Civic Education). Without that only you and I who have access to the internet or hold such honest discussion will question. I have said it before, if the general masses in Eldoret, Mwea, Turkana, Meru etc are not in touch with their MPs and they trully understand the stakes of their votes and the responsbility of their chosen leaders, then this will go on. I think the problem has to be tackled from grassroot levels and sensitize the masses on how to hold their leaders accountable. Otherwise, few elites who can critically analyze Githongo dossier ALONE simply does not cut it. While we are making this information available, we need to also use the layman’s language to those Kenyans who may not have taken accounting 101 or Political science and make them understand fully good governance.

My response:

– I agree that the masses need to understand what’s at stake, however, civic education especially around good governance has failed in Kenya. There’s been no shortage of it from back in 1997 and especially in the run up to Bomas. Fact is that voters generally react to more basic concerns whether it is tribe, popularity, fear, etc. (not just in Kenya, how do you explain two terms of George Bush?). That’s the sad truth, especially to the extent that they are not really being presented with an appetizing menu of options in the first place (just variations of long-time crooks) and it is something that many in civil society are trying to grapple with – what needs to be done differently. For a start, like you said, there needs to be a better effort at tying the impact of corruption to their daily lives. Now that you’ve exposed just how much is spent in luxury car, what exactly does the fact that your “bendera MP” is driving a S-500 Merc mean for you as a constituent? Some NGOs are now doing work around the Constituency Development Funds – organizing and giving people tools to ask how their funds are being spent/managed.

– That being said. Let’s not delude ourselves. The grassroots can only do so much. Politics and the dirt that goes along with it is ultimately an elitist affair – that’s why you elect someone to be in charge. Grassroots activism does not mean much if you have don’t have solid people in charge. That’s the other part of the conundrum that needs to be fixed.

OK, off to do something that actually pays the bills.

Keep the comments coming….

23 comments to On Grand Corruption in Kenya

  • Just how much can we talk about corruption?
    Anglo leasing/fleecing is as magnanimous as was Goldenberg,. Nothing will underscore and heads rolling will not help us recover.

  • I might be hopelessly optimistic but it seems important that we are finally getting hard information; we are building cases; we are beginning to understand the relationships between structures and individuals (and, even in so-called advanced democracies, that link is rarely made by the general populace).

    I *do* think we are laying a good foundation on which to base a responsible politics. As WM points out in her latest post on the national Mzee, we have a ways to go, in terms of thinking about and critiquing privilege. We’ve made a good start.

    Kenyatta used to say uhuru na kazi. Equitable democracy (the republicans would call me a communist for that phrase) takes time and hard work and constant intervention. How to translate work over time into political rhetoric for people who have very basic needs, as you point out, is a difficult but by no means impossible task.

  • JKE

    I think the man interviewed in Githongo’s video and Mentals recent blogging on this (“my vote is my weapon”) shows that some parts of the grassroots level have indeed clearly understood how to actually contribute to the bigger picture with their vote.
    Makes me think that jobs at those ministries should be granted the same way modern MPs are elected through democratic processes.

  • Osas

    Corruption has been here for quite a long time; it dates back right into colonial times, as the last KACC annual report (2004/2005) astutely observed:

    “Corruption is as old as mankind. Some of the earliest efforts to fight corruption in Kenya started in the colonial era in the 1920s. At the time, bribery was born of an inversion of the
    social values that governed our traditional lives. Virtues, such as reverence for elders, in-laws and people in authority and the traditional African hospitality of gift – or token
    exchange got abused and were transformed into demands to give a token before action was taken or a decision made. The vice was serious enough to warrant a specific law to deal with it. This led, eventually, to the enactment of The Prevention of Corruption Act (Cap 65) in 1956.”

    Now, the present nefarious interlink between corruption and many institutions is rooted exactly in the weakness of the same instititions and structures; Kenyans have used the last 40 years to run them down. In the course of your work, Ory, you’ll hear so-and-so many wazee waxing with nostalgia (Oh, but Nairobi in the late 1960s, oh Kisumu in the 1970, what a different city, what a different life). You know what? They are not just nostalgic old codgers; they are right. 😥


  • Hi Ory,
    Could not agree more with you. Can you believe that the president has ordered yet another investigation into Goldenberg, how damn are we Kenyans that we need all those yeers and time to investigate such a straight forward thing. The AG is an accomplice to such grandscale schemes, how is it that there is an acquital rate of almost 90% of all court cases in Kenya. Kenya needs a complete overhaul including our legal system. I do not think that the police take there time to investigate anything a part from getting kitu kidogo. I have been in Kenya for the last 6 weeks and I telll you i find it amazing at the way in which Politicians conduct themselves, its as if they are above the law. In ordinary Kenyans minds these people will never be caught because they believe they are above the law. N-ways it has to be one thing at atime, hope the next elections will signify a change in the way Kenyans conduct themselves. I think the media has really played its part in trying to educate the masses despite few mistakes here and there which is a common thing.
    Later and please lets unite for the common good of the country.

  • JKE

    “Mr Githongo wore a black suit, lime green shirt and a stripped matching tie.
    The PAC team had arrived a few minutes earlier in two High Commission cars, with Mr Kenyatta in the High Commissioner’s royal blue BMW and the others in a VW van.”

    source: http://www.nationmedia.com/dailynation/nmgcontententry.asp?category_id=1&newsid=67080

    ==> *yawn* ..ailing kenyan journalism? 😛

  • Irena

    Thanks for using my comment as a point of discussion, I’m honored:wink:

  • adongo ogony

    These guys are jokers: But we got them covered

    This is my piece on the Kibaki Circus Team


  • the recent Artur drama and the unfolding underworld undertakings by the two help us have a bigger picture of how the synchlonised well orchestred untouchable “corrupt government” network is in kenya.
    the protection given to the two and the hasty deportation when the soup leaked out of the bowl, is but a clear indication of the unlawful cartel stage managed by the government. it empties the desperate state of hopelessness that the civil public servants are at dispensing thir duties. if the arturs were only answerable to the deputy commissioner of police at JKIA, then the officer on duty was rendered incapable of questioning the two.
    The gvts protection of the two previously and the blatant evasion of the real issue by the president (he took more time naming his family members than he took sacking the entire cabinet)in the wake of the incidenmces helps you and me see the numerous power the corrupt fishes have and the heights the legitimata government go to in protecting the illegitimate parallel economies

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