The discussion on corruption amnesty, recently refreshed by Dr David Ndii, is not new. It is usually rekindled as we head towards a major government changeover.
It however quickly dies down as soon as the new Sheriffs get into town. Who wants to be bogged down by corruption conversations just when they have entered the gravy train! But there are many who ideologically believe in the concept, informed by several realities.
One is the recognition that corruption in Kenya is so pervasive it is akin to stage four cancer; refusal to deal with it will kill the patient sooner than later. They also correspondingly recognise that like any stage four cancer, attempting total surgery to eradicate it will kill the patient.
Thirdly, there is an acknowledgement that the tools currently being used to fight the cancer are ineffective. They are quickly colonised by the cancer allowing it to continue growing and mutating. For instance, only the criminally naive don’t recognise that most institutions dealing with corruption are themselves hotbeds of sleaze, some officers auctioning skewed investigations and informal pardons to the highest bidder.
But even without co-option, the legal processes we apply to hunt and punish the corrupt are structurally incapable of achieving significant results.
Ask the most able prosecutors in the DPP’s office and they will confess that they are overworked, under-resourced and relatively underpaid compared to the legal behemoths appearing for the various accused. Prosecuting corruption is also complex and there is a whole infrastructure invested in compromising anti-corruption cases including investigators, prosecutors and judicial operatives.
It is no wonder that many of the corruption cases commenced with much fanfare have either collapsed or are limping towards collapse. The call for amnesty is therefore somewhere between a flag of surrender and a pragmatic recognition that new approaches are demanded. What this debate always misses is outlining conditions for amnesty. At a philosophical level, an amnesty only makes sense in the context of a new beginning. South Africans decreed an amnesty for human rights violations through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because they were starting a new nation with new human rights ethos. The calls for amnesty in Kenya have no corresponding commitment to starting afresh.
There is also no impetus for such a fresh start. On the contrary, most people outside or already inside government and pushing for entry post-2022 administration, are salivating at the opportunities that await them. But even more worrying about the calls for Kenya’s amnesty is the absence of a Zacchaeus commitment.
Luke 19:1-10 records the story of the tax collector who became interested in Jesus to the extent of climbing a tree to see Christ. The Bible records that his conversion to a follower of Jesus was accompanied by his commitment to “give half of his wealth to the poor” and to return “fourfold all that I have stolen”. This was not a demand from Christ but a reflection of true repentance.
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What Kenyan amnestees want is to be protected from prosecution for past corruption, be permitted to continue looting, and keep all the loot. That will not happen. But an amnesty in principle is a good idea. I, however, doubt that it has serious protagonists otherwise by now we would have serious policy or legislative proposals on the mechanics of its actualisation, even if from civil society. There is none. If it eventually metamorphoses into something serious, it can only happen when there is impetus for a fresh start. There is none. And when those that want to benefit from the amnesty are willing to actualise a Zacchaeus conversion. Until then, this is just idle talk. Treat it with utter contempt.