They’ve stepped aside, but what does it mean for Kenyan Government officials implicated in corruption?

NAIROBI: The real meaning of “stepping aside” is on the spotlight once again with Thursday’s Presidential order.

In his address to Parliament, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed all officials of the national and country governments adversely mentioned in corruption “to immediately step aside pending conclusion of investigations of the allegations against them”.

The term “stepping aside” gained currency in the first term of President Mwai Kibaki when former cabinet ministers Kiraitu Murungi and George Saitoti introduced it as a novel political terminology as they buckled under public pressure over the Anglo Leasing scandal.

On February 14, 2006, President Kibaki surprised the nation when he announced that he had accepted “requests” from the pair to step aside pending investigations into their role in the multi-billion scam. From the statement, it was clear that they had not been suspended, sacked nor had they resigned.

“The legal theory behind the Public Officer and Ethics Act presupposes this concept of stepping aside. Besides, law also grows from traditions and customs. We have done this before,” Abdikadir Mohamed, the president’s advisor on constitution and legal affairs, explained yesterday.

He said the requirement to step aside is different from “interdiction” which is by and large a civil service measure usually taken after officers are charged in court of law or at conclusion of a disciplinary action.

“Essentially, the requirement to step aside is in and of itself a suspension pending conclusion. If you are told to step aside, you step aside,” Abdikadir explained.

According to the president’s advisor, the stepping aside concept is a function of a particular cadre of executive officers whom the president has direct responsibility over and whose offices are expected to meet high standards of probity established by law.

“It’s a proactive, leaning-forward governance concept which responds to extraordinary situations as the ones we find ourselves in at the moment,” he said.


According to Prof Ben Sihanya of the University of Nairobi’s School of Law, the concept of stepping aside is vague: “Technically, in public service terms it sounds like interdiction but it’s not it. It’s not very clear what it means.”

Sihanya describes “stepping aside” as a game of musical chairs where the affected officers always bounce back but long after the public pressure has eased. He says it’s a gimmick the political class have learned to play on the people.

Dr Francis Owakah, a culture and value analyst at the University of Nairobi, says that ideally, “stepping aside” ought to be a moral decision taken when one is pricked by their conscience. ”It cannot therefore be forced on someone by another”.

Former Law Society of Kenya chairman Okong’o Mogeni says the objective of the first cases of “stepping aside” was to scuttle the influence of the office holders during the period of investigations. He, however, admits that more often than not, such officers tended to retain their trappings of power and they always bounced back.

Lawyer Harun Ndubi agrees. “It was created by the Narc regime to avoid the embarrassment that comes with the suspension of senior state officers who also happened to be political confidantes of the then president. One would argue they served their purpose then. Things are quite different now because the Cabinet does not consist of politicians.”


According to Ndubi, the concept is “meaningless, hollow and manifestly contradictory”. He says the requirement to have the officers step aside presupposes that it is not a voluntary act.

“A conditional discharge from ones duty can only be forced on one by the authority above that person. One cannot purport to suspend himself,” Ndubi explained.

He said “resignation by half” cannot be the solution to massive graft afflicting the Kenyan government at all its levels.

However, Abdikadir reiterates that the concept should be taken in good faith and as good measure of enforcing accountability and integrity in government.

He said that other than the requirement of officers to step aside, the Presidency is taking multiple actions to weed out corruption in government.