Ferdinand Waititu was catapulted to political stardom by a media that assiduously reported on his outrageous antics.
The news media followed him as he slapped people, incited violence against an ethnic group, exchanged rock projectiles with opponents in the streets of Nairobi, and vented rabble-rousing rhetoric. He became the MP of first a constituency in Nairobi and then another in Kiambu, before rising to become the governor of Kiambu County.
But a few days ago, the gregarious rabble-rouser cut a sorry Sancho Panza figure in the dock answering to charges of theft of public money. Making a ruling on his bail, Magistrate Lawrence Mugambi, among other conditions, forbade Waititu from entering his office and contacting witnesses. After his release, the governor was shown on TV taking a walkabout in Kiambu. He stopped to catch his breath and then declared that he did not need an office to execute his duties.
He was next shown dancing joyously in a church, his ample belly, shocked into unfamiliar activity, bouncing laboriously up and down.
The devolution experiment that Kenya undertook in 2013 was meant to bring development to people at the grassroots. For years after Independence, the over-centralised government chose which regions to develop and which not according to an ethnic calculus. By contrast, devolution brought funds to all regions.
Counties, however, have proved just as inept, discriminatory and thieving as central government. The pervasive fear that county governments could collapse from sheer theft is buttressed out by the fact that a number of former and sitting governors have been charged with the theft of billions of shillings’ worth of county funds. Many more former and sitting governors are likely to be brought before the courts on charges of grand theft.
It is this sense that Kenya could be overwhelmed by grand theft that has led to an unprecedented tough stance by judges and magistrates against high-level thievery. For many years, the high and mighty robbed knowing that they could not only get away with it but could also use the acquired notoriety and wealth to climb up the political ladder. A landmark ruling by Justice Mumbi Ngugi, coupled with the no-nonsense approach of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of Criminal Investigations, spells the beginning of the end of thievery of public funds by government officials.
Justice Ngugi, upholding a lower court’s decision to bar the Samburu Governor from his office, declared that government officials could not be expected to oversee use of public money they were accused of stealing.
To many people, what was meant by the judge and the magistrate in the Waititu case was that they would cease to execute their official duties until their cases were determined. In any case, for all practical purposes, that would be the effect. However, according to the governors and their overpaid lawyers, the judgments only barred the governors from entering their office buildings.
THEATRE OF THE ABSURD
But is it possible that Justice Ngugi and Magistrate Mugambi were oblivious to the fact that the governors could still exercise oversight over public resources from other premises? Even if what was meant by the ruling was a physical office, would it be possible for the governors to comply with the order barring them from any interaction with witnesses who, in all likelihood, could be their subordinates?
In any case, Chapter Two of the Constitution on national values and principles of governance and Chapter Six on leadership and integrity leave no doubt as to the meaning of both Justice Ngugi and Magistrate Mugambi.
Besides, a constitution cannot give guidance in every aspect of life. Leaders of conscience should resign as a way of restoring public confidence in the offices they hold in trust.
Soon after Magistrate Mugambi made his ruling on Waititu’s bail request, the Deputy Governor of Kiambu, his eyes gleaming with eagerness for power, declared that he had taken over as governor in order to stop further theft and ensure transparency. A preacher next to him then proceeded to pray for and bless him. The preacher is embroiled in a scandal in which he is alleged to have embezzled millions of shillings from impoverished members of a Sacco he presides over. Does the image of an alleged thief blessing the prospective moral leader inspire confidence?
Theatre of the absurd depicts a society where there are no laws or moral principles, and so there is confusion and purposelessness. The Kiambu theatre of the absurd will morph into a Grecian tragedy of great poverty and despair.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.