OPINION: Anti-graft efforts bear fruit as Moi era secrecy falls in age of transparency

By Michael Cherambos

In recent months, as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s anti-corruption campaign gains more and more public attention, I have found myself wondering about its efficacy. We have seen a handful of very high profile arrests, such as those of Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko.

Those are probably the biggest names of politicians in Kenya today accused of corruption, but if you are following the campaign, the list extends far beyond them.

We have seen graft arrests occur in all industries, across business and government sectors. There have been more investigations into dubious government tenders than we can count. And what has become increasingly clear is that many government officials see their position as an opportunity to create more personal business partnerships for the benefit of themselves and their families.

The line between public service and private for-profit ventures is blurred in Kenya. It has been blurred essentially since the state’s inception – but it need not stay that way forever.

Sometimes, when I reflect upon the administration’s anti-graft measures, I begin to think that it is moving too slow. But that thought is quickly countered by the understanding that a problem so deeply ingrained in a society’s culture is very difficult to change. It is a step by step process, and each step should be counted as a major gain.

The mere arrest of a public figure accused of graft is a huge benefit in the first part of this struggle against corruption, that is, to raise awareness.

The Building Bridges Initiative taskforce has explicitly told us how severe a problem corruption is for Kenya’s economic growth. This is a correct assertion, but what really compliments this information is the fact that people are no longer operating with impunity. They will be spotlighted and publicly shamed for stealing from the mwananchi.

It seems to me very reasonable to support the anti-corruption campaign while at the same time expecting more to come from it. It is a race that we, as ordinary Kenyans, are in together.

Corruption has been taking place here for far too long and it is not something that will disappear overnight. For example just recently, reports came out regarding a shady deal that took place under former President Daniel Moi’s administration that still has our national pocket reeling.

In 1996, a land deal carried out between Nairobi billionaire Mike Maina and his lawyer at the time Chege Kirundi with government officials allowed them to acquire 45.5 acres of public land from Karura forest. They were able to excise about 18.4 hectares in the forest for development and personal profit.

The sprawling park, which is at the heart of Nairobi’s green urban landscape, should serve for the benefit of all citizens of and travelers to the city. But a deal that happened almost 25 years ago cut its size and reduced our own ecological inheritance.

And perhaps even more grave is the losses absorbed by the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) due to the shady deal. Because public officials granted the acquisition to Maina and Kirundi, the NSSF is Sh293 million poorer. We are still suffering from corrupt deals that took place almost 25 years ago.

While this news is frustrating, it does not mean we need to accept it in silence. Though history cannot be changed, the future is ours to shape. If all of us truly hope for a better Kenya for our children, if we quit being so myopic and begin thinking about the long term, then we should applaud each and every small success of the anti-graft campaign.

Each arrest, each public exposure of suspicious conduct is an investment in the bank account of our grandchildren.

And there are new investments all the time. Concerns about deals to build the Dandora Stadium in Nairobi have led the EACC to investigate breach of law and an irregular payment of Sh 196 million for the stadium. While the investigation is still ongoing, the EACC’s move ensures that someone will be held accountable. Transparency is critical to understanding how the national budget is allocated and who, apart from ordinary taxpayers, is benefitting.

We have come a long way since 1996, when most decisions made by the government were shrouded in secrecy, when people were able to take advantage of the silence and the fear of asking questions.

We live in a completely different era, and the fight against corruption is the strongest proof of this.

Michael Cherambos comments on topical socio-political issues; Michaelcherambos1@gmail.com