Oh dear! When will this nightmare of epic-scale theft end? This exasperation is at the revelation that four Cabinet secretaries are linked to the theft of billions of shillings. Just how deeply entrenched in the state is corruption?
President Uhuru Kenyatta in recent times has come across as being totally determined to eradicate corruption in his second term. In his first term, he himself acknowledged that corruption existed everywhere and particularly in the Office of the President. But he was reduced to wringing his hands, because moving against corruption then would have occasioned a major political fallout that would have jeopardised his re-election.
No one is more knowledgeable about corruption kingpins’ ability to hold a leader to ransom than Rwandan President Paul Kagame. In an interview I had with him some two years ago, he recalled being asked by a journalist if he risked losing critical political support because of his uncompromising stance against corruption.
He conceded that could happen, but he told the journalist that he had decided that it would have been totally pointless to have fought so hard to just come and do exactly what previous governments had done.
His government, he had vowed to himself, would mark a complete paradigm shift in governance philosophy and practice no matter the consequences.
The culture of corruption, he said in the interview, is nurtured, facilitated and maintained by those at the top. At the top, therefore, is where the fight should start.
Our experience with corruption since Independence bears out Kagame’s observations. It would have been impossible to execute a Goldenberg or Anglo-Leasing type of scam without the abetting and facilitation of officials at the highest levels of government.
Despite robust denials, the NYS 1 and 2 scams too would have been impossible to carry out without the participation, or facilitation – actively or by pretending to look the other way – of the most senior officials.
An editorial in Daily Nation hinted that action against the four Cabinet secretaries was slow or non-existent because of the risk of a political fallout.
Uhuru himself has said in the past that he knows that his stance against corruption will cost him many friends, but that he was willing to pay that price. Will he follow Kagame’s lead and refuse to give into this apparent blackmail?
Those of us who rush to support our tribesmen when they are caught stealing, having accepted the cynical and self-serving narrative that “our tribe is being finished,” perhaps do not realise just how grave a danger corruption at its current levels poses to our viability as a nation-state.
It costs Kenya upwards of a trillion shillings to service its public debt. Of the trillion or so left, a huge amount goes into maintaining the fabulous lifestyles of our MPs and other state officials. Another huge fraction is stolen, leaving a small amount for development.
How is the huge vote for the presidency used? Can the president’s entourage when on foreign travel be reduced to just essential people? How much of that vote goes into underwriting Deputy President William Ruto’s 2022 campaigns disguised as official duty?
How much of the ministries’ budget goes into entertainment and travel to useless talking shops all over the world? If we could eliminate corruption and this kind of wastage, we could significantly increase the amount that goes into development and Uhuru’s Big Four Agenda of affordable housing, affordable healthcare, food security, and expansion of the manufacturing sector. As it is, the much-hyped Vision 2030 will not be achieved because of corruption, wastage and inefficiency.
Now this latest revelation that four Cabinet secretaries (this is the number that is known; there could well be more) are linked to massive theft answers the question we posed at the beginning: How deeply entrenched in the state is corruption ? The answer, proved beyond doubt by this revelation, is: The whole state is rotten.
Accordingly, there is only one logical and moral option for Uhuru Kenyatta: Disband the whole government and reconstitute it anew! Not by bringing back old farts or recycling this discredited bunch, but by bringing in new blood using stringent criteria of integrity, performance record, ability to work beyond the call of duty to transform lives, etc.
Kenya is so far behind countries it was at par with at Independence; we have to run many times faster if we are ever to catch up. That requires a paradigm shift in the way we do business.
Anything short of that means we will remain a nation robbed to a developmental standstill for the foreseeable future.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.