Kenya: slaying the dragon of corruption

By Robert Wanjala - 24 August 2015 at 9:56 pm
Kenya: slaying the dragon of corruption

Corruption in Kenya has become “socially acceptable” and analysts warn that the systemic graft is undermining peace, security and the democracy of the East Africa’s much touted economy giant.

Analysts observe that corruption is much deeper and much more than a lack of political leadership. The anti-corruption institutions are in dire crisis, enmeshed in subversive and corrupting cartels, corrupt state officials and other groups opposing the work.

Politicization and ethnicization of anti-corruption agenda and permissive government systems complicate matters even more; it gives corruption cartels the ability to plunder public funds with almost total impunity.

An annual audit report of government accounts released a fortnight ago revealed shocking systemic irregularities in public funds management.

Out of the $10billion 2013-14 national budget estimates, only 1.2% or $12million could be accounted for. More than $600m or 60% of the budget could not be accounted for. Now Kenyans seem to be worried that the money could be pocketed by the same cartels calling shots in key government institutions, yet they have not come out publicly to express their outrage, observe analysts.

Against a backdrop of the auditor’s report, last week, Kenya’s Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga uncovered a massive corruption syndicate during an impromptu tour to various traffic courts in the country’s capital city, Nairobi.

The syndicate involved traffic police officers working in cahoots with court officials to run parallel courts where they process fines illegally against traffic offenders and pocket the cash meant for the judiciary.

Dr. Mutunga’s exposé followed an alert he raised over rising levels of corruption in the justice system less than a month ago.

Corruption has assumed a monstrous character with cartels running the show unabated. Leaders blame the unforgiving hard economy and high unemployment for the soaring appetite for corruption.

The chairman of the Law Society of Kenya, Eric Mutua, describes how corruption cartels sit pretty in all the government institutions including constitutional bodies.

“The cartels works like a continuous chain link which two end join at the end. Within the chain the cartels identify very key government institutions which they must be able to monitor. I can confirm that if you investigate you will establish that in every government institution [and] even constitutional commissions, out of the nine commissioners for instance three are in the cartel,” says Mutua.

According to Mutua, the three play different roles; the role of giving money; political influencing or lobbying; and engaging in intimidation and threats to advance a their interests.

Analysts say the anti-corruption agenda is held hostage by cartels and the politicization of the war against it has complicated the matter.

Nairobi-based peace and justice think-tank, International Policy Group’s (IPG), executive director, Martin Nkaari, says anti-corruption institutions such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) have been held hostage by powerful corruption cartels and syndicates abetted by the political class to undermine their ability in the war against graft.

“Politicization of anti-corruption has stalled Kenya’s anti-corruption architecture and undermined their capacity, efficiency and credibility thus making war on graft difficult to win,” says Nkaari.

Morally, everyone condemns corruption and people even recognize its adverse effect on their lives. However, leaders and citizens passively support and tolerate corruption.

Former anti-corruption commission chairman and now the Chief Executive officer for Kenya School of Law, Professor Patrick Lumumba, says anti-corruption institutions are weak because the public does not support them.

He says the public agree that corruption undermines every institution, but whenever the institutions that fight corruption are threatened with disbandment or individuals’ indicted, often ethnic loyalty takes precedence over public interest.

“Corruption is a problem but the paradox and irony at one is that Kenyans shout about and against it but love it,” says Prof. Lumumba. “In fact the reason why corruption continues to thrive is because it’s socially acceptable”.

Public office and political power is associated with access to self-enrichment. Young to old aspire to become leaders not as a way to improve their societies but in order to amass wealth.

Political processes are often oiled by corruption and this undermines democracy in Kenya.

“If you talk to politicians they will tell you that if you don’t give money during the [electioneer], you will not be elected,” the legal expert says. “We can create laws but those laws will not be effective because the culture allows corruption to thrive.”

Kenya has both the domestic and international legal and institutional framework necessary to fight corruption.


A new constitution passed in 2010 which expresses strong principles of honesty and integrity. These are further reinforced in various pieces of legislation.

The country has also ratified the United Nations convention against corruption and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Africa Union Convention on Prevention and Combating Corruption, yet the vice continues unabated.

“There is no shortage of laws both international and domestic that focuses on the subject of corruption. So the law is innocent we [Kenyans] are the ones guilty,” Prof Lumumba adds.

On the other hand, Joshua Kivuva, a lecturer of political science at the University of Nairobi, believes that that politicization is necessary t0 fight corruption. Kivuva argues that making corruption part of the political agenda will in fact defeat the vice.

Citing the quest for a new constitution dispensation in early 2000, Kivuva say it’s when Kenyans made the issues part of the political agenda is when they finally achieved their goal, so therefore a similar approach is required for the war on graft.

“When [Kenyans] decided that they want a new constitution and made politicians aware that they cannot be elected unless they listen to the people, politicians heard them,” argues Kivuva. “We can’t fight corruption unless we make it a political agenda.”

However, he agrees that Kenyans participate in corruption because it’s a profitable business for them.

“We need to make corruption a loss making business by politicizing it. We need to make political class realized that if they don’t fighting corruption they will not be elected and people must show that they are angry with it,” Kivuva urges.

Economic hardships coupled with high unemployment rate are among the worries facing Kenyans.

“Even as we fight corruption we must sort out the worries of the Kenyan people particularly the insecurity, unemployment, health, education among other issues because these are among the things that get people into the temptation for shortcuts [corruption,” says John Kiragu, a member of parliament.

Corruption and lack of accountability have long been identified as twin roots of many of the failings of Kenyan institutions, including the police service, which has consistently held the top position in corruption perception index locally and globally.

Somali-based Islamist militant group – Al-Shabaab thrive in Kenya courtesy of corruptible police officers manning the Kenya-Somalia border.

During their latest major assault in the country, the militants attacked Garissa University College in northern Kenya on April 2, killing 147 students and faculty members.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has come out strongly against corruption saying it was a “major obstacle” to the government development agenda.

In March Kenyatta unveiled a list of 175 people suspected to be involved in corruption. The list included senior government officials, cabinet ministers and opposition members.

He later ordered his cabinet ministers, principal cabinet secretaries and chief executives of state institutions to step aside pending conclusion of investigations into their conduct.

However, government critics argue that the auditors’ report has shown that graft is still rife and flourishing despite the president’s tough talk.

Prof. Lumumba says the president needs to fire those that have been implicated in various corruption allegations and not just ask them to step aside.

“Sometimes corruption is about perception and moral responsibility and not criminal liability,” he says.

Analysts say Kenyatta must take yet another aggressive step and strengthen specialized anti-corruption institutions if Kenya is to slay the dragon of corruption.

Vetting of state officers has been seen as a good step forward to ensure that credible and independent officials are absorbed into government institutions and other leadership positions.

In the judiciary system, Dr. Mutunga has warned judges and magistrates who have been freshly vetted that following claims of rising levels of corruption the measures may have to be strengthened.

“The radical surgery and vetting exercises were traumatizing experiences for most of the judges. But if we do not take a personal and professional stand against this vice[bribes] then I can assure you the vetting exercise will be back – and this time, in a more vicious form than the previous one,” the chief justice warned judiciary officials.

Kenya Human Rights, Economics and Social Rights Program manager, Elizabeth Kariuki agrees that vetting of state officers should be a continuous process even as they sit in office.

“Procedurally we vet public officers before they come into office but beyond that we need to continue vetting them even as they sit in the office because it’s one thing to ensure that they are good for office but once they get into the system they become corrupted,” Ms Kariuki says. “That is why I support lifestyle audit and in addition to their relation to issues of integrity and accountability [as required in chapter 6 of the constitution]”.

Other measures seen to increase accountability in public institutions include developing ethical standards for public officers.

Jared Aduwo, a Legal and Reforms officer at EACC says there is a proposal to amend the law.

“It will not be easy to be cleared to vie for any elective position [hold any office] unless you pass certain ethical standards. One will require a certificate from EACC before proceeding to be cleared by electoral body to vie,” Aduwo says.

But Nkaari of IPG proposes more tough measures that include interagency linkage.

“We need to take corruption back to the mainstream criminal justice system. We should also establish a specialized anti-corruption unit with investigative and prosecutorial powers within the mainstream criminal justice system with clear links to the Director of Criminal Investigations and the police tapping into the work of EACC,” Nkaari says.

Robert Wanjala

Robert Wanjala

Robert Wanjala is a passionate investigative journalist with over five years experience.

Wanjala is very capable at uncovering stories and conducting in-depth analysis on a range of complex issues. He is both gifted with the ability to initiate his own story ideas as well as see fresh angles on existing stories. Wanjala has made a commitment to balanced and independent journalism focusing on issues affecting Kenyan society. He specializes in international criminal justice, transnational justice processes, social justice, human rights, land rights and governance, gender and peace developments. He holds a degree in journalism and mass communication and diploma in peace and conflict studies.

Twitter: @kittsrobert

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