By now its official – this is war. The war on graft. It is the biggest, most all-encompassing and most significant war we have fought since we defeated colonialism. For just as colonialism preventing us from realising our national independence and right to self-determination, so is corruption preventing us from realising our economic rights, and our potential.
This is an existential battle, a fight to the death. And just as in the fight against colonialism, we must be united. There can be no standing on the side-lines. There is no room for neutrality. You are either with us or against us.
Opposition chief Raila Odinga knows this all too well. One only needed to hear how he rallied against graft recently at a graduation at Murang’a University of Technology to understand that he is behind the President and his heart is in the fight. “We must stop making corruption easy and tolerable by closing all sanctuaries for the corrupt,” he told the students. Amen Baba!
For President Uhuru Kenyatta too, the fight against corruption is bigger than anything that has come before it. It is a fight for the soul of the nation, for his presidency and for his legacy. It is personal. His father, Jomo, has gone down in history as the man who rid us of the British and declared our independence. Uhuru has now set about emulating his father, crafting a legacy for himself as the man who rid us of impunity and secured our economic independence from graft.
A bold ambition sure, but I wouldn’t rule out against his success. And with the speed and intensity with which he has gone about it, I would advise that neither do you. So far, the fight has focused on public sector corruption. We have seen arrests of senior political figures (including a sitting and former governor), top civil servants and administrators, and the leadership of parastatals. This has been supported by new practices and a strengthened legislative framework, focused predominantly at public servants and the tender process. In this regard, perhaps the flagship policy to date – lifestyle audits to detect corrupt practices – has now been extended to cover all public servants. At the same time, Uhuru recognises that corruption does not solely exist in the public sector. Private sector and business corruption is equally prevalent and corrosive to the economic health and moral fibre of society. That is why we need a holistic strategy in order to defeat it.
It is within this context that we should understand the decision to demolish the Ukay Centre in Westlands on Thursday. For more than two decades, the mall has stood on a river, causing flooding and attracting numerous complaints, yet nothing has been done to address it. Though the mall stood on riparian land, the connections of its owners meant it enjoyed virtual immunity – it was seen as untouchable. In the pantheon of Kenyan corruption, the Ukay Centre has a claim to be Exhibit A! Explaining the demolition, Uhuru said, “We will continue to demolish properties constructed on riparian lands, equally punish officials who made approvals for those properties. We are doing everything to discourage corruption. It is possible to do clean business in Kenya, this is what we want to encourage.”
It is said owners of the Ukay Centre were confident that they faced no risk. They felt that government would always protect them. In the past they were right. For decades, the connected, the rich and the powerful have been able to get away with anything. But with law enforcement agencies racing from target to target with the full support of the President, this is no longer the case.
Speaking about the demolition, Jubilee Chairperson David Murathe said, “If anybody thinks they can walk in the final term of Uhuru with anything that smells of corruption I am very sorry for him. He will jail all of us if he has to.” Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko was even more direct. “It no longer matters how well connected you are,” he said. With this decision, Uhuru has not just demolished the Ukay Centre. He has demolished the sense of invincibility and entitlement that many of the elites have felt for decades. Nobody is now above the law, nobody is untouchable. Uhuru’s message to all Kenyans is deafening. This is war, and its time to pick a side.
- The writer is Nyeri Town MP