No End for Corruption in Kenya

When Kenya’s cabinet secretary for Finance, Henry Rotich, was arrested and put on the dock on July 22 for alleged corruption, it somewhat marked a watershed period for the jaded Administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta, which is widely considered to be hemorrhaging from this seemingly intractable vice.

But with no top fish convicted since the swearing in of Kenyatta, 58, in April 2013 on graft charges, the outcome of these recent arrests, which included 27 other mandarins, will be a pointer on whether East Africa’s biggest economy is trudging towards the road to Damascus or is simply an inveterate double-dealer.

Expected back in court this August 8, after securing a 15 million KSH (roughly $145,000 USD) bond, the Rotich saga, in the eyes of a cynical public, remains a touchstone experience.

Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy and international development at the University of Birmingham, UK, and a founding editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of African Politics, says that it’s too early to tell whether these latest developments represent a serious and sustained attempt to reduce corruption.

“We have seen senior politicians resign or be arrested before, only to later be reinstated once charges have fallen away. At present, there are many rumours that suggest recent developments have been driven in part by a desire to weaken the Deputy President and slow down the momentum behind his drive to succeed President Kenyatta at the next election. We will not be able to evaluate the interpretation until we see whether other senior figures close to Kenyatta’s camp are also arrested. Until this happens, it remains possible that anti-corruption allegations are being used to settle political scores rather than reduce graft,” says Cheeseman.

What is at play in Kenya is ‘state capture’, defined as a political project in which a well-organised elite network constructs a symbiotic relationship between the constitutional state and a parallel shadow state for its own benefit, says Wachira Maina, a leading local constitutionalist

Presently, this country, whose economy, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is projected to grow by 5.83 percent, attaining a Ksh 10.1 trillion mark this year compared to Ksh nine trillion in 2018, is presently enchanted with a subtle mode of early electioneering for the Presidential sweepstakes in polls scheduled for 2022.

Driving the growth are massive investments by the government, including the private sector in the infrastructure space, coupled with an auspicious macroeconomic environment, featuring low inflation and controlled interest rates. This August, the country became Africa’s latest oil exporter, a phenomenon that could very well drive the development agenda of the country, which is largely agrarian, if handled circumspectly.

According to the local unit of Transparency International, a global anti-corruption organization, the arraignment of the Cabinet Secretary and his attendant colleagues from the treasury only confirms that corruption in Kenya is hatched from the highest echelons of government.

“This is just a further confirmation of what Kenyans have known all along. Corruption is conceived and executed at high levels in government. That has been the anatomy of corruption for many years. These suspects may be innocent, but the entire scandal is symptomatic of the way scandals are hatched and executed at the highest levels,” says Samuel Kimeu, the Executive Director of Transparency International Kenya.

Also presently playing out as a cynosure is a subtle battle of wits involving William Ruto, 53, the country’s deputy president, a deeply polarizing figure, whose source of wealth routinely has attracted a big measure of punditry within this country of 43 million people, and a coterie of politicos widely thought to be identical to Kenyatta.

The political bloodletting has morphed into faint electioneering for the presidential sweepstakes where Ruto is considered a front runner, a fixture now threatening to compromise the fight against corruption as the continent’s old-age fissure of negative ethnicity gradually rears its ugly head.

Mr. Kenyatta will be expected to bow out of the contest after having completed two constitutionally mandated, five year terms.

Coincidentally, the besieged Cabinet secretary hails from the Kalenjin community, which accounts for 12% of the nations’ population, making it the fourth largest ethnic group in a country with 42 disparate communities. Their ancestral home counts the deputy president as one of its indigenes and, in the recent past, was considered a flashpoint, having witnessed some of the worst intra-ethnic violence after the contentious 2007 elections, in which 1,200 people reportedly died.

Verifiably, the warring combatants were disproportionately drawn from both the Gikuyu and Kalenjin communities, who existentially neighbour each other in the North Rift region of the country.

And beginning in 1963, when the country forcibly unshackled itself from 68-years of British colonial rule, Kenya has had four official occupants of State house, the official residence of the president. Three, including Kenyatta, trace their roots to the door step of the Gikuyu community, the country’s largest ethnic community, which cobbles up 22 percent of the country’s population. The one remaining president was drawn from the Kalenjin ethnic group.

Mr. John Githongo, widely touted to being Kenya’s preeminent whistle blower, believes that corruption in the country, particularly during the reign of Kenyatta, is singularly ethicized.

“The logic of the looting since 2013 has been… driven by a Faustian pact between the Kikuyu elite led by Uhuru Kenyatta and the Kalenjin elite organised around Deputy President (DP) William Ruto. It was a pact forged out of the 2007/8 Post-Election Violence and the subsequent International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments. It has turned out to be the most expensive political coalition in Kenya’s history, and one that has liberalised corrupt activity to an extent that, for a generation of millennials, it has been normalized,” he says.

Mr. Rotich, 50, a Harvard educated mandarin who at some stage in his otherwise exemplary career stretching 25-years worked at the local office of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), together with 27 others, stands accused of inflating the cost of building two dams in the west of the country – his ancestral home base – to 63 billion shillings (US$608 million) from an original cost of Ksh 46 billion (US$ 445 million)

Involved in the dealing was CMC Di Ravenna, an Italian firm, which the Kenya Government contracted in April 2017 and whose work is yet to commence. Last December, the firm was declared insolvent by an Italian court, hamstringing its ability to complete large infrastructure projects.

“They broke the law on public finance management under the guise of carrying out legitimate commercial transactions. Colossal amounts were unjustifiably and illegally paid out through a well-choreographed scheme by government officers in collusion with private individuals and institutions,” Mr. Noordin Haji, the Director Public Prosecutions told a news conference in Nairobi on July 22.

Intermittently, the Deputy President has rejected any suggestion that money was lost in the project, even after it emerged that a company associated with Mr. Ken Osinde, his Chief of Staff, was a beneficiary of the alleged malfeasance rocking the dam projects.

The DP’s political flunkies are pulling no punches, saying that the on-going campaign geared at weeding out corruption is basically an ostensible stratagem by Kenyatta, singularly targeting their men.

“This is politics and we won’t entertain tricks. If Uhuru does not want Ruto, let him not sacrifice Kalenjins. Let him engage Ruto on his own,” Mr. Kangogo Bowen, a local MP drawn from the Kalenjin community, is reported as saying this March.

Kenya’s government loses as much as $5bn – or at least half of its annual budget – to corruption a year, according to the country’s auditor-general.

Meanwhile, Dr. David Ndii, an economic activist, recently observed that “the Uhuruto kleptocracy has plundered Ksh 350 billion (roughly US $3.4 billion) since 2013, ranking it fifth in the world kleptocracy league table, right behind Mobutu and Abacha (US $5 billion), Ferdinand Marcos (US $10 billion) and Indonesia’s Suharto at US $35 billion”.

“Corruption is driven both from above and below. From above, there are multinational companies that offer bribes, as well as senior political figures who lend money to others in order to build their networks. From below, citizens often make impossible demands of MPs, encouraging them to look for new sources of revenue. This combination of bottom-up and top-down pressures makes it particularly difficult to deal with corruption,” says Prof Cheeseman.

Bemoaning a lack of convictions for graft related crimes, Kimeu says that the country will remain in suspended paralysis unless criminals are jailed.

“Corruption in high places has gone on for too long without consequences. A basic motivation for high office, whether elected or appointed, has become the opportunity it provides for corrupt enrichment individually or for a section of economic and political elite. Unless this trend changes, and our politics is cleaned, we will never break away from the manacles of graft. Jail and recover what is stolen,” says the Executive Director of Transparency International.