War on corruption seems to only scratch the surface

Well, knock me over with a feather. It’s beginning to look like the wheels of government are turning, and as it turns out, bulldozing everything in their path. The ‘riparian land saga’ is a legacy story of historical proportions. This hasn’t happened, well, since Raila Odinga oversaw the demolition of private property to pave way for the bypasses.

The difference being that those properties were on road reserves, and these ones are on the so-called riparian land. So it’s nothing new, really; this overly dramatic razing of expensive buildings. But at least the last time it happened we got an upgraded road network for our troubles. This time around, God knows what the plan is.

The official position is that malls, temples, and what-nots are coming down to “demonstrate the Government’s commitment to ending impunity and restoring the rule of law”. Once the demonstration is over, what happens next is anyone’s guess. The likelihood is that something new will sprout in the same spot and we’ll be told that it is somehow river compliant.

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Some may commend Kenyatta’s administration for moving to reclaim the great Nairobi River, but if history is anything to go by, these feverish efforts to destroy the fruits of corruption will probably stop short of bringing down the original architects of Kenya’s extractive state.

Health implications

If this administration really wants to move beyond the optics and into the substance of a real war on corruption, then one of those Sany trucks needs to roll up on the National Assembly. If there’s one institution that needs a good bulldozing, it’s that one. Last week, the members we elected to Parliament sold their souls for a pittance, given that they are paid millions of shillings in salaries, allowances and per diems.

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Some of our legislators accepted as little as Sh10,000 to reject the sugar report, which showed that samples of imported sugar were found to be contaminated with copper, lead, and mercury.

Others stood in queues to receive up to Sh30,000 in cash. This raises two issues. First, that these people have zero empathy for the millions of Kenyans – themselves and their families included – who may now face long-term health implications from the ingestion of heavy metals. The effects of exposure to mercury, for example, include threats to the development of children in utero, toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on the lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. Mercury is considered one of the top 10 chemicals that should be a worldwide health concern.

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The amounts

The second is as symbolic as this administration’s alleged ‘war on impunity’, and that is the irony of the biblical 30 pieces of silver. The Members of Parliament who took the cash sold the soul of a nation for a meagre Sh30,000. Meagre when compared to the amounts they take home on a monthly basis. There is only one word for what they did, and that word is dishonourable. The only saving grace is that we all know what happened to Judas, and it wasn’t pretty.

Here’s the thing: I’ve tried hard to feel optimistic about Uhuru Kenyatta’s assault on graft, I really have. But I know enough about establishment politics to understand that the status quo protects itself at all costs, even if it has to go so far as to create an optical illusion of democratic progress.

If I was the man at the helm, and I really wanted to entrench meaningful change - beyond the pseudo-symbolism of the handshake - I would open up every major land deal since independence to public scrutiny, and prepare myself to return a good chunk of my property to its rightful owners.

The most enduring legacy that our current president can leave is to make reparations on behalf of his father, and to encourage the privileged elite – including the two men who held court at State House before him – to make their own amends. The other thing that Mr Kenyatta can do within the spectrum of legacy, unpopular though it may be in certain quarters, is to demand strict accountability from his deputy.

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At the end of the day, this thing called ‘change’ is no joke. It demands the kind of sacrifice that goes well beyond slaughtering the sacred bulls in your neighbour’s homestead. If the president really believes that Kenya can “achieve its dreams” he will have to dig deep – beyond making impassioned speeches before impressionable congregations – to the source of this river of our discontent, with a true intention to make right what went wrong. Anything less will be a mere footnote in history.

Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation Africa

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