Nic Cheeseman updates us on recent developments in Kenya, which have left commentators pessimistic about Kenyatta’s early push to eliminate corruption.
President Jomo Kenyatta has pledged to reduce corruption in Kenya in a bid to
promote economic growth. But following an initial burst of activity in which
Kenyatta first announced that new technology would be used to remove ‘ghost
workers’ from the government pay roll and later moved to suspend a number of
politicians suspected of corrupt activities, the government has little progress to
show for all its fine words. Moreover, in late May the presidents ‘clean credentials’ were called in to question when he moved to suspend the Chairman and five officials of the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) – the very body whose recommendations had initially led Kenyatta to demand that 175 officials accused of fraud step down so that they could be investigated.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga seized on the announcement to argue that the
president’s anti-corruption ‘crusade’ was little more than a smokescreen,
designed to create the necessary cover for the president to protect his core allies.
Odinga’s idea also crossed the mind of many journalists, who wondered whether
the strong support that Kenyatta initially offered to the Ethics and Anti-
Corruption Commission was intended to create the impression that the new
government was taking graft seriously, so that it would be easier for Kenyatta to
remove genuine reformers from power at a later stage.
Kenyatta’s decision to remove both the chairman and the deputy chairwoman of
the EACC came after MPs voted to sanction them, ironically accusing the EACC
leadership of the abuse of office. Although it is clear that the EACC has made a
number of errors, its biggest mistake appears to have been one of strategy rather than one of moral judgement: by taking on so many different figures at the same time, anti-corruption officials effectively inspired the emergence of an ‘anti-
reform’ alliance within the legislature. Put simply, too many MPs had something
to lose from allowing the EACC to continue with its work.
The president’s apparently contradictory positions – on the one hand,
supporting the EACC’s investigation, while on the other sacking senior EACC
officials, has left the government’s anti-corruption efforts in disarray. It has also
called into question the capacity of the president to deliver clear and decisive
leadership in this area – a complaint that increasingly threatens to characterise
his time in office.