The NTV Kenya expose of theft of Covid-19 funds and equipment that aired on August 16, has elicited anger and despair among Kenyans.
The anger was manifested in unprecedented countrywide protests against the thievery of public funds. The despair has reignited cynicism about the government’s commitment to the fight against corruption and, more insidiously, the ability of African governments to govern.
The assumption at the heart of the ‘social contract’ between a government and those it governs is that despite hitches here and there, government is fundamentally committed to advancement of public good. The extremely callous theft of funds meant to stave off cases of crippling illness and death has made people begin to question that assumption.
Since the height of Kanu larceny in the early 1990s, we have been constantly bombarded with reports of theft of mind-numbing sums of public money by government officials in collusion with criminal cartels. Economists say the Goldenberg scandal drained more than Ksh100 billion ($923 million, at today’s exchange rate) from the Kenyan economy.
The Anglo Leasing scam robbed the security sector of resources, which left it vulnerable to terrorist attacks. We have seen theft of funds meant for free primary school. The ministry of health paid billions for shipping containers styled as mobile clinics.
The power sector has lost billions os shillings impacting provision of affordable and reliable power. We lost money meant for development of youth in serial heists at the National Youth Service. Theft at the National Cereals and Produce Board impacted food security. In summary, there is not a single sector that has not suffered regression or stagnation because of relentless thievery.
In the first term of the Jubilee administration, churches, citizenry and human rights organisations raised alarm over return of runaway thievery. Even foreign embassies took the unprecedented step of confronting the government directly over return of wanton thievery.
In his second term, President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to end graft. Energetic individuals — Noordin Haji and George Kinoti — were appointed to replace the officers running the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations respectively. But despite commendable progress, theft seems to continue unabated.
In a March 2, 2019 column in this newspaper, I wondered just how deeply entrenched thievery was in government. My conclusion was that the charging of a Finance minister over theft was evidence that the vice was an integral part of the state. I called on President Kenyatta to dismantle his entire government and reassemble it anew.
Now, the NTV revelation that even funds meant to save us from death have been stolen brings urgency to that call. The president should now declare theft of national funds a national emergency and dissolve his government. Then use emergency powers to pull out by its roots this vice that has kept, and will keep us, a poor Third World country. But punitive action is not enough. We must all begin to make corruption a social and political liability.