How successive regimes sowed seeds of graft

Suspended NYS Director General Richard Ndubai, suspended Youth Affairs PS Lilian Mbogo-Omollo and other suspects before the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi over loss of NYS funds. [File, Standard]

Since independence, successive regimeshave employed different mechanisms in the war on corruption.

Five decades later President Uhuru Kenyatta is still fighting corruption that has not only slowed development but also ruined the nation’s image.

During the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta presidency, graft was isolated, involving only those close to the leadership.

The founding father ruled at a time when human rights like freedom of speech were limited. “One could land in never ending problems if one exposed ills in the government or talked ill of the government,” says veteran politician Koigi wa Wamwere.

Mr Wamwere recalls that during Mzee Kenyatta’s tenure the country’s economy bled through coffee smuggling to Uganda and runaway poaching of elephants for ivory.

The Kenyatta regime also battled with maize scandal where then Agriculture Minister Paul Ngei was implicated, the cashew nuts and KenRen fertiliser factories that failed to take off despite the government and donors earmarking millions of shillings for the projects.

Wamwere recalls that in the 15 years of Mzee’s rule nobody was charged with graft.

Despite the executive condemning the vice in public and in Parliament, whistle blowers were shunned or even detained.

“Unbridled graft resulted in the creation of unequal society where few got rich through short cuts,” he says.

There are claims that during Mzee Kenyatta’s reign corruption was entrenched when civil servants were allowed to operate businesses to supplement their income. Though corruption was a preserve for those close to power, Kenyatta enjoyed close ties with the West because Kenya was against communism in East Africa.

Unlike in the later years, economic funding was not tied with fight against corruption.

“The West turned the other way when corruption was slowly taking root. That time Kenya was enjoying unhindered donor funding because it was a strategic partner in the fight against the spread of communism and socialism in the region,” says Ajwang Agina, a political analyst for Deutsche Welle, a Germany public broadcaster and Radio France International.

At the time Tanzania under President Julius Nyerere was a socialist state, Uganda was in chaos under dictator Iddi Amin while Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia were leaning towards the East. President Moi took power in 1978 and enjoyed support from the West until late 1980s when donors started tying funding with political reforms and fight against corruption.

Corruption cases that rocked his administration were Goldenberg, Molasses factory rip off and uncounted donors funds.

Purge on the Judiciary

Goldenberg still remains one of the biggest scandals in post independent Kenya where the economy lost about Sh79 billion within one year, between 1992 and 1993. Bringing culprits to book were some of the strings World Bank and International Monetary Fund attached in giving funding to the country.

“All the time when donors were about to meet in the then called Paris Club meeting, few arrests would be made to show them that the administration was serious about tackling graft,” says Patu Naikumi, a Phycology Department lecturer at Maasai Mara University. When funds were released it was business as usual.

Kipng’eno arap Ngeny, who was a confidant of the former president, is the only Cabinet minister who was arraigned in court. “There was widespread corruption but majority of Kenyans were not concerned because there was a lot of money in the economy. The trickle down effect of money obtained through graft by politicians was there,” he says.

When former President Kibaki ascended to power he promised to end years of what he called misrule and corruption. There was a purge on the Judiciary to rid it of corrupt magistrates and judges.

Then then Constitutional Affairs Minister Kiraitu Murungi said the purge was necessary to rid the Judiciary of those selling justice to the highest bidder.

Kenyans thought the country was on the right path in the fight against corruption.

But their hopes were dashed by the infighting in the Narc government between Liberal Democratic Party wing led by the then Roads Minister Raila Odinga and Kibaki’s PNU wing.

Anglo Leasing scandal in which billions of shillings were lost in the botched attempt to set up of a police forensic laboratory and buying of military hardware soon broke out. Arrests and prosecution targeted senior people in the previous government.

The second term of Kibaki’s government was hit by the maize scandal in which grains from the strategic grain reserves were sold to millers, leading to a severe maize flour shortage. Then Agriculture Minister William Ruto, was blamed for the maize scandal but he was saved from a vote of no confidence in Parliament sponsored by former Ikolomani MP Boni Khalwale.

In the ten years of Kibaki’s rule, he showed some level of seriousness in fighting corruption when he appointed John Githongo, an anti-graft czar.

But he later fled for his life after exposing the US dollar 770 million Anglo-leasing scandal.

Mr Githongo’s revelations became the basis of the Michela Wrong’s 2009 book-It’s Our Turn to Eat, a year after he returned to Kenya from self-exile. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration has been riddled with corruption since he was elected into officer in 2013.

In fact Githongo describes Uhuru’s government as the worst in terms of corruption.

“Corruption in Kenya has deepened and widened since President Uhuru came to power in 2013,” he claims.

However, the Jubilee administration has intensified the war on corruption with arrest of high profile government officials. Suspended Youth Affairs Principal Secretary and Kenya Power senior managers are some of the senior government officials facing prosecution over corruption allegations.

Despite facing opposition from some Jubilee Party members, Uhuru has directed procurement officers in government to undergo lifestyle audit.

Prof George Wajackoya says it is the first time since independence that the country has seen arrests and prosecution of senior State officials linked to corruption scandals.

“It’s the first time major arrests and prosecution have been made since independence. All that has been made possible by Kinoti and Haji,” he says.

Uhuru is hoping to rid the country of corruption but only time will tell whether he succeeds where others did not.