Kenyatta remains stoic in face of tax haven exposé

Saturday October 09 2021
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers a pre-recorded video statement during the virtual inaugural United Nations Food Systems Summit held on the margins of the UN General Assembly. PHOTO | PSCU


Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has put on a brave face in the wake of the Pandora Papers revealing his family operates offshore accounts, saying only people with unexplained wealth need to be worried about the leaked documents.

The president, who has been away in the Barbados in recent days, has promised to clear the air about the report linking the Kenyatta family – including his mother and two siblings – to 13 offshore accounts when he returns.

The Pandora Papers, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), show that the accounts were opened between 1999 and 2003 before Kenyatta became president.

The scion of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency as then ruling party Kanu’s candidate in the 2002 election.

He lost to Mwai Kibaki in the race to succeed the country’s longest-serving president, Daniel arap Moi.

The early years of the Kibaki administration featured a clamour to recover public funds reportedly siphoned to tax havens by the Moi-era corruption cartels, with the government hiring the UK consultancy Kroll & Associates to trace the loot.


But the Pandora Papers might have put a dent in his anti-corruption efforts that have in the past seen him call for lifestyle audits for public officials and unleash investigative and prosecution agencies on those linked to graft scandals.

In March 2015, the president suspended five Cabinet ministers whose names were mentioned in a report by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

Succession agenda

More recently, he has sought to make the fight against corruption part of succession agenda, telling a crowd in Nairobi in February this year about his wish not to “leave the country to thieves” when he retires next year.

He has hinted at an impending endorsement of former prime minister Raila Odinga as his preferred successor, overlooking Deputy President William Ruto.

Dr Ruto in the past has had to defend himself in court over corruption allegations, including one involving a public forestland grab and another regarding dispossession of an internally displaced person of his 100-acre farm after the post-election violence of 2007/08.

The Deputy President has often attributed graft allegations against him to what he believes is a political conspiracy to soil his image and block him from succeeding President Kenyatta next year.

He rarely speaks about corruption issues in his campaign meetings, preferring populist rhetoric about his mission to lift the country’s poor from poverty.

Notably, Dr Ruto has yet to comment publicly about the Pandora Papers, leaving it to his political allies to have a go at his boss.

Mr Odinga has made corruption a key plank of his campaign platform in the past three presidential elections and is expected to make it a key pillar of his manifesto for 2022.

But the Pandora Papers are proving to be an awkward topic for the former prime minister due to his cooperation with President Kenyatta.

On Wednesday, Mr Odinga told a radio interview that while he doesn’t operate offshore accounts himself, he doesn’t deem it wrong for leaders to put their money there as long as they can explain the wealth.