In March 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta went public and asked Kenyan Cabinet Ministers who had been negatively implicated in the EACC (Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission) report to resign from their posts.
Many Kenyans applauded the move noting that the president had been brave and taken a hard-stance against corruption. Despite the announcement something kept on lingering at the back of my mind, an uneasy sense of déjà vu. This week it became clear that this was indeed nothing new under the sun.
A little background before we get to the nitty gritty. The EACC on March 20th 2015, sent a report to the President on the current status of corruption. The report found its way to parliament where the debate began. Accusations ranged from grabbing of public land, misuse of office and demands of kickbacks from major government deals.
Some are as weird as diversion of public funds to influence the impeachment of other office officials. Reading the list makes for interesting if not bizarre observations.
Previous Kenyan Presidents have asked top-officials to step down when pressure mounted on corruption. An early example would be Mr. Nicholas Biwott, politician who served under Moi’s government was asked to step aside due to corruption allegations. Investigations into the case amounted to nothing and he returned to office as a Cabinet Minister.
Former Finance Minister, Amos Kimunya was famously quoted in a rally saying that he would rather die than resign after being mentioned in the scandal involving the sale of The Grand Regency Hotel. He did step aside an inquiry found him innocent. He was re-appointed by President Kibaki as the Trade Minister. Mr. Kimunya is currently under investigation again for the Anglo Leasing scandal.
In light of this history, it is not surprising that as usual due to mounting pressure from the public at large, President Uhuru Kenyatta has asked Cabinet Ministers to step aside pending investigations on involvement in corruption. The results of these investigations will determine whether Kenya has grown up or is still enslaved by the chains of corruption.
The ability of Kenya to develop is pegged on whether the President and indeed the government is brave enough to bring perpetrators of corruption to justice with consequences which are heavy enough to prevent the next person from engaging in corruption.
Corruption is one of the main set backs that the Kenyan society faces. From outright bribery in offices to misuse of power, in the book “It’s our Turn to Eat” Michela Wrong reveals that in a speech, the then American Ambassador noted that the monies lost to corruption were enough to fund Anti-Retroviral drugs for all Kenyans infected with HIV for 10 years.
This is the set back we face. In addition, all aspects of society suffer from these setbacks. The recent terrorist attacks reveal than even though the Kenya defense budget is the highest in East Africa, both our policemen and defense forces are barely competent when it comes to managing security.
Earlier on in the year, an investigative program on TV revealed how students get degrees for courses they never did, all in the name of corruption. The infrastructure in various parts of the country tell a story of their own, bad roads, inexistent water supply which drives people deeper into poverty as they are unable to access markets, hospitals and schools.
Meanwhile policemen strategically camp themselves on Kenyan roads collecting Kes 50 shilling payments to turn a blind eye to drunk drivers and vehicles which are not road worthy.
The same vehicles and drivers go ahead to cause the death of scores of passengers. People die in hospitals as doctors chase more profitable work rather than treat the most needy patients. Meanwhile the same hospitals do not have adequate equipment or personnel because some government official somewhere has squandered their money.
President Uhuru Kenyatta must make history by asking for transparent and conclusive investigations of the corrupt officials. Anything less will perpetrate a cycle of the cancer that eats up out society. We cannot move forward when the high and mighty see no consequences to their actions.
We dare not hope for a different country as long as officials are called to resign in the heat of the moment then invited back into office years later. Time will tell whether anything will be different this time. This is the make or break decision that will determine whether this is a different government, a different Kenya.