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Friday, September 02, 2016

Whom Should Kenyans Blame For The Faltering War On Corruption?


The resignation of Philip Kinisu as head of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission caps off yet another week during which corruption and the faltering war waged against it have dominated newspaper headlines. In the aftermath of the Olympic games, ironically Kenya’s most successful ever judging by the number of medals our athletes gathered, revelations of theft and joyriding have demonstrated that Kenyan accomplishment comes in spite, rather than because, of their government.

Yet listening to Kinisu’s predecessor, the former head of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, Dr PLO Lumumba, it is these very Kenyans who are to blame for the mess we are in. “Kenyans as a society have not demonstrated that they want corruption to be fought,” he claimed on Wednesday evening on the Jeff Koinange show. 

This was perhaps not a surprising sentiment, given how Dr Lumumba was himself hounded out of office for trying to do his job. But as understandable as it may be, it is nonetheless profoundly misguided. He confuses Kenyan society for the state and Kenyans for those who claim to represent them but actually are little more than parasites sucking the lifeblood out of them. It is the equivalent of claiming that the fiasco in Rio was evidence that Kenyan athletes are corrupt.

Sadly, there is a failure within official discussions of corruption to distinguish between perpetrators and victims of corruption; a tendency to fault the latter for their victimisation. In 2005, then Justice Minister, and now Senator, Kiraitu Murungi, outraged many when he compared criticism of the government's fight against corruption to "raping a woman who is already willing", a remark he was to apologize for a few days later. It is unclear why Dr Lumumba, and his fellow guest on the show, publisher and columnist Barrack Muluka, appear to think that it is less outrageous to suggest that Kenyans are willing participants in the plunder of their resources.

As I have previously discussed on this column, studies on the nature of corruption have established that the vast majority of bribes paid by Kenyans are extorted by government officials for access or expedition of services that citizens are already entitled to. Reversing this violation of public trust will not be accomplished by appealing to the victims to change, just as rape culture will not be vanquished by asking women to behave differently. Rather it is the perpetrators and their enablers and protectors within government that must bear the burden of punishment and change. In fact, later in the show, Dr Lumumba attributed the relative success of anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria, Botswana, Mauritius and Rwanda not to changes in societal attitudes towards graft, but to the willingness of their respective heads of government to “lead from the front”.

In Kenya, there is little sign that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, William Ruto, are doing likewise. On the contrary, a survey of public perceptions of corruption recently released by the Africa Centre for Open Governance indicates a majority believe their offices to be the most corrupt. The fact is it is not the ordinary mwananchi who lacks the will to fight corruption but rather, the very people within government tasked with carrying out that fight. 

The reasons for this are not hard to fathom. The political class, which benefits greatly from the vice, has the most to lose from any serious attempt to stamp it out. It is they, not ordinary Kenyans, who would be the primary targets of any such enterprise and can thus be relied upon to pull out all the stops to ensure that the EACC remains little more than a paper tiger. Whoever elects to take on the job of fighting graft must expect that he or she will be an enemy of the governing elite and, unlike Kinisu, must not present them with easy avenues of attack. 

However, and more importantly, we must all realize that the war on corruption will not be won by scapegoating its victims but rather by harnessing their collective anger and outrage and directing it against the perpetrators. This means that the onus and pressure must be focused squarely on the person best placed to do this, the instrument of our collective force and he whom the constitution describes as the symbol of our national unity: President Uhuru Kenyatta.


13 comments:

mat kabutha said...

Good article! I do agree with you that the leaders should get a greater share of the blame, but at the same time refuse to absolve the people entirely. I have just realized that your disagreement with me, and I might add, with the other individuals mentioned in this article, is in points of demarcation. You, Gathara, for lack of a better word, are an absolutist!
For instance, you have placed PLO and Muluka in the "blame the victim" camp--and no other as we know they belong--and yourself, firmly in the "blame the leaders" camp.
Another example: a few days ago, on Twitter, you asked someone.......whether his parents, grandparents or kids were corrupt.......as though this is a simple "black or white/man or woman" issue.
Even the way you differentiate the state and the people, is so rigid it fails to appreciate the movements--in and out--and varying degrees of power within. Essentially, the state incorporates (intentionally!?) quite a large number of us to the extent that we can't easily determine who is what.
Sometimes I wonder, though fully aware that you vehemently despise benevolent dictators, whether you aren't unwittingly making a sound case for one!

Patrick Gathara said...

Mat,
I would say PLO and Muluka, both of whom I know and have great personal regard for, placed themselves in that camp when they unabashedly declared that it was the people to blame. I think, in the end, that it is the responsibility of the people to keep their leaders honest but that they will not do this if they misidentify the problem. If we think that we will solve corruption, not by fixing and improving the systems within government that allow it to flourish, but by taking self-improvement classes, we're not going to get anywhere.

As you correctly note, I do not pine for a "benevolent dictator". I think any system that relies on the intrinsic goodness of public officials is unlikely to deliver success. What I want is for the populace to hold the people in power to account, to insist that they do their jobs. As we have seen with the Interest rates bill, they are amenable to public pressure. So let's apply some instead of engaging in self-flagellation.

mat kabutha said...

But Gathara, these aren't mechanical systems, whereby you can discount the mindset of the mechanic/fixer. The individuals manning the systems are put there by the populace, directly (elections) or indirectly (appointments). Granted much scheming is involved which ultimately compromise the integrity of the process, but such is the system we have.

Perhaps, this dispute is a chicken-egg proposition. Your thinking is the system should change from the top--leadership--and consequently the rest--populace--will follow suit. I, on the other hand, think that it should be the other way around. Of course, for the purpose of completeness, we have to ask the question: how did we get here? I agree, for the most part, with your analysis as espoused in various articles that touched on benevolent dictators--latest being after Lee Kuan Yew passed on--in that it matters a great deal what kind of leader you get, from the get go. Where we differ is in the assessment of the effect of bad leadership. You seem to believe that the character of the populace was left intact despite years of misrule (>50 yrs); a position I disagree with.

Anyway, the questions that arise from your argument are thus,

1. How can these pure souls repeatedly and invariably elect scoundrels?"
2. Having done the above, how then are these scoundrels expected to design systems that will bring about their destruction?

The answer to Q2 is, as you state, the populace to hold them to account!! Moving on, in my opinion, the only logical implication of this proposition is an occurrence of a revolution and hopefully, a benevolent dictator. It's the only way to extricate the situation. A reset of the system, as it were.

Meanwhile, introspection--self-flagellation!?--while not the solution per se (no one suggested it is), is a necessary step towards solving social/econ/political problems, absent the one above. Scapegoating, which is what your are advocating, isn't sustainable. In fact, that was what we attempted in 2002. Look what followed!


Patrick Gathara said...

Mat,
I can't say I follow your line of thought but I think you misrepresent mine. I do not hold that the populace is pure or that it requires pure leaders to solve problems. I just do not think that the populace is stealing and robbing itself and requires a benevolent dictator or introspection to save them from themselves.
I think you misrepresent what happened in 2002. It wasn't scapegoating to say Moi's was a kleptocracy that needed dispensing with. The problem was that we overthrew Moi but left the system intact. The problem was we thought it was enough to simply change personnel. Instead of maintaining pressure for reform on the Kibaki regime, we sat back and counted our chickens before they hatched.
I am for systemic reform. There is no suggestion or implication that the populace needs a benevolent dictator to hold to account (a contradiction in terms) in order to achieve this. It is about the various components that make up society realizing that their common interests lie in ensuring all can effectively participate in governance arrangements, in making GoK accountable, and in forming inclusive coalitions that can effectively force reform on the ruling class and pressure GoK to work for them. This happened in the 1990s and the expanded space we enjoy today is the result. So it is doable. We do not need a dictator. Or pure people. Just a populace sufficiently aware of the true source of their problems.

Anonymous said...

Agent problem. The government (read: president) has the legal COMPETENCY to address corruption. He has failed. Garth - putting a system in place will not work - the agent will instrumntalise the system to his ends. How a president could support NYS-Waiguru - Eurobond - IEBC - and then citizens like MAT "pretend" there is a "complex chicken-egg" problem is to completely miss the point!!!!!!

The locus of the problem is very clear. The solution is even CLEARER...

mat kabutha said...

You see, Gathara, atleast I have attempted to follow your arguments to their logical ends, wrongly as it may be. You, on the other hand, dismiss arguments with this one-liners: self-flagellation, self-improvement classes, blame-the-victim-proponents nonsense etc. Not to mention, analogizing them to rape. Good luck playing the misrepresentation card!

Anyway, to get back to the argument, I will attempt to be concise. My basic point is that the reason we have had so many false-starts, since independence, is the populace lacks a consciousness that can sustain the gains acquired. This consciousness can only obtain through introspection. Otherwise, as we have seen, the progress turns out half-baked. It's achievement having been driven by nothing more than fervor/emotion, siezes once the underlying conditions are altered, even marginally. That's is the " counting chickens...." moment you describe.
Btw, what do you mean by this "It is about the various components that make up society realizing ........." How is this realization to be achieved in such a way that it's beneficial to the players?

mat kabutha said...

Indeed the problem and solution are clear, but to whom? Not to most, in my understanding. Hence the president acts as you describe, for he believes no repurcusions will follow.

Anonymous said...

To whom?? is that a question worth discussing??? The existing regulatory, institutional and political frameworks establish enough clarity on the problems and solutions (plus many reports exist on the matter!!!). it is time to 1) expose unequivocally the government, and 2)stop talking...nothing is new...only ACTION is required.

in summary: kill mediocrity...which again...is CONSTANTLY promoted to the hilt by the agency of government.

Patrick Gathara said...

Mat,
Introspection as if we are the problem is exactly what I dismiss. However, if by introspection you mean examining the structures and systems that enable theft by the elite as opposed to assuming they do so at our behest, on our behalf or as a reflection of values we all hold, then that is something I can engage with. That was the failure in 2002. The consciousness you speak of should not be a misguided and unthinking assumption of fault for the actions of others.

The realization is there among a few. It is about fanning the embers into a flame by articulating a political programme of reform. A start could be by recreating the coalitions of old (churh, media, civil society) or even completely novel groupings. But we've got to be much more deliberative about the programme beyond "Moi (or Uhuruto) must go". We could revive the truncated conversations around "The Kenya We Want" and try to imagine the sorts of systems and structures necessary to ensure the arrangements and rationality that produced autocracy and oppression are actually replaced with different arrangements and rationality.

In short, hold the powerful to account without fudging their responsibility for the mess, and work toward not just changing the faces at the top, but removing the entire system that undergirds official theft and oppression -essentially finishing the work of overthrowing the colonial state in favor of one that genuinely springs from and answers to its people.

mat kabutha said...

All these action you speak of had to be undertaken by a people--critical mass, for that matter--in order for it to be productive. That critical mass is what is absent, as I see it! How to grow/develop it is the subject of contention as you can infer from the discussion herein.
I'm all for agitation/action but also keenly aware of the ineffectiveness of this action by a few. For as explained above, the result are unsustainable.

mat kabutha said...

I suppose Gathara, we'll agree to disagree on this point.

I insist the "drug addict" needs to own up to his problem, as a first step, you say that isn't necessary. Acceptance by the addict that they are such challenged doesn't prevent them from seeking a solution. This notion,unfortunately, is anathema to you, and I can guess why. You misconstrue it as being defeatist and fear that it will hinder progress. Of course we can't gave that.

Time will tell!

Patrick Gathara said...

Mat,
It is the folks in government addicted to illicit proceeds, not the people they steal from! If you want the addict to own up to his problem, then why are you constantly looking to place it on the shoulders of others?

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