Uhuru should fight graft on his own terms

Sixty-three years before Jesus was born, Julius Caesar was elected the Pontifex Maximus or high priest of Rome. A year later in 62 BC, Caesar’s wife Pompeia, in her capacity as wife to the high priest, hosted the festival of the Bona Dea or good goddess in her home. This was a special festival celebrating chastity and fertility. The festival was a women-only event.

However, a mischievous young nobleman and politician named Publius Clodius Pulcher disguised himself as a woman and went to the fertility festival at Caesar’s house. His intention was to seduce Casear’s wife. Clodius was poor at pretending to be a woman and he was exposed. He was arrested and put on trial.

During the trial, Caesar chose not to give any evidence against Clodius who was eventually acquitted. Soon thereafter, Caesar divorced his wife Pompeia. When he was asked why he did this, he answered that “Caesar’s wife must always be above suspicion.”

The circus this week around the corruption scandals that have dominated the headlines has made me recall this story. And I have recalled it because like many of my fellow Kenyans, I am deeply perplexed. On Thursday, President Uhuru Kenyatta reportedly fired one of his permanent secretaries. This individual is a lady alright, but not the one we were all expecting.

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Instead of firing or at the very least placing on administrative leave the PS at the centre of the Sh9 billion NYS scandal, the President elected to dispense with the services of the Tourism PS for reasons that remain largely unknown. Meanwhile, if press reports are anything to go by, the PS for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs and a suspect in perhaps the most outrageous case of robbery without violence gets to loll in luxury in a private room in hospital.

Caesar understood that by being elected high priest, he and all those around him were expected to be morally unquestionable. He divorced his wife not because she had been found guilty of any wrongdoing but because merely being implicated of immorality was enough to destroy his standing as the high priest.

Mr President, people in your government must be above suspicion. And those that are not above suspicion you must divorce without a second thought. To keep them in your household is to create the impression that you are tacitly condoning theft of money meant to build the future for our young people. It means there is consent and tolerance for this grievous crime from the very top.

But how should the President accomplish this divorce? In my view, the way the ‘fight’ against corruption is being executed is wanting. It looks like the President is being goaded and baited to fight corruption using strategies other than his own.

The last time he tried fighting corruption, the President capitulated to the demands of the mob that he renounces ‘important people’. When he did this and fired members of his Cabinet in 2015, the result was national turmoil that lasted for over 1,000 days all the way to the election and beyond. The lesson that should have been banked from that experience is that the mob is insatiable, once they have tasted blood, they will want more and will not be satisfied until nothing and no-one is left. By pandering to the whims of the masses, the President is simply exposing weaknesses in his administration and inviting questions as to the strength of his leadership. It is a trap. And the end result will be an attempt to impeach him.

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This time around, the President should fight corruption on his own terms. He should close his ears to the criticism that he is catching the minnows and allowing the whales to go free. Maybe instead of fighting corruption from the top and failing, this time he will fight from below and succeed. If he removes the ‘small people’ who facilitate corrupt transactions for the big fish, he will have succeeded in making it impossible for career civil servants to risk their jobs for corrupt politicians and ‘tenderprenuers’. If he manages to shut off the pipes, maybe our money will no longer flow into the pockets of the undeserving.

- The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Economy at SMC University. [email protected]

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