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Where the rain started beating us

By | Published Sun, February 1st 2009 at 00:00, Updated Sun, February 1st 2009 at 00:00 GMT +3

Patrick Lumumba

Corruption has become a cancer in the body politic of Kenya and for those with a penchant for the dramatic, corruption bestrides all spheres of Kenyan lives like the colossus. It is to be found in the Judiciary, the Police Force, Schools, Hospitals, Ports and Examination Council. It is omni-present. In fact, corruption is so pervasive that people are surprised if a public servant does not engage in it. In world rankings we stand tall among the corrupt countries of the world.

Throughout, our country’s short life, numerous scandals have been unearthed the most notorious being the infamous Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing scandals. However, in the past few weeks the pace has been fast and furious with the oil, maize and tourism scandals attracting national and international attention alike. With the deluge of scandals the question that bothers many commentators and observers is "where did the rain start beating us?"

Kenyans will remember that as early as the 1970s the late Tanzania President Julius Nyerere unflatteringly referred to Kenyan as a man eats man society. Kenyan officialdom protested then, but today, even Nyerere’s fiercest critics must admit that he was right.

The corruption monster invaded our country in its infancy; almost immediately after independence the political leadership saw the occupation of public offices as an opportunity for personal aggrandisement and not as positions of trust. The story is told by Philip Ochieng and Karimi in their book The Kenyatta Succession where President Jomo Kenyatta chided Bildad Kaggia, a freedom fighter, for not using his position to amass wealth.

Mega corruption started taking root after the recommendations of the [in]famous Ndegwa Commission. Named eponymously after its Chairperson Phillip Ndegwa, The Commission recommended among other things that Civil Servants be allowed to engage in business. This was at a time of centralised economic governance when Government was the biggest business partner and Civil Servants with insider information had a field day.

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Indeed, it is instructive that the senior Civil Servants of those early years and even their latter-day successors despite their poor/low pay are some of the richest Kenyans; obviously not from business but manipulation of Government contracts.

The abject abandon with which corruption was embraced in Kenya became blatant in the 1977 and 1978 when Senior Government officials openly participated in smuggling Ugandan coffee through lake Victoria’s Sio Port, Usenge and overland at Chepkube in Western Kenya. Nobody was punished for these crimes and the culture of impunity had arrived. When Daniel Moi took office nothing changed. First, because the players remained the same and the culture of disrespect for public property and impunity was alive and well.

During Moi’s watch public land was placed in private hands, fictitious contracts were transacted and many banks and public institutions collapsed through corrupt practices, but nobody was punished. Once almost every moveable property had been taken, the 1990s witnessed the corrupt allocation of public land to individuals and dummy companies, once again with impunity.

The allocation spree created millionaires as land on Mombasa Road, Upper Hill, parking lots, public toilets in Nairobi and throughout the republic were all targeted. In a typical Kenyan style, long after the event, a commission, the Ndung’u Commission, was tasked to deal with illegal allocations, but its findings are now gathering dust in Government registries. Although truth be told, the Commission did a shoddy job. Then came the Kibaki era and later the Grand Coalition, and Kenyans imagined that things would change because the rhetoric was anti-corruption, little did they realise that the players were the same and soon we had Anglo-Leasing with its ghost trading partners.

With the Grand Coalition everything is moving with jet-like speed. The graft is grand. It involves oil, maize and tourism and perhaps others not in the public domain.

In the face of these corruption scandals, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (Kacc) appears to be impotent and incapable of responding with firmness and ferocity. The office of the Attorney General long lost its lustre and always stands askance unmoved and unshaken.

Cynics and pessimists now think ours is a lost cause and that corruption cannot be rooted out. It is true that the current generation of politicians is ill-suited to fight corruption because the bulk of them are products of it.

Our duty as a Nation is to continuously expose them until their moral nakedness is bare for everybody to see and soon they will begin to wither.

Dr Lumumba, is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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