Onyango Oloo, a Kenyan political activist and ex political prisoner, argues that there is a deepening crisis of legitimacy for the Kenyan government. The implication of key government officials in grand corruption has struck yet another nail in the coffin of the shattered and battered National Rainbow Coalition. Oloo sees corruption as driven by two factors; internally by a lack of democratic institutions, structures and culture and externally as one of the by-products of the disastrous neo-liberal policies imposed by the West and its institutions.
As I write these lines, Kenya is being rocked hard by the ramifications of the dossier unleashed from the United Kingdom by John Githongo, the country’s former anti-corruption czar. Githongo has since fled the country after uncovering the deep involvement of key Kibaki insiders in one of Kenya’s most notorious scandals - the Anglo-Leasing Affair.
Earlier in the week, the President appeared on live television to inform his compatriots that Kiraitu Murungi, the Energy minister and Prof. George Saitoti, the Education minister had “stepped aside” to allow for unimpeded investigations of the twin graft scandals of Anglo-Leasing and Goldenberg.
Some observers believe that this dramatic announcement may have been a desperate, even deft move to stave off, pre-empt or undercut the looming mass actions announced by a consortium of 76 civil society organizations and to scuttle a planned meeting of parliamentarians ratcheting up the pressure for the re opening of the National Assembly to allow members of Parliament to debate the corruption scandals.
Whatever the case, these latest resignations - coming hot on the heels of the firing of State House official and Kibaki right hand man Alfred Getonga, the resignation of long-time Presidential confidant and former Finance minister David Mwiraria and the dropping of former cabinet minister Dr. Chris Murungaru in the post-referendum reshuffle last year -have if anything deepened the crisis of legitimacy for the Kenyan government and struck another nail into the coffin of the shattered and battered National Rainbow Coalition which rode to power on a landslide victory, with a mandate to fight graft and deliver a new democratic constitution.
Many have hailed John Githongo as Kenya’s knight in shining armor and have lauded the critical, sometimes strident opinion pieces of former British envoy Sir Edward Clay. The Kenyan media, especially the Nation Media Group, has been giving itself a pat on the back, preening in self-congratulation about their role in publicizing and exposing the scandal.
Indeed, the feistiness of the Kenyan press is ironically one key indicator of how much democratic space has opened up since the ascendancy of the Kibaki-led NARC regime. Truth be said, the courage of the Kenyan media and the almost unfettered expressions of critical views by ordinary Kenyans has happened in spite of, rather than because of the NARC government. Indeed, many are the times when demonstrators have been shot dead in cold blood, clubbed senseless, tear gassed, arrested and vilified by leading politicians allied to the ruling elite. The freedom of the press in Kenya is a direct by product of the burgeoning democratic struggles within the country over the last fifteen years or so.
In as much as the ongoing campaign against corruption in Kenya has highlighted the need for clean, transparent and accountable governance, it also throws up several convenient smokescreens when it comes to unraveling the enabling environment for grand graft in Kenya.
Many Nairobi-based pundits and observers have focused on the personal greed, moral foibles and even psychological make up of the leading villains. A few have probed the links to the need for the NAK faction to have a war chest to perpetuate itself in power come the next presidential elections in 2007.
Laudable as these insights are, I am of the opinion that they do gloss over two fundamental factors - one internal and the other external that seem to fuel the waves of corruption scandals that have bedeviled Kenya for decades.
The internal factor has to do with the refusal of successive ruling cliques to take the lead in democratizing the structures of power - especially in the economic sphere. In the particular case of the Kibaki regime, there is a justifiable national ire at the NARC government because it is the one formation that rode to power with a pledge and a popular mandate to deliver a new democratic constitution within its first one hundred days in power.
The fact that a national constitutional conference concluded its deliberations by ratifying and proclaiming a new draft constitution that was effectively trashed, thrashed and shelved sent strong signals that the parvenu rulers - especially in the NAK faction fronted by the President himself - having tasted what KANU had enjoyed for 39 years were quite reluctant to forego the perks of power - like the latitude given for ministers and government insiders to circumvent procurement and conflict of interest policies for self-enrichment. Therefore the adamant refusal by the ruling clique to acquiesce to the national demand for a new constitutional dispensation was a direct factor that led to the rot of institutional safeguards against corrupt practices. Indeed the injection of political agendas directly propelled the Anglo-Leasing scandal - with disclosures that one of the motivating factors that drove key Kibaki insiders to loot state coffers in collusion with shady hoodlum business types was to stuff a war chest full of loot that NAK would use to fight its electoral rivals in 2007.
The external factor is best described in the following excerpt from Sue Hawley in a July 2000 publication by the Corner House titled “Exporting Corruption: Privatization, Multinationals and Bribery”:
“The growth of corruption across the globe is largely the result of rapid privatization of public enterprises, along with reforms to downsize and undervalue civil services, pushed on developing countries by the World Bank, the IMF and western governments supporting their transnational corporations…” (http://www.globalpolicy.org/nations/launder/general/2001/0705sng.htm)
If we accept the argument that I am advancing - namely that corruption is driven internally by lack of democratic institutions, structures and a culture that militates and acts as a check on abuse of power by political barons and other state-connected thieves and that it is one of the by-products of the disastrous neo-liberal policies imposed by the West and her institutions like the IMF on ‘Third World’ countries like Kenya, then it follows that corruption is a fundamentally political problem rooted firmly within certain local and global ideological constructs and parameters.
To put it more colloquially, graft is a manifestation of a rotten neo-colonial regime gutting the country at the behest of the imperialist powers. This means that at an ideological level, a consistent fight against corruption in societies like Kenya has to be embedded in a broader struggle for national democracy and against imperialist neo-liberal policies and machinations.
That is why I find it bizarre to see so many of my Kenyan compatriots look to places like the UK and individuals like Sir Edward Clay for mentorship and support in the war on corruption.
It is surreal to find the sleaze engulfed states like the United States and the United Kingdom - with their ENRONs, Haliburtons and so on - presume to act as the 21st Century champions against graft and other economic crimes and go further not only to lecture and harangue, but to sanction and punish states and governments that they consider “corrupt”. These mark you, are the very states which consciously assisted pariah governments in Africa like Ian Smith’s illegal regime in the so called “Rhodesia” and the racist cabal in the apartheid South Africa circumvent international censure and sanctions for their repressive and corrupt practices in years gone by. These are the same governments which turn a blind eye to the erection of the apartheid wall in Israel and the series of scandals implicating the now ailing Ariel Sharon.
We must therefore openly question the motivations and ideological intentions of these imperialist powers when they jump into the fray in battling corruption in places like Kenya and so on.
This is not to say that we have swallowed the demagogic populist appeals of discredited Kenyan ministers caught in a web of deceit who suddenly discover their mythical anti-imperialist credentials only when they are caught with their pants down. It is so easy to pierce through their threadbare rhetorical flourishes - especially when these ministers are confronted with compromising facts and startling admissions on tape - even when these surreptitious recordings are executed in less than ethical fashion.
By interrogating the motives of the Western powers in “fighting” graft in countries like Kenya, we are also putting a question mark on the local actors who, like the embedded journalists during the Iraqi invasion seem to be snuggling in bed with the Sir Edward Clays of this world.
One litmus test that would indicate whether these actors are driven by purely patriotic motives rather than being proxies and conduits for nefarious imperialist - even regime change agendas - can be gleaned by the extent that these local players participate in national democratic struggles and oppose neo-liberal imperialist policies.
We are aware that the anti-corruption campaign the world over has provided a convenient platform for many a would be imperialist friendly Presidential aspirant in this or that neo-colonial outpost. Of course, the surest testing ground is the arena of mass struggles where progressive and democratic forces meet to know each other more, struggling for unity and clarity while pursuing concrete pro-people goals.
* Onyango Oloo is a Nairobi-based political activist and former political prisoner who is currently the National Co-coordinator of the Kenya Social Forum. He returned to Kenya in late October 2005 after an 18-year stint in exile where he lived in Toronto and Montreal, Canada. The views expressed are his personal opinions and do not in any way reflect the positions of the Kenya Social Forum - which in the spirit of the World Social Forum process, does not in fact hold or express any political or ideological viewpoints as an entity.
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