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Kenya turning a new page in war on graft

By Jessica Anjalo | September 6th 2016

I felt greatly mortified reading an opinion piece that recently appeared in the New York Times. “Kenya’s Gold Medal for Corruption”, read the article’s headline.

In one of the world’s most authoritative newspapers, our athletes’ world-beating heroics in the Rio Olympics no longer counted; the corruption and management crisis that rocked our team was the talking point. The author further bruised egos by detailing how pervasive corruption is in Kenya, and how inert the Government appears in fighting the vice.

This is the umpteenth time that corruption and ineptitude have eclipsed the country’s gains. But amid the injurious publicity, I feel that all is not lost and Kenyans have a reason to be optimistic. The resignation of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption chairman Phillip Kinisu on Wednesday is a timely reminder of the gentle yet crucial steps the country is making in winning the war on corruption. Kinisu joins a growing list of prominent individuals who have fallen by the wayside over corruption allegations since the Jubilee government assumed power in 2013.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has been emphatic that his government will not condone corruption, the social status of the players notwithstanding. He walked the talk last year when he purged Charity Ngilu, Michael Kamau, Felix Koskei, Davis Chirchir and Kazungu Kambi from the Cabinet after they were named in a confidential EACC anti-graft report.

Powerful mandarins, including Francis Kimemia and Mutea Iringo, added to the long list of casualties as the head of state ruthlessly dropped his axe. True to his word that those implicated in graft would have to carry their own crosses, Uhuru sat back and watched as influential former Devolution CS Anne Waiguru was hounded out of office over sleaze at the NYS. He also revoked the appointment of Bruce Odhiambo as chairman of Youth Enterprise Development Fund following corruption allegations; the fact that they are close friends and former schoolmates notwithstanding.

To cleanse institutions synonymous with graft, the president has equally been decisive in making earth-shaking changes. Last February, he sacked Kenya Ports Authority top officials, among them Managing Director Gichiri Ndua, over widespread corruption at the port of Mombasa. The current MD has received direct orders from Uhuru to weed out notorious cartels from the port.

After relentless pressure, the Government this year also recovered the entire stash of cash that former hidden in Jersey Island by former Kenya Power managing director Samuel Gichuru and ex-Energy minister Chris Okemo. The president on Thursday assured that the money will go to the welfare of gender-based violence victims.

Never before has a president sacked so many people over corruption in one year. Never before has the culture of political impunity felt so threatened in Kenya. And never before has the Legislature enjoyed such a free hand in sealing the fate of prominent public officials. Days when culpable leaders preferred dying to resigning seem to be long gone.

Let it not be lost that Kinisu opted out a day after the National Assembly's Justice and Legal Affairs Committee recommended his removal from office. This would most probably not have been the case had the Executive interfered with the committee’s work, a norm in past regimes. All these are pointers to a silver lining in Kenya’s fight against corruption.

Many doubters, however, rightfully feel that the mighty only pay with their jobs. But recent images of Engineer Kamau, Odhiambo and even the hitherto untouchable sports officials appearing in court to answer to corruption charges have instilled hope that justice will be served.

It is incontestable though that the Judiciary could do much more if given the space to tighten the noose on corrupt leaders devoid of vested interest and political interference. Other countries keep reminding us that this is no mission impossible.

In July, China sentenced Ling Jihua, who served as the top aide to former Chinese President Hu Jintao, to life in prison after he was convicted of accepting bribes, stealing state secrets and abusing power. In the US, a former Illinois governor is serving 14 years in prison after he was found guilty of attempting to sell a Senate seat. And despite teething problems in South Sudan, trusted lieutenants of President Salva Kiir were among individuals recently jailed for stealing from public coffers. Why don’t we serve justice in equal measure to those misappropriating taxpayers’ money in Kenya?

The buck stops with criminal investigators, public prosecutors and other relevant authorities to take the bull by the horns and bring corrupt political elite to justice.

Jessica is a social and political commentator based in Nairobi

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