On Tuesday, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta made his second-last State of the Nation address to the two Houses of Parliament.
The president used the occasion to review his administration’s achievements over the last nine years. The scorecard highlighted achievements in a number of areas. He said that he had built more roads than the previous four administrations including the colonial government combined. He highlighted the completion of the standard gauge railway.
On healthcare, he said that numerous hospitals had been built and bed capacity increased many times over during his tenure. He spoke of classrooms and schools built in record time. Power connected to more people than ever before. As a result of these development efforts, Kenya, he said, had doubled its GDP and the country had become the sixth wealthiest in Africa, having moved up from twelfth position in 2013, when he took office.
I have no reason to doubt this scorecard. There was, however, a glaring omission in the president’s speech which I would like to discuss so that we can have a more balanced assessment of his achievements. Every major corruption measure has rated President Kenyatta’s first five years as the most corrupt in the history of Kenya. The theft had no pretensions to sophistication like the Goldenberg and Anglo-leasing heists under Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki. It was the slash and grab kind — crude, blatant and pathologically callous.
Containers would be styled mobile clinics and the well-connected scam artists paid billions of shillings in record time. There was a resurgence of grabbing of public property captured in horrendous fashion by the tear-gassing of the school children of Lang’ata Primary School when they protested the stealing of their school field by a high-ranking government official. Theft became so normalised that a government official could say publicly that money lost in relation to another heist was a mere ksh7 billion ($62 million). Nothing to be concerned about, he said.
The devolved units, too, hopped on to the gravy train. One county administration bought ballpoint pens for Ksh8,000 ($71) each and wheelbarrows at Ksh100,000 ($888) apiece. Governors and county officials became instant millionaires. An article compiled from the Auditor-General’s report indicated that in the first six years of the Jubilee administration, “a staggering Ksh4.2 trillion ($37.3 billion) was either lost, not spent well or not accounted for”.
In his speech, President Kenyatta made an important observation. He said the Asian Tigers achieved what had taken Europe 200 years in a single generation. They did this through rapid and strategic interventions. Mr Kenyatta forgot to add another factor: Zero-tolerance for corruption.
How would the president’s scorecard have looked like had he done two things from the onset of his administration: Crack down on thievery and lethargy in his administration?
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator