Until we take war on graft to the top, we are doomed

The year 2018 is all but over, and it is time to reflect on the year just gone by. Maybe it is because I am busier now, or it could be the age thing, but it feels like months sprint these days. Seems like we just welcomed the New Year just the other day!

This has been a difficult year. There have been some bright spots of course, such as Eliud Kipchoge breaking the world marathon record and showing us what is possible with the right focus, training and dedication. He embodies the best in all of us.

Eliud’s achievements are no mean feat, especially considering the predatory nature of many sports’ officials, who routinely try to benefit from the sweat of others. Well known athletes like Eliud are protected from this extortion, but the stories of young, upcoming but ill-educated athletes are heart-rending. They go through hoops to get into races, are often made to pay kick-backs from their winnings, and being second best is never enough.  

I recently bumped into Wilson Kipsang, the former world marathon champion, training hard at Karura Forest for the April London Marathon. The discussions we had are for another day, but he is basically on his own, paying for everything to stay on top. He pays for training partners, and has to find the right nutritionists, physical therapists, scientists and doctors, all on his own. When he is successful dozens of officials who contribute zilch to his success, rush to take credit, hoping for some spoils.

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And then there is Governor Kivutha Kibwana, who without fanfare has shown us what devolution should mean. Not just in terms of development — which has benefited the residents of Makueni dramatically — but more so by trusting and involving the community in decision-making, monitoring and accountability. The fact that he is as transparent as glass is an example of real leadership.

But the year has mostly been about pain, continued theft of our taxes, reduced hope and consistent impunity. We began at a standstill with high tension and anger but also with high hopes as the illegitimacy of the Kenyatta regime was exposed. The fact that more than half a million people braved what was almost certain death, teargas and beatings attending the swearing in of Raila Odinga — as a symbol of discontent, anger and frustrations — over the persistent stealing of elections, spoke volumes. The regime and its foreign boosters from the US and UK unsuccessfully employed threats and outright bullying to discourage Kenyans from exercising their rights to expression, association and assembly, seemingly trying to force legitimacy.

There are few things as powerful and positive as when people peacefully claim their rights amidst fear and the real possibility of violence from the State. It shows a people who are empowered and understand that their rights are not favours from the State or foreign powers. This show of people power should be nurtured and encouraged throughout Kenya as the only way to force some sort of accountability on arrogant, self-serving and corrupt leaders.

The unexpected and surprising March “hand-cheque,” took the wind out of the sails of people power, which has yet recover. Business as usual basically resumed, and we have been treated to daily reports of corruption, extrajudicial killings, in-human evictions, extortions by the police and the “normal” arrogance of public officials. At the same time, the cost of living has soared dramatically with prices rising incredibly, all so that we can pay back the loans taken in our name, but which have benefited a few. Most Kenyans have struggled through this year financially, cutting off expenses and costs, simply to make sure that we can pay school fees, rent and cater for food and health.

And because of how it ravages us, Kenyans have supported the war on corruption, even as it has been conducted without strategy and been weaponised politically. To be fair it has had some effect, for we are no longer witnessing the unexplainable Sh10 million weekly donations to churches. That is a small first step. But to rid Kenya of corruption we must go for the head that has made the rest of the fish rot and stink to high heavens. And that means lifestyle audits and open and transparent recovery of cash from bribes and weekly extortions. It must also go to the heart of the Eurobond and SGR loans that have resulted in double taxation.

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We are playing at the edges, hoping that a few demolitions here, a few arrests there, and politicised targeting of DCJ Mwilu to make space for a favored female replacement who will eventually take over from CJ Maraga will restore some legitimacy and legacy. But until we take this war on corruption to the top, we are doomed to fail. So let us prepare for an even more difficult year ahead. Already, financial and banking experts are preparing for a tough year, with doom predicted for the stock market, borrowing and circulation of money. And a few who can are getting ready to migrate — as thousands did in the 1990s — for some peace of mind and stability.

- The writer is former KNCHR chairman. [email protected]

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