Yes, Kenya has been repurposed for private gain in state capture

A report released last week by the NGO Africog argues that the Kenyan state has been privatised, repurposed for private gain in a process described as state capture. The report concludes that this is the reason why the country is unable to carry out any of the promised public reforms. The report uses the failed fight against corruption to demonstrate state capture in Kenya, arguing that since a genuine fight against corruption would threaten the interests of those in power, there can only ever be a vacuous show that such a fight is underway.

An antidote to state capture is democratic elections. Democratically elected governments tend to be sensitive to the wishes of the electorate and suffer from less control by the special interests that facilitate the capture of the state and whose payback becomes corrupt access to public resources. However, as demonstrated by the challenges in the last three presidential contests, elections in Kenya remain hugely problematic. In fact, the report argues that a feature of state capture is the inability to hold free and fair elections as to do so would threaten the control of those in power.

While after each of the elections in 2007 and 2013, the opposition demanded electoral reforms aimed at addressing the failures experienced in those elections, there was no similar demand after the 2017 elections. Further, led by opposition leader Raila Odinga, the 2017 opposition has since made a pact with President Uhuru Kenyatta and is currently cooperating with the ruling party.

Highly discredited

Although Kenyatta and Odinga have not expressly stated their true future intentions, it seems that the substance of their cooperation is an arrangement that will manage the transition in 2022 when Kenyatta must legally retire from office. With a highly discredited electoral body still in office, it seems that whatever arrangement Kenyatta and Odinga have in mind will involve the staging of sham elections, similar to those that brought Kenyatta to power, as a way of managing the transition. If this plan comes to pass, and whether or not he acquires any public office after 2022, Kenyatta will effectively retain control over the Kenyan state as whoever takes power after him will be do so Kenyatta’s terms, in a perpetuation of the state capture that has already taken hold of the country.

As they plot and scheme about the future, it is to be hoped that the top political leadership will reflect on the contents of the Africog report and also consider lessons for Kenya from the Sudan, where long-serving dictator Omar El Bashir has been toppled and is now under arrest. Bashir had made plans to rule in perpetuity but those plans have now been defeated. Neither the violence that he has unleashed on his people, nor the mounds of cash he had stolen from them were able to prevent Bashir’s fate.

Kenya is possibly staring at the beginning of dynastic rule with the Kenyatta family planning to instrumentalise Odinga to rule the country in perpetuity. As shown by so many cases around Africa, including former Zaire, Libya, Egypt, Zimbabwe and now the Sudan, such plans rarely end well, and leave not only the country worse off but also the ruling family.  

What Kenyatta calls a legacy is no more than a set of incompetent aspirations that will fail like so many of his economic plans have already done. Kenyatta still has the space to organise a true legacy, away from the power schemes with Odinga. The elements of true legacy would be a commitment to genuine electoral reforms that would result in free and fair elections in 2022. Kenyatta would also need to announce that he will retire in 2022.

Secondly, the president needs to publicly acknowledge that while his government has strongly implied that Deputy President William Ruto, is solely responsible for corruption, Kenyatta himself is not clean either. That acknowledgement should come with a promise that from now on, he will genuinely fight corruption.

In exchange for such an acknowledgement, the country must consider allowing Kenyatta and his family to keep what they already have with no questions regarding the methods used to acquire it. This would give Kenyatta back the power to fight corruption and a legacy in retirement. 

Where would all this leave Odinga? The opposition leader, currently working with Kenyatta, against Ruto in a precipitous game should retire with Kenyatta, with the two of them transforming the handshake into a joint retirement and legacy plan. In retirement Kenyatta and Odinga would transition into guardian angels over Kenya, retaining a huge moral leash over the next president, and the country’s politics. Odinga would also transform into a Mandela-like figure in Kenya and around Africa.

On their part, the Kenyatta family would secure their position and wealth into the future. Also, such a plan would destroy Ruto’s presidential ambitions.

- The writer is the Executive Director at KHRC. [email protected]