Deputy President William Ruto is perhaps best known for being a public official who has gotten rich in the shortest period of time since taking office.
Many have raised concerns about his peripatetic tanga tanga habits and the large amounts of cash he dishes around out of charity. And in recent past, he has become the focus of the lifestyle audit proposed by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
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This is all very good. All public officials, and especially those like Mr Ruto who have gotten rich very fast, must be made to account for their wealth.
That said, Kenyans should be weary of attempts to use the anti-corruption drive to neutralise Ruto politically. Kenyans who live in the real world know corruption is endemic in the public sector.
This means if we are genuinely going to curb graft in government, we need a coherent strategy that has political buy-in from important sectors of the economy.
Such a strategy must also be sustainable in the long run and be anchored in our institutions. It will also have to involve a political settlement. Treating corruption in the public sector merely as a law enforcement problem is delusional.
This reality requires the Ethnic and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the president to work behind the scenes to build consensus among elites on how best to fight graft and refocus the energies of public sector workers on delivering public goods and services to Kenyans.
As things stand, not only has Kenyatta and his team not done the requisite homework on how to stem graft, but there is also the perception that the real target of the anti-graft drive is Ruto.
It does not matter what the truth is. Politics being primarily about perception, Ruto’s allies have already made their opposition to the lifestyle audit public.
There is also a political reason for Kenyans of goodwill to not want Ruto to be used as the sacrificial lamb for graft. No matter what the public might perceive of him, the fact of the matter is that the entire administration is rotten to the core. The president’s siblings have been linked to graft.
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The obscene amounts involved suggest that the president and his Treasury Secretary must have known that the public was being swindled, and either approved the thefts or chose to look the other way. Merely sacrificing Ruto will not curb corruption in government.
Members of the Jubilee administration eager to counter Ruto’s political and economic ambitions would be wiser to adopt a more institutionalised approach to fight corruption. Instead of working to cut down Ruto the man, they should instead work on creating institutional mechanisms to tame public officials intent on using their positions for private benefit.
Most people fighting Ruto supported the Jubilee ticket in 2013 and 2017. They made their bed and must lie on it. Instead of calling out the speck in the other eye while ignoring the log in their own, they should use this opportunity to build strong institutions that can withstand ten years of Ruto’s presidency.
- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University. Twitter: @kopalo