The graft dilemma: Eye for eye or blanket amnesty?

The bashing that the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) received for proposing a one-year amnesty for perpetrators of past corruption activities was least surprising.

With the ongoing unprecedented move against high level individuals suspected to have engaged in corrupt deals, the nation has been placed on tenterhooks. Whereas Kenyans are accustomed to unravelling the perceived hidden formula in any graft war, and quickly declaring it a scheme for finishing “our people”, it has become more difficult to place a finger on how the current battle is being fought. There are, therefore, Kenyans who remain uncertain as to whether the fight is real. But, there is another group – and the number could be large – who have tasted blood and are baying for more.

This is an elated lot who believe that the axe is finally falling indiscriminately at the right place, and hope it reaches even the sacred mugumo tree. 

To this group, words like amnesty, bail, bond, release, etc are totally unwelcome. They are happier hearing arrested, hounded, detained, imprisoned or even hanged.

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When Nelson Mandela took over the presidency in South Africa, he was determined to build a united nation. It was a demanding task at a time when his health was also failing. At one point, the doctors gave orders to his assistants to ensure strict bedrest.

Just about that time, he was on the verge of a major breakthrough and needed to stay engaged. When reminded of his doctor’s orders, Mandela quipped, “Doctors have no sense of occasion.”

And how true, doctors sometimes stop the music when the dance is at its peak. It would appear that, as religious leaders, we too sometimes lack the sense of occasion. It is perhaps the only crime that NCCK committed in their call for amnesty at their conference in Kanamai.

Few perhaps recall that NCCK had made an exactly similar call for amnesty in May this year at a press conference in Limuru.

Then, it argued that it would provide a critical incentive for beneficiaries of corruption to repent, speed up justice for Kenyans who have suffered immensely on account of corruption, and enable us clean up our past.

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Few, if any, castigated them. Instead, what seemed to attract attention at that time was another call, in the same statement, for the President to declare corruption a national disaster.

The fact is that as a people, we love drama. It is the reason we end up electing the same corrupt individuals every election season. They compose a song or two, dance, hypnotise the crowd, and happily ran away with our votes, leaving us only with their t-shirts and lesos on our backs. We then awake weeks after elections to find them reviewing their perks to reward themselves for campaigns well run. Truth be told, the war on corruption is huge – a behemoth that is not going to be won through any single strategy. Thankfully, the President seems to be clear on this.

No wonder he is into prosecutions, demolitions, wealth audits, and recovery of graft monies hidden in other countries – a strategy that has seen him sign pacts with Switzerland, Jersey and the UK.

NCCK amnesty

Viewed from this perspective, the NCCK amnesty call may be yet another arrow in our quiver that could be used to slay some other species of this ferocious beast. Interestingly, the granting of amnesty is neither a new idea nor a Kenyan innovation. Ahadi Kenya was of this view only two months ago in June when its Chief Executive Officer, Stanley Kamau, urged the government to issue a one month’s amnesty for corruption suspects willing to return stolen public resources. Back in 2011, PLO Lumumba, the then head of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, disclosed that they were developing a legal framework for extending amnesty to corrupt individuals who accepted voluntary disclosure. Similar strategies have been proposed or attempted in Malaysia, Angola, Hong Kong, Romania, Tunisia, and more recently in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

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The only sad bit is that there are not many success stories – in fact, almost none. No wonder, in every place where amnesty has been proposed, there has been public protestation and civic outcry.

Citizens seem to feel that for the pain and suffering they cause, corrupt individuals must be made to pay an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Perhaps that is what the church leaders may be finding difficult to reconcile with the faith they preach.

- The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]

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