Last year there were rebellions against various kinds of ‘state capture’ all over the world. State capture, as John Githongo explains in an article appearing on an online journal, is the repurposing of the state in order to facilitate theft of public funds.
The people in power are no longer there to advance public good, but to gain wealth and influence for themselves and a tiny minority of well-connected individuals in and out of government. The consequence of this type of government is that the vast majority of people become increasingly poor while a tiny minority becomes fabulously wealthy.
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have an euphemism for this state of affairs—inequitable growth. But this is not capitalism governed by laws. This is rogue capitalism working in cahoots with cartels and criminal gangs.
From Honduras, Chile and Venezuela in Latin America, to Eastern European countries and to Algeria, Gabon, Guinea and Sudan in Africa, demonstrators demanded an end to corruption and inept government.
The case of Sudan best encapsulates the nature of these regimes. When demonstrations finally led to the ouster of long-time dictator Omar al Bashir, millions of dollars and pounds in cash were found stashed in boxes in his house.
For all the years Bashir was in power, the World Bank, IMF and the African Development Bank would give annual reports on Sudan’s economy using the language of inequitable growth, foreign investment, diversification of the economy, while ignoring that the raison d’être of the regime was to facilitate wealth accumulation by a clique around Omar el Bashir.
In Kenya, despite spectacular theft of public funds since 2013—estimated in trillions of shillings—there were no demonstrations of note. The middle class, like the proverbial ostrich burying its head in the sand, barricaded itself behind gated communities and hoped for the best.
The impoverished masses streamed, in their millions, to churches where self-styled apostles, bishops and prophets, promising that God would bless them with millions of shillings, proceeded to fleece them of whatever they had left. Others chose to put their trust in secular methods and streamed to gambling establishments where they lost whatever little they had. Still others looked to betting companies to get that ticket to the fabulous life led by politicians, profiteers masquerading as businesspeople, “tenderpreneurs” and government fat cats.
In their spare time, which was a lot given an employment rate of about 35 per cent, the masses allowed themselves to be distracted from the stress of living by news of the shenanigans of TangaTanga and Kieleweke political factions, supplied in overkill dosage by the media. Alternatively, the masses distracted themselves by dreaming of the tribal paradise should their dear tribesman win this or that election.
We Kenyans know what we need to do to change our condition and we know the type of leaders we need to help us do that. We know we need to end the culture of ‘tenderpreneurs’.
Most of the corruption cases before the courts stem from government officials awarding themselves or their cronies lucrative contracts. There is a governor, for instance, whose petrol station provided fuel for his county government vehicles. We know we must stop the culture of kickbacks.
Many of the corruption scandals involve the award of government contracts to rogue contractors in return for millions in bribe money. We know that we must end the smash-and-grab kind of heists where government officials simply cart away money in sacks as happened in the two National Youth Service scandals.
We know we have to end wastage. According to the Auditor General, billions of shillings were wasted on foreign travel by government and county officials. We must end the culture of self-aggrandisement. For instance, a governor was alleged to have spent millions of shillings on a gathering ostensibly to audit his performance but which in reality was an obscene self-congratulatory party.
We know we need people of personal integrity. We need leaders of conscience. We need leaders whose sense of personal success is not indicated by the number of helicopters or limousines they have, but by the number of people whose lives they have transformed. Yes, we all know all these things, but they are not what we consider when going into an election.
In 2020, we in Kenya can choose to do things we know we must do in order to change our condition. Otherwise, 2020 will be just like 2019 or 2018 or the years before that.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.