Thursday, June 13, 2013

The strong survive

Now that President Kenyatta has "declared a war on corruption" it is time to set the clock and count down the hundred days till his first "scam". No one is saying that Mr Kenyatta or Mr Ruto will be caught with their fingers in the National Treasury cookie jar, but it is almost ironic that every time a Kenyan President declares a war on corruption or zero tolerance to corruption, it is always just a matter of time before his declaration of war is revealed to be the sham that it has always been. Mwai Kibaki discovered this to his utter shame.

The "war," and the commanders who wage it, has been exciting and just a little bit underwhelming at the same time. When the Anticorruption and Economic Crimes Act was enacted, rather hastily, in 2003, Kiraitu Murungi as Mwai Kibaki justice minister promised swift, merciless justice for the pilferers of State coffers. It was not long before he was embroiled in the sordid Triton Affair and petro-exploration in the North Eastern Province. By the time his ass was being shoved out of the Ministry of Energy, it was clear that Mr Murungi's commitment to the "war" was perceived as less than robust.

Kenya's only second Prime Minister has been lionised as a pillar of the anti-establishment pro-democracy movement for years whose anti-corruption credentials are beyond reproach. Dene, dents, everywhere. Maize, a staple in many Kenyan homes, became one of the black marks against that reputation. In the midst of one of the harshest droughts and famines ever, his office was perceived to be a law unto itself, awarding dubious tenders to dubious contractors for the import of relief maize and subsidised fertilizer and other farm inputs. His acolytes attempted to shift blame on the current Deputy President while he served as agriculture minister without success; he easily fought a censure motion brought against him in Parliament. Obviously, only die-hard suporters of the former Prime Minister and three-time presidential contest loser will not hear anything that may smudge the extra-burnished shine of his anti-corruption halo though he himself has frequently hinted at his fallibility.

Mwalimu Mati of the Mars Group, which few Kenyans know what it's about or what it does (is it a briefcase?) and who happens to be the chairman of a fly-speck of a political party has had, if you were wearing rose-tinted glasses, a colourful anti-corruption and governance career. His exposures of "gaps" in the financial estimates of Kenya's governments has been a salutary service for the armies of ignoramuses who require someone else to read complex documents for them. But, the troubling and niggling aspect of his anti-corruption/governance crusades, especially in light of his political affiliations (and nascent ambitions, perhaps) is that there seems to be a whiff of "why not me" about them. Mr Mati, even at his most earnest, lacks a certain Githongo-esqueness...a quality difficult to define. Like obscene material, you'll know it when you see it. He does not have "it." He's a sham, a shiny object that does something every now and then to prove it's still shiny.

But it is the apathy of the men and women who avidly devour the article on the exploits of the thieving classes that demonstrates why the war on corruption was lost even before it began. The most important reason for this sorrowful state of affairs is not mere apathy; it is the active participation of the general population in the commission of a myriad acts of corruption on a daily - nay, hourly - basis. And it is not just the kitu kidogo thing; petty traffic offences, petty rule-breaking; petty, petty, petty. We look for the opportunity to break a rule, the generalised contempt for the law it engenders be damned. And if it was not for the manner in which we lionised the thieving classes, we would be in such a different place when it came to the anti-corruption aspects of our governance. Indeed, we would not have the humiliation of anti-corruption or ethics' legislation on our law books. The very existence of the anti-corruption and ethics' laws is an indictment against the entire nation. As is the spectacularly rule-infused, deadline-obsessed procurement law. It has become a spectator sport to see how much one can get away with when looting the public coffers. The best go on to bigger and better positions in the same institutions they have crippled; the idiots learn a Darwinian lesson: on the strongest thieves survive!

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