New committee unlikely to change the status quo on corruption in Kenya

By: Pete Ondeng

President Uhuru Kenyatta last week formed yet another committee to presumably come up with a new strategy for addressing corruption in Kenya.

The creation of the committee appears to be a knee-jerk response to the mounting impatience among the public with the wanton theft that is threatening to sink the Jubilee administration.

Unfortunately for the President, this is a tired political move that can only serve to momentarily divert attention from the real problem that the country is facing. Once again, the President has been misadvised and led down a path that will not help his cause.

At the core of Kenya’s growing economic, social, and political challenges is a character issue that cannot be so casually delegated to an ad hoc committee of people whose integrity, persuasions, and personal interests we do not know.

Let us take a few steps back in time — to 2003, when President Kibaki swept into power with the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc). In his opening speech of the Ninth Parliament on February 18, 2003, President Kibaki made a memorable speech in which he called for “zero tolerance to corruption”, stating that the vice had undermined the country’s economy and image.

“My government will create a culture of zero tolerance to corruption, and I call upon the people of Kenya and the honourable members to join me in the fight against the vice.” The President’s words were sweet music to our ears. “As president, I intend to lead in this change because they say corruption starts at the top.” There was thunderous applause in the House and a collective smile across the face of a nation that so badly wanted to believe that a new day was dawning in Kenya.

It does not take a genius to see that things went terribly wrong. In fact, it feels as if corruption in Kenya today is worse than it was before the so-called Narc revolution.

Kenya’s inability to stem the scourge of corruption seems to lie in its relentless state of self-deception. We live in a make-believe world in which we incessantly prescribe painkillers for a terminal disease that requires urgent surgery.

If the war on corruption is to be won, there needs to be a transformation in the hearts and minds of Kenyans. The Narc government failed miserably in fighting corruption because those in power thought that new laws and structures would somehow address corruption without changing the hearts and minds of the people who run those systems and structures.

After years of struggle, we finally got ourselves a new constitution. Halleluiah! But guess what? We quickly discovered that what we actually got in enacting the new Constitution was a new document. The corrupted character of the nation remained intact.

Today, everyone seems to be shouting at the top of their voices and pointing fingers of blame, but no one seems to know how to cure the disease. On the left, we see the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy weighing in with calls for a referendum that is supposed to come up with constitutional amendments that its leaders say will okoa Kenya (save Kenya). Really?

I am shocked that President Kenyatta’s advisers did not inform him about the existence of the National Anti-Corruption Campaign Steering Committee before he appointed this latest team “to fight corruption”. This committee was established by President Kibaki in 2004 ostensibly to conduct a public education campaign aimed at effecting fundamental changes “in the attitude, behaviour, practices and culture of Kenyans towards corruption.”

Last year, the Jubilee administration, through a Gazette notice, endorsed the steering committee and even expanded its membership to include the National Treasury, the State Department for Devolution, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation, the National Youth Council, and People Living with Disabilities.

Is this a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing? What is the new committee bringing to the table that is not there already? My guess is that it will contribute absolutely zero. As long as the elephant remains in the room, we will keep running around in circles and achieve nothing.