“Uhuru acts to rein in sleazy deals” blared the headline of the Daily Nation on Monday. The story noted that Uhuru is “getting upset with the increasing cases of fresh corruption under the Jubilee administration”. Deputy President William Ruto isn’t too happy with the corruption either, telling the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) over the weekend that it “must account for the public resources allocated to them to fight corruption.”
— Daily Nation (@dailynation) March 16, 2015
Mario Cuomo, the venerated late Governor of New York, used to say that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. In the war against corruption, with a little help from a gullible press, Uhuru and Ruto are governing in misleading sound bites.
By making the right noises at state functions and rallies, Uhuru and Ruto have reduced their contribution to the war on corruption to a public relations exercise that is designed to give Kenyans the illusion of motion in the war against sleaze when we are really just standing still. In a sense, instead of waging on corruption, Uhuru and Ruto have picked a fight with a more defenseless foe: reality.
Jubilee is, of course, not the first Kenyan administration to try and kick the can down the road for the next administration to handle when it comes to corruption. Moi only set up the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority after some nudging from donors. The choice of Harun Mwau, later to grace the US’s drug kingpin list, to head the nascent body was an obvious giveaway that Moi wasn’t taking the fight against corruption too seriously.
Then there is Mwai Kibaki. Kenya’s third president was voted in with an overwhelming mandate in 2002 with the pledge of “zero tolerance” on corruption. Then he appointed John Githongo as his anti-corruption czar and, as the song says, “nothing was the same again.” Githongo’s discovery that high stakes corruption was not only happening under Kibaki’s watch but could very well have enjoyed the president’s blessing would later be the subject Michela Wrong’s aptly named “It’s our time to eat.” If nothing else, Wrong’s book is an instructive tale of how a Kenyan president lost his way in the fight against graft.
The good news is that it’s not too late for the Jubilee administration. So what can Uhuru and Ruto do inject a semblance of seriousness in the fight against graft? Two things. Firstly, talk is cheap. Uhuru and Ruto have to start weaning themselves off the cheap high they get from making statements at rallies that appear tough on corruption but are ineffective.
They have to embrace action instead and do a little house cleaning by forcing members of the cabinet whose names have been mentioned in corruption scandals to resign. It says a lot to Kenyans that Charity Ngilu, David Chirchir and Mutea Iringo are still in office. The charges against them haven’t been conclusively proved but taking the fight against graft seriously demands that Uhuru and Ruto surround themselves with people who don’t carry the faintest whiff of scandal.
Secondly, statecraft is soul craft. Governing is a continuous process of winning hearts and minds. It is not enough for Uhuru and Ruto condemn corruption at rallies and threaten to take action against those who perpetuate it. They must make Kenyans understand what corruption costs the country; how it makes Kenya uncompetitive economically by increasing the price of doing business; and how it aggravates Kenya’s other social problems like insecurity and inequality. Uhuru and Ruto must Kenyans understand that by engaging in corruption they are being complicit in the destruction of their own country.