The war against corruption was never going to be the serving of cheese-cake after a hearty meal. As Justice Aaron Ringera concluded long ago, the dragon of graft would snort and fiercely charge at those trying to kill it. Corruption not only fights back; it also has very many faces and is mired in the crushing weight of political, ethnic and old-boy connections.
The Book of Ecclesiastes accurately captures this, there is a time for everything. As President Kenyatta serves his final term, he can now relax his hold on the rope of political exigency and perceived burden of debt to some of his friends.The biggest challenge for Uhuru, however, would be that if he strikes with the fury of a Spanish matador, he may end up paying the ultimate political price - face isolation and sabotage, or look ungrateful and thankless by allowing the net to close in on his closest backers and friends.
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However, timing and history are on his side because the wound of corruption is festering; the country is reeling from the pain and smell of the gangrene on body Kenya. The huge national debt, now at Sh5 trillion, has made us a global laughing stock and the Chinese our new economic coloniser.
We not only squander what we borrow, we ravage what we produce - right from the sand harvesters and mama mboga in the counties. Kenya is a cow on its knees but even though poorly fed and managed, we all have our snouts on her shrunken teats. Even if we soil our knees in the dung, it matters not so long as we get some drops of the thin milk. We care not what our children will eat when it dies.
Not long ago, the perception of Kenyans was that corruption was part and parcel of good political strategy. The regret you heard most often was, “It is our turn or their turn to eat!” The ‘big’ men and women whetted the appetites of those who salivated as they watched the feasting and shared only in the biblical crumbs that fell under the table. The droppings, however little, gave a sense of legitimacy to the looting spree.
Today we live under the shadow of the unknown for various reasons. We seem to know who is corrupt and hence the war on graft will only make sense to us if those we deem guilty are on Noordin Haji’s list. What we forget is that Mr Haji is a political captive, for he operates within politically defined boundaries and ‘safe’ areas.
However, with the renewed tide against corruption, you can count one of the biggest influences being Uhuru’s own intervention by giving the green light. Without it, even if we pretend to have three separate and independent arms of government, we would merely be trying to reverse the flow of River Nile into Lake Victoria where we have a stake! It is no wonder that much as Haji invoked his independence, Uhuru took a slice of credit this week by declaring the onslaught was part of his legacy.
Fighting graft and abuse of office requires political willingness, even if it means the arrest of bigwigs or the flattening of structures built on public or riparian land. Here then lies the soft belly of the new war we have seen – political overtones surrounding it may undermine public confidence in the process. For the question of how far it can go is underpinned by the fact that the big-time drivers and beneficiaries are not the traffic police officers, Land ministry clerks, county revenue officers or informal personal assistants.
Haji must demonstrate he is his own man; that he is not trying to achieve the miracle of ethnic and power balance in his approach, and that he is driven by the promise of the evidence he has, rather than his own whims or compulsion to play to the gallery and win our own oral version of the Nobel Peace Prize.
But, remember, it is not the number of arrests, or the profiles of those arrested, or their ethnic and political orientation that will matter in the end, it’s the prosecutions he secures. We wish Haji well, but also feel the same worry one may have for a son who has been sent to fight for the Kenya Defence Forces in Somalia. You are happy that you have a buffalo of a son who will bring your clan honour, but in the pit of your heart you fear that he could get blown up by Al Shabaab explosives and you may never even see his remains! It is a chance to excel or expire.
But then again, he is a lawyer and an intelligence dude rolled into one. His antennae should always be higher than his enemies’ and he should watch his back always. He also must never forget that political goodwill is like a bank overdraft - hard to get, costly to repay and may be recalled at any time.
Mr Tanui is Deputy Editorial Director and Managing Editor, The Standard. [email protected]