On March 9, 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga promised Kenyans that they will “stand together to ensure that political affiliation shall not be used to shield those who are found to be corrupt.”
The two leaders said that corruption was undermining the country’s public and private institutions and was set to destroy the nation’s aspirations. These sentiments were expressed against the backdrop of a vicious political contest between the two leaders, which had been effectively exploited by corruption kingpins to escape accountability.
The two leaders consequently covenanted to never again allow politics to provide the cover for impunity. This has invariably resulted in tumultuous political reactions. There are many people who had never in their wildest dreams imagined that a moment of enlightenment would ever dawn on Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga.
With this constant now changed, none of the political calculations are balancing the equation. This is not desirable to many. But equally undesirable is the fact that under the new constant, it has become impossible to obtain impunity as a result of the political calculations under the handshake. But apart from ensuring that everyone carries their own cross, the pact has galvanised public opinion in support of the renaissance in the graft war.
In expressing support for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Director of Criminal Investigations and the Chief Executive of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the two leaders have not only given them the impetus but have also protected them from the spirited attempt to delegitimise the institutions.
Not a day passes without an attack being made against one of the anti-corruption offices or officials – accusing them of everything from incompetence to political partisanship. These attacks are part of a well-coordinated strategy to stop the ongoing war against corruption. The phrase “corruption fights back” may be a cliché but it captures the reality of the counter reform reaction by corruption kingpins when they are cornered. They seek to cultivate public apathy and cynicism against the anti-corruption drive by portraying the agencies as being run by incompetent officers so as to delegitimise them.
If the current attacks against our anti-corruption agencies were taking place in the midst of a political wrestlemania between Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga, then the anti-corruption war would be dead and buried by now. This was expected and corruption was thus one of the nine point agenda items of the Joint Communiqué and subsequent political cover by the two leaders.
It was also foreseen that the war against corruption would bring to the fore an issue that is critical to the survival of the beleaguered corruption kingpins. Despite repeated appeals by the two leaders that the politics of 2022 should not be dragged into the handshake, this has only multiplied.
This is because 2022 will be significant to the anti-corruption drive. That year will determine whether Kenya will continue on the trend it is on to clean itself and set up a corruption free society, or slip back into the abyss and possibly this time never climb out.
There are two examples of how 2022 can kill the war against corruption. The first example is from Nigeria. In 2003, President Olesugun Obasanjo appointed Nuhu Ribadu as the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. During his time in office, Ribadu arrested and charged over 1,000 suspects and recovered $5 billion stolen from Nigeria. One of those suspects was his boss, the Inspector General of Police, whom he jailed and forced to return $150 million.
In 2007, when his appointment was renewed, Nigeria held a presidential election that was won by Umaru Musa Ya’Ardua. It happened that one of the persons in the throes of Ribadu’s grip was James Ibori, a former Governor of the oil-rich Delta State and a friend and key supporter of Ya’Ardua. Ya’ardua was sworn in on May 29, 2007. In August, Ribadu was demoted in rank at the National Police Service and in December, he was removed as head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. He was told to proceed on mandatory training. One year later, in December 2008, he was fired by the Nigeria Police Service Commission.
A similar thing happened in a more developed democracy. On May 15, 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Preetinder Singh Bharara as the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Like Ribadu, Preetinder, popularly known as Preet, was a sworn anti-corruption crusader. He charged and jailed top executives of Wall Street and spread his tentacles all over the globe in an efficient crime busting initiative. He was later to be described by the New York Times as America’s “most aggressive and outspoken prosecutor on public corruption”.
His weight was felt in Moscow and he was blacklisted from ever entering Russia and it is claimed that the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan once asked Vice-President Joe Biden to get Obama to fire Preet. Two months after Trump was sworn in, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for Preet’s resignation. Preet refused. On March 10, 2017, one day after the expiry of the ultimatum to hand in his resignation, Preet was fired.
This is the light in which the politics of 2022 comes into the war against corruption. If the counter reform forces ever take control of the state, their first order of business will be to fire the heads the agencies involved in the war against corruption.
The handshake seeks to avert this possibility by uniting Kenyans in the resolve to wipe out corruption by galvanising a bi-partisan broad based coalition of all reform minded Kenyans and dedicating them to this resolve.
The writer, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, is Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s legal advisor.