On Conflicts of Interest: Wealth-generation and Politics in Kenya

In my book “Wuodha: My journey from Kenya to these United States” published by Friesen Press, I write that there is an unusually strong and incestuous relationship between political power and wealth in Africa/Kenya (pge 22). This relationship is illustrated by the high number of wealthy Kenyans who also happen to be politicians, family members of said politicians and/or those close to said politicians. To be clear, I also write that this complementary relationship between political power and “mbesha” is not unique to Kenya. My adopted home America has its share of wealthy individuals who have transformed their economic wealth into political power and vice versa. The Kennedys and Bushes parlayed the wealth of their respective patriarchs Joe Kennedy and George Prescott Bush into three occupancies of the White House. Conversely, Bill Clinton, notoriously less-than-wealthy when he became president in 1992 now sits atop a foundation – Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation – worth a quarter billion dollars http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinton_Global_Initiative#Clinton_Global_Initiative_.28CGI.29. Finally, the current occupant of the White House Barack H. Obama (and his wife Michelle) famously paid off their student loans in 2004; the same year he made his well-received speech at the July 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Mr. Obama went on to author the block-buster memoir “Dreams of my father” and the more wonkish “The Audacity of Hope”; a detailing of his vision on how Americans can tackle everyday societal problems. Royalties from the books form the basis of the former community organizer’s familial wealth.

Unlike Kenya, the one thing that most developed countries have that does not make the relationship between political office and wealth accumulation near-immutable is a system of checks-and-balances that tempers the avarice that is a function of being human AND having (political) power! The checks-and-balances that compel those seeking political office, indeed most prominent political/public figures in the west to put their wealth in a “blind trust” is almost non-existent in Kenya. Wikipedia defines a “blind trust” thus:

“A….trust in which the trustees…..have been given power of attorney (and)….have full discretion over the assets and the….beneficiaries (owners) of the trust have no knowledge of the holdings of the trust and no right to intervene in their handling. Blind trusts are generally used…….to keep the beneficiary unaware of the specific assets in the trust, such as to avoid conflict of interest between the beneficiary and the investments. Politicians or others in sensitive positions often place their personal assets (including investment income) into blind trusts, to avoid public scrutiny and accusations of conflicts of interest when they direct government funds to the private sector.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_trust

It thus comes as no surprise when the publication “Business Daily” publishes the article “Kenyatta Business Empire Goes into Expansion Drive”; an article whose message is pretty simple and straightforward: With Uhuru as president, it is indeed the Kenyatta family’s turn to eat – again!

http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Kenyatta-business-empire-goes-into-expansion-drive/-/539550/2069704/-/g4fwge/-/index.html.

The following quote is from said article and underscores the point on the uniquely Kenyan trait of political power and the rabid accumulation of wealth sans any regards for considerations such as conflict of interest!

It also helps that Uhuru is now president, providing the family with a strong shield against any risks arising from unfavorable and unpredictable government policies that send fear down the spines of many investors in Africa.”

The quote from the article, in a nutshell says it all: The marriage of politics and business interests in Kenya is complete in a process first set in motion after independence when the country’s first president and Uhuru’s father Jomo Kenyatta allegedly taunted former Mau Mau veteran Bildad Kaggia for having little (material wealth) to show for his liberation war even as he, Jomo “generously helped himself” to healthy portions of “matunda ya uhuru” or “fruits of independence – “It’s our turn to eat” by Wrong et Githongo; (pge 50). If anyone ever wondered why those in power are willing to go to any lengths to maintain their hold on said power, the fore-going article, summarized by the foregoing quote should put the wonderment to rest. Similarly, anyone who doubted that the brutality these paragons of the Kenyan society would deign to sink to just needs to look at the sickening amount of money/wealth some of them have accumulated over the years they have been in or close to the country’s political power.

While I am not against the legal and fair accumulation of wealth, it is not inconceivable to draw the chilling, indeed rather dark conclusion that those already owning boatloads of cash are willing to allow/facilitate the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands with nothing so as to protect said wealth. Kenyans are quick to point out that the US invaded Iraq because its oil…but are curiously silent when asked to delve into the true reasons behind the tribal violence that one can almost set their clock by every 5 years!

It is equally telling that the publication Business Daily can make the assertion that Uhuru’s presidency is a boon for his family’s businesses without being called out by the parliament or the fourth estate. The claim that Mr. Kenyatta’s presidency “…provides the family with a strong shield against any risks arising from unfavorable and unpredictable government policies…” embodies the very definition of insider trading, a charge the Kenyan-equivalent of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Capital Markets Authority (CMA); certainly the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) would be very interested in – I think!

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