I have just finished reading the article titled Tanzania port project a big threat to Kenya’s economy in the June 2 issue of Daily Nation and concluded that the article is further evidence that Kenya’s future will continue to suffer due to the triple threat of corruption, impunity and hubris; threats that go hand in hand in a circular flow where one feeds the other and creates momentum, while periodically stalled, has continued unabated since the Brits “left” the country in 1963.
The story of Kenya’s culture of “kitu kidogo” is legendary and well documented most recently in the book Wuodha: My journey from Kenya to these United States and in the just-released Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Report. The latter a comprehensive and detailed accounting of the country’s sordid past, perpetrated mainly by and/or at the behest of the country’s presidents – Kenyatta Pere, Arap Moi and to a lesser extent, Mwai Kibaki.
Speaking from personal experience, corruption at the port of Mombasa when one is trying to release shipment of goods from overseas not only deprives the government of the much-needed revenue, it frustrates well-meaning, industrious and entrepreneurial individuals including non-Kenyans who are not only bringing in the material and revenue, but may also want to start businesses that may in turn create jobs the country so desperately needs. While trying to clear an automobile I had imported from Japan back in 1998, I dealt with some of the rudest, most incompetent and corrupt individuals I have ever met at the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) office in Mombasa and from all accounts, the problems persist to this day! I paid kshs. 5000, (~$72 at the prevailing exchange rate) to three different employees at the KPA, all who refused to process my shipment and clearance documentation because, and I quote: My shipping documentation was missing some very important pages. Customer service representatives at the Japanese company I bought the car from were insistent that they had sent all the paperwork related to shipment of the vehicle and given my experience with Japanese quality control, I did not doubt their claim. Finally after three days of epic frustration and wasted vacation time trying to track down the “missing pages”, I hired a “clearing agent” who laughed as he explained to me that the “missing pages” were the shilling notes the port employees were used to finding surreptitiously slipped between the paperwork they were paid to review and process! As if being fleeced by the good folks at the KPA was not enough, the “agent”, a friend from high school friend, disappeared after I had paid him his fees leaving me to navigate the meandering maze that was the clearing process at KPA! I finally cleared the car through customs exactly two weeks and almost 0.4million shillings later!
The notion that Kenya has done well despite lacking the natural resources abundant in the neighboring countries is a feeble attempt at the tried and true we may be corrupt but we are not as corrupt as Nigeria nor as dysfunctional as Somalia feel-good meme most Kenyans resort to every time someone has pointed out the country’s endemic corruption and dysfunctional government/polity. In a sobering reality-check, the article by Murithi Mutiga compares Kenya to Singapore, a country that like Kenya does not have much arable land and almost no minerals but with a standard of living that is light years ahead courtesy of leadership that has been ruthlessly intolerant of corruption! Additionally, one just has to look at the impact of the corruption caused by the coffee boom of the late 70s and by the elephant poaching that peaked at the same time to get a glimpse of what would happen if a country already reeling from wanton corruption had more natural resources! Countless human lives were disrupted and lost to the ensuing violence and greed as Kenyans, led by their leaders partook in the orgy of “magendo” or coffee smuggling. Similarly, the elephant population of the country was almost wiped out by poaching that reportedly benefitted the current president’s mother! The scale and scope of corruption in Kenya continues to be possible because the country’s past three presidents – Kenyatta Pere, Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki – have actively engaged in and condoned the behavior. Friends and families of the 3 presidents have then followed their lead or as characterized during the presidency of Daniel Arap Moi, “fuatad nyayo” without shame or fear of prosecution. Finally, the public sensing the opportunity and not wanting to be left behind in the relentless pursuit of “mbesha” also engorged at the trough and the culture of “something small” or “kitu kidogo”.
The country’s history of single-party rule, centralized decision-making and strong almost imperial presidencies has exacerbated the intensity of corruption. The idea of co-equal branches of government – executive, legislative and judiciary – was just that – an idea that has not really existed. Kenya’s presidents ruled with near-dictatorial power and total control of ALL instruments of power. Kenyatta Pere, Moi and Kibaki had their sycophants and/or relatives head the various institutions/branches of government designed to check the power of the executive. They also controlled the country’s law enforcement and security apparatus; a concept that is not unusual if the organizations are used to protect and serve the citizenry. To the contrary, Kenya’s security and law enforcement apparatus have been used to strike fear in the hearts of and murder its citizenry even as the level of insecurity and violence in the country has risen unabated.
The Greek concept of hubris, a seemingly abstract and esoteric has been on full display since Kenya obtained its independence in 1963. Kenya’s ruling class, their families and friends, not to mention their well-heeled supporters have comported themselves with pride and arrogance that is astonishing. The arrogance and flippancy is embodied in the recent and popular expression “Move On”. The expression has been used by supporters of the victorious Jubilee Coalition to urge, more like gloat at those in the opposition, mainly CORD and its supporters to accept the verdict of the Supreme Court of Kenya that awarded the 2013 presidential elections to Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto and “move on” with their lives. From the assassination of those who fell out of favor with the powers that be – Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki, Robert Ouko – to the brutal death of the hundreds and thousands felled by violence such as the Wagalla Massacre, the post-election violence of 2007 and the recent clashes in the Tana Delta reportedly fomented by those seeking to maintain their hold on power. From the massive poaching of Kenya’s elephants and pillaging of its other resources as evidenced by the Goldenberg and Anglo-leasing scandals, the country has “moved on” or lurched from one scandal to the next and one tragedy to the next in a paroxysmal waste of its energy and resources while imbuing the perpetrators of said events with hubris and impunity unrivaled since the days of Meidias, a wealthy and well-connected Athenian, in 348BC. The orator and statesman Demosthenes, in an assault case against Meidias, argued that a democracy’s (Athens) viability and that of the institutions therein is imperiled when the wealthy and well-connected undermine the rule of law, by assaulting others (bodily and property) without suffering the consequences. Kenya’s past is littered with examples of the wealthy and well-connected absolutely undermining the rule of law by plundering public resources and murdering opponents without being held accountable by democratic institutions designed to do that.
Kenya is now faced with challenges that it seems unable to deal with, the New Constitution and euphoria of the peaceful elections notwithstanding. One of the very basic challenges facing it is the insecurity that is rocking various parts of the country. Members of the public are now emulating their leaders and taking the law into their hands while circumventing due process. Frustrated citizens now mete out swift “justice” on suspected criminals. As recent as May 31, 2013, three suspected gangsters linked to a wave of insecurity and violence in Kiminini, Trans Nzoia were accosted by the public as they were being transported to the police station and set ablaze. One witness was quoted as saying that “they decided to lynch the three because they had lost faith in the judicial system.” These incidents are being repeated with alarming regularity throughout the country.
Similarly, beyond the quest for security is the quest for an end to impunity as evidenced by the actions of the villagers of Timboni village who “set ablaze four posh houses worth millions of shillings, claiming they were owned by drug barons.” According to newspaper reports, “the more than 1,500 angry residents gathered at a local mosque for afternoon prayers before descending on the four houses.” A spokesman “vowed that the residents would burn more buildings they believed were built with proceeds from the sale of drugs and lynch the owners because they “were frustrated by an unjust system in which corruption had led to the drug lords buying their freedom from police cells and local courts whenever they are arrested.”
The contention that the fore-going incidents are anomalies and not reflective of the country is belied by the portmanteau “Nairobbery”; a combination of the words “Nairobi” and “robbery” and macabre ode to the “city in the sun’s” never-ending incidents of carjackings, armed robberies and violent assaults. The name “Nairobbery” is now a fixture in the Urban Dictionary and a term used by the respectable magazine Economist!
One can imagine the country shaking its collective head and similarly having a hearty collective laugh at the rich irony depicted by the picture of the chairman of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Mr. Bethuel Kiplagat handing the commission’s final report to Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta. To begin with, the commission recommended that Mr. Kiplagat be investigated for complicity in the Wagalla Massacre of 1984, the murder of Robert Ouko and the comparatively pedestrian charge of land-grabbing! Mr. Kiplagat was handing the report to President Uhuru Kenyatta whose father Jomo was singled out, also by the commission, for engaging in massive land-grabbing schemes, crimes against humanity including the torture and murder of political opponents Pio Gama Pinto and Tom Mboya while simultaneously sending Kenya on its spiral towards the abyss of tribalism and tribal politics; a tactic he learned from the very “foreigners” he was castigating in the run-up to the country’s independence in 1963! And in the very essence of the maxims the fruit does not fall far from the tree and the one about those who refuse to learn from history, the recipient of the report, Kenyatta Son is now facing his own charges of crimes against humanity having been accused of fomenting the post-election violence of 2007 by none other than the very “foreigners” who taught his father to “divide-and-conquer” Kenya along tribal lines!
Unfortunately for Kenyatta Son but equally fortunate for the victims of those previously exempted from punishment for criminal acts, the impunity Kenyatta Pere enjoyed in the 60s and 70s went the way of the dodo as the internet beamed pictures of the violence and carnage wrought by tribal violence in 2007. Those ghastly images reminded an international community still remorseful because of its inaction in Rwanda of its collective responsibility to protect the weak and powerless within. Mr. Uhuru and his deputy are having to answer charges of crimes against humanity at The Hague, the embodiment of the very foreign institutions his father railed against!
Given the fore-going, is it any wonder that Kenya’s landlocked regional neighbors – Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan and S. Sudan – are actively seeking to re-direct their shipments to Dar-es-Salaam, Bagamoyo and Djibouti away from the corrupt and inefficient KPA-run port of Mombasa? With a Transparency International 2012 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) rating of 35 (100 being Zero Corruption) and a global ranking of 102 (out of 176 countries surveyed), Tanzania, Kenya’s “socialist” neighbor to the south is ahead of Mozambique, the other sea-faring country along the eastern coast of Africa with a CPI rating of 31 and ranking of 123 as an alternate gateway to the afore-mentioned landlocked countries. Similarly, Djibouti with a CPI of 36 and a global ranking of 94 is siphoning off business from Ethiopia, Sudan and S. Sudan respectively.
Yes indeed, choices DO have consequences!
For the record, Somalia’s CPI ranking was 174, Eriteria was 150 and Kenya was ranked 139 – the bottom three countries in the eastern part of the continent. Somalia is the poster-child and definition of a failed state. Eriteria gained its independence twenty years ago in 1993. Kenya celebrated its 50th Anniversary of self-rule also known as Madaraka Day on June 1, 2013 – two days before this piece was published!