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Return of harambees as leaders flout law with lavish donations

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua receives a donation from Embu Senator Alexander Mundigi during a fundraiser at Full Gospel Church Kianjokoma in Runyenjes Constituency, Embu County. November 12, 2023. [Muriithi Mugo, Standard]

Public fundraising ceremonies commonly referred to as Harambees where huge sums of money are contributed have started creeping back into society despite the existence of the Public Officer Ethics Act that criminalises the activities.

A new generation of leaders seem to be emulating President William Ruto who last week made a generous donation of Sh50 million to the Salvation Army Church ostensibly for the ongoing projects.

“Maybe I should say that I have already read the letter in the envelope. Because I understand what they are coming to ask me, I have already agreed to give Sh50 million to support the work they are doing. All of the things they were to come and tell me, I already have the information,” the President said.

Last month, the Head of State also donated Sh50 million to the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) for the construction of a church college.

Following in his footsteps, the President’s lieutenants led by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua have also been presiding over funds drives in aid of churches and school.

Last week, Gachagua spent four days in Embu and Laikipia counties where he left a trail of millions he donated in the name of repairing schools and churches. In his visit in the two counties for the four days, Gachagua donated Sh27 million for the repair of schools and church fundraisers and promised various development projects.

On Sunday March 10, MPs Oscar Sudi (Kapsaret) and Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu) donated a total of Sh4 million towards the construction of a cathedral in Uasin Gishu County.

Sudi, who was the chief guest at AIC Fellowship Annex in Kesses, delivered Sh3 million in cash during the fundraiser attended by high-ranking officials in both the local and national government while Nyoro gave out Sh1 million while area Governor, Jonathan Bii Chelilim, commonly known as Koti Moja, donated Sh500,000.

Nyoro who has been traversing the country in helicopters has donated close to Sh10 million in churches where he has presided as the chief guest.

The harambees have been popular during the electioneering period but under the Kenya Kwanza administration, they seem to be the order of the day in what political analysts believe is informed by the move to manage the electorate who have lost trust in the current administration.

Charles Njoroge, an analyst, opined that after the Ruto-led government ‘failed to put money in hustler’s pockets as promised’ it could have resulted in Harambees to manage the electorate who congregate in churches as Christians.

“It’s a hide-and-seek game by the government. They are using the fundraisers to buy time and to keep closer to the people, especially during the hard economic times,” he opined.

Former Subukia MP Koigi Wa Mwere, who was the chairperson of a Parliamentary Group that successfully came up with the Public Officer Ethics Act that saw banning of harambees observed that politicians have continued to break the law without anyone talking about it.

“We crisscrossed the whole country in a public participation drive and members of the public spoke in unison and said no to the fundraisers. It’s unfortunate that even after successful approval of the law, its implementation has remained a mirage,” said Wa Mwere in an interview.

Before the law, the former MP reminisced how chiefs and their assistants demanded Harambee money from poor Kenyans through coercion and intimidation and denied services to those who had no money to give for harambees.

To date, Wa Mwere believes that Kenyans do not need fundraisers for national development claiming that fundraisers have led to the deterioration of corruption denying Kenyans a set of clean politicians in the country.

“In the last elections, the more the politician had deep pockets, the more he got more airtime in churches and it was the same thing for funerals, weddings and other social gatherings where you got as much attention as the money you contributed,” said Wamwere terming fundraising as crime in politics that ought to be dealt with.

Section 13 of the Public Officer Ethics Act 2003, prohibits public officials from presiding over harambees “or using his office or place of work as a venue for soliciting or collecting harambees or either as a collector or promoter of a public collection, obtain money or other property from a person by using his official position in any way to exert pressure.”

In the 2022 General Election, there was a heated debate with opposition chief Raila Odinga and former President Uhuru Kenyatta asking churches to question Ruto’s source of wealth that he donated to churches.

The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) at the time, Noordin Haji urged church leaders to reject ‘questionable’ donations as it encourages corruption.

“Such money is also taken to holy places as donations to gain support from the people,” he said during a meeting with clerics at Serena Hotel, Nairobi.

Ruto, the Deputy President dismissed his critics saying people should stop judging him harshly.

“When you see some of us go to church, lift hands, make this contribution it’s because we can’t forget where God brought us from. Some of us have more to thank God for, than some of us,” he said.

The debate reached a point where the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) and the Catholic Church pronounced themselves over the matter and banned fundraisers in their churches.

“We deliberated and we said we will separate Harambees from our thanksgiving. For the thanksgiving we will do it in the church sanctuary where Christians will come and give their tithe and offerings but when we have Harambee for a specific thing, it will be organized outside of our worship set-up,” Archbishop Sapit said.

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