Why, Like others before him, Ruto will have a hard time dealing a killer blow to graft

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta addressing a political rally in Nakuru in September 1974. [File, Standard]

During my youth, I attended many political rallies in Nakuru County, addressed by Kenyatta where he urged members of his community; "Ukipata mali nyakua lakini ukishikwa ni shauri yako" (If you get property, grab it but if you are found out you are on your own". Many leaders took the call seriously.

Kareithi says in his soon to be published memoir, Cool Under Fire, that: "Except for the Tom Mboya murder and the Shifta war, the 1960s were good years for Kenya. The country had a remarkable growth rate of 7 and 10 per cent in real and nominal terms, respectively. The Government revenue increased by an average 20 per cent annually. Kenya had a near 100 per cent primary school enrolment by the beginning of the 1970s

The country was truly living the Independence Vision of working towards elimination of poverty, disease and ignorance, and the spirit of the Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 that laid guidelines for the establishment of a middle-class economy."

The government, says Kareithi, embarked on aggressive Africanisation of commerce through introduction of work permits and issuance of quit notices to noncitizens.

Kareithi argues that the upward trajectory suddenly changed in the 1970s. "Our growth rate plummeted from 7 to a low of 4.6 per cent in mid 1970s. The inflation rate hit 16 per cent, the highest since Independence, and we had to devalue our currency four times in a space of five years. In the political front, a military coup plot was uncovered and politician J.M. Kariuki was assassinated. We also lost our moral integrity as a nation as news of mega corruption and smuggling of cloves, ivory and coffee filtered through."

Sixty years later, the Kenyan State has been 'appropriated' and privatised. We have senior civil servants with interests in private companies that constantly do business with government. Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua sums it up well; Kenya is now a private company with shareholders. The truth is that for decades, the country has been run as a private entity by a few individuals. Each shareholder of state authority has been monopolising it for their network.

The tragedy is that citizens do at times justify corruption if its perpetrator is a member of their tribe. Fighting corruption has been the leitmotif of each Kenyan president, but they all were enslaved.

The features and forms of corruption in Kenya have however been changing since colonialism. Historian H. Charton says of Jomo Kenyatta, that: "The Father of Independence who came from the main Kikuyu ethnic group, had an "ambiguous" image. However, the president was apparently determined to unite people around the ideal of an independent Kenyan nation, and he responded to the frustrations caused by British colonialists by promoting the appropriation of arable land, mainly in Central region and the Rift Valley, and combination of power for his own benefit and that of his close associates, mainly the Kikuyu members of the "Mount Kenya Mafia". He thus lay the foundation for a clientelist system where he, the patron rewarded his "clan", the clients in exchange for their political support and at the expense of public interest."

Kenyatta allowed some leaders privileged access to farms in the 'White Highlands'. Many got cheap loans, government permits and big contracts, becoming instantly wealthy.

During Kenyatta's reign, his friends frustrated and tormented his deputy Daniel arap Moi. Moi's ascendency to power was facilitated by a professional civil service which refused to be controlled or corrupted. Despite the plans to stop him from becoming Kenya's second President following Kenyatta's death in August 1978, Kareithi and his team ensured that Moi took the oath of office.

Former President Mwai Kibaki. [File, Standard]

I will never forget the conversation I had with former defence minister in the Kenyatta government, Dr Njoroge Mungai, on the week Kibaki took the oath of office. While seated on the verandah of his Magana farm house in Kikuyu town, Mungai confessed that the Kikuyu elite had duped other Kenyans.

"If there is one thing I regret as a Kikuyu leader, is the manipulation and massive looting by some of our people. Economically, Nairobi city belongs to the Murang'a leaders who unfairly acquired properties during the Africanisation programme. We owe Kenyans an apology" said Mungai.

Dr Mungai said of the Kibaki presidency: "This man will end up being the worst promoter of tribalism in Kenya. Mark this day in your diary. He is an extremely selfish man that will divide Kenya more than it has ever been divided."

Soon after our conversation, Kibaki betrayed those on whose shoulders he climbed to power. He surrounded himself with tribemates.

Uhuru Kenyatta walked into power with his own team with William Ruto by his side. The two gave plum jobs to men and women from their two communities. It was indeed their time to eat.

Over the years, save for the civil society, a few institutions and individuals, the majority of citizens have resigned themselves to the monster of corruption. They have learnt to live with it.

You enter into public office, loot and plunder. You then use the war on graft as a whip against political opponents.

Despite the looting, Kenya still dares to thrive. In 2019, Kenya was the sixth richest country in Sub-Saharan Africa. Today, its number four with IMF predicting that Kenya's GDP will be larger than Angola's in 2023. Ours is among the fastest-growing economies in the region.

In the Routledge Handbook of Political Corruption, the political scientist M. Johnston argues that ongoing corruption in countries, such as Kenya, is due to the repeated duplication of anti-corruption reforms. These reforms, he says, are based on: "limited understanding of justice and the importance of politics" firstly ignoring the multifaceted nature of the concept and secondly, the diversity of political and economic contexts that corruption spreads in.

Each president comes with his men and his own vision created to enable some eating. A friend of mine from Japan keeps telling me:" There is no way a country can grow based on a five-year economic strategy. A nation should be working on 50 to 100 years consistent policies that must be implemented irrespective of who is in power. So how do you expect Kenya to ever grow?"

Moi left with his Peace, Love and Unity political philosophy still ringing in our ears. Kibaki came in with Vision 2030. Uhuru abandoned Kibaki's dream and created his own Big Four Agenda. Ruto, is now towing with a Housing Scheme and the Hustler Fund. Ours is a country of incomplete dreams, dodgy promises and shattered hopes.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta. [Samson Wire, Standard]

In reality, Kenyan presidents are incapable of taming corruption. They are enslaved to it. On January 25 2019, Uhuru said: "Corruption has become an accepted way of life. As individuals and as a collective, we have sacrificed our traditions, customs and values at the altar of materialism. Rather than shunning who have made wealth through illicit means, we celebrate them, even in places of worship." He was addressing the national anti-corruption conference.

In an article in the Journal of Eastern Africa Studies, S. Mueller writes on the economy of Kenya's crisis. He says: "Being in power has become synonymous with personnel enrichment and favouritism for their entourage in exchange for political support and complicity. Friends and relatives get bribes, public land, political office, contracts, tenders, etc." Mueller argues that embezzlement of public funds leads to direct, obvious and substantial loss of public revenue. It is the most commonly exposed form of corruption.

In 2008, Kibaki launched Vision 2030. It aimed to make Kenya an upper-middle-income country by 2030. The programme involved an increase in infrastructure projects. This created loopholes for corruption in various forms.

Uhuru came with the Big Four; food security, universal access, housing, universal health care and industrial development. The projects required huge funding. Uhuru made a strategic switch towards private investment. According to the National Treasury 2916/2017 Annual Report, the proportion of commercial debt as a percentage of public debt increased from zero in 2011 to 14.3 in 2017.

Public contracts involve issuance of tenders or direct agreements. The company that offers the highest bribe normally gets the tender. The company then provides a percentage of the contract amount to public officials who then divide the bribe among themselves.

Corruption can also be shrouded in mystery, darkness and silence. In direct negotiated contracts such as those involving the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Chinese banks and State-owned companies refused to make their contractual agreements public. In 2013, the World Bank had advised the ruling out of any SGR project in Kenya due to lack of socio-economic profitability.

The estimated cost of the project per kilometre is 1.6 times greater than the international average. Meanwhile, upgrading the old railway would have cost $150 million compared to the $3.6 billion, the loan amount for phase 1 of the SGR came to. In order to milk the SGR cow dry, powerful individuals and families had already lined up hundreds of acres of land for compensation necessitated by the construction of the line. Because of greed and personal aggrandisement, the SGR was forcefully constructed.

In his inaugural speech in December 2002, Kibaki said: "Corruption will cease to be a way of life in Kenya." He told members of his government and public officers that there will be no sacred cows under his government.

Several years later, Uhuru promised: "The war on corruption will continue to be waged by his government "with all tools at (their), disposal in law, without compromise or concession"

Today, Ruto, who packaged a hustler's champion campaign, is promising to tackle the vice whose flames made my father weep during his last days. He must first contend with the private owners of Kenya.