By KIPCHUMBA SOME
Kenya: If Kenya needed a reminder of the high levels of corruption in the country, it got one this week, but from the unlikeliest of people: President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
In a statement made public recently, a month ago President Mugabe decried the high levels of corruption in his country saying Zimbabwe was almost becoming “like Kenya or Nigeria.”
Addressing military chiefs during his 90th birthday celebrations on March 15, the veteran Zimbabwean ruler asked: “Are we now like Nigeria and Kenya where you have to reach into your pocket to get anything done?”
The comments came to light only this week and caused a storm in social media where the elderly Zimbabwean President was roundly condemned for being “unbrotherly” towards the two African countries.
But President Mugabe’s comparison is a statement of how Kenya is viewed by world when it comes to corruption. “We have almost become a yardstick by which others compare themselves against,” said anti-graft campaigner John Githongo.
Only last week, a group of 18 Western envoys issued a joint statement decrying the high levels of corruption within the Jubilee Alliance, a statement rejected out of hand by the Government.
President Mugabe’s comments left a sour taste in the mouths of many Nigerians and their government quickly summoned Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Nigeria to explain his President’s comments.
“We want to present the strongest protest in that statement; not only does it not reflect the reality in our country, but to come from a sitting President of a brotherly country is most unkind and very dishonourable,” said Dr Martin Uhomoibhi, the Permanent Secretary of Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs ministry.
However, Kenya seemed to have laughed off the comments. There was no reaction either from the State House or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho and State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu had not responded to our calls or text messages by the time of going to press yesterday.
But the country had a good reason to complain.
Kenya was ranked number 136 out of 177 countries in the 2013 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, while Nigeria was ranked 144. Zimbabwe was placed at position 157.
Nigeria recently overtook South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy and their bitter complaint is largely seen as an attempt to exercise the diplomatic muscle that comes with the position.
The Jubilee Government pledged to wage a relentless war against corruption since it came in to office a year ago and one would have expected the Government to respond robustly to President Mugabe’s denigrating comments.
In addition, given the regional diplomatic reinvention that the Jubilee government has pursued in its one year in office, it was expected that Nairobi would make strong protestations to Harare over President Mugabe’s comments. But it seems the political expedience of the time has prevailed.
The government might have conveniently let President Mugabe’s comments slide because of his firm stand against the cases facing President Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and journalist Joshua Sang at the ICC.