Sunday, June 07, 2015

Uhuru Kenyatta, anti-corruption crusader.

I was wrong. Uhuru Kenyatta has done what I thought would be the impossible.

When you claim on national TV that you are not a crook, whether we believe you relies almost entirely on whether we like you or not and, crucially, whether we like your accusers or not. Your likability, if you are a politician with a checkered past, doesn't rely entirely on just your tribe. The platform you choose too to make the Shaggy Defence ("It wasn't me!") is also important. As is which fellow politicians choose to publicly believe your Shaggy Defence.

When the President directed, in his State of the Nationa Address to a Joint Sitting of Parliament, that the anti-corruption forces go after the big fish in his government, we all thought that we had seen this movie before and we knew how it was going to end: a whitewash. Many thought that the President's goal was just the investigation and, where proof existed, the prosecution of the big fish. I don't think that was the President's only reason. I think he had a much more important outcome in mind: senior public officials would be compelled to state their stand, in their own way, on the question of the fight against graft.

Take what the Deputy President did on the Big Question on Citizen TV this past week. He categorically denied having a hand in the graft that is associated with the expansion or relocation of the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. His denial was not just the same bland statement of denial that politicians are enamoured of; it was an almost hour-long back and forth with the interviewer about his relationship with his accusers and why he had anything at all to do with something that is the preserve of the Ministry of Health and the county government of Uasin Gishu. Whether we believe him or not is not the point; this is a rare thing in Kenya. For a Deputy President to go on TV and deny that he is a crook is a very big deal.

The Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries and parastatal bosses being investigated by the anti-corruption commission should borrow a leaf from the DP. Their studious silence will not stand them in good stead should they be exonerated by the EACC or the Office of the DPP. They are accused of bambozzling the public service of billions of shillings and swindling the people of Kenya of hundreds of acres of public land. Simply letting their lawyers do the talking will engender a sense that they are dodgy people who are not fit to hold public office in Kenya.

We are at a crucial stage in the reforms of the Kenyan state. More and more people are getting their information from non-state controlled media, and their impressions of their betters in the public service are coloured not so much by "my tribe, my man" but whether or not jobs have been created, safety has been enhanced, security has been assured and wealth has been created. There are those politicians and public servants living in the past, refusing to move into the present day, but they are a dying breed and it is only a matter of time before their way of thinking is consigned to the ash-heap of history. And all it took was for the President to accuse a miniscule 175 public servants out of a total of 500,000 of being crooks. Uhuru Kenyatta has done more for anti-corruption than we will ever appreciate.

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