Words have power — power to create the world — power to change things. Were it not so, the world would never have been created.
Because of the power of words, Uhuru Kenyatta is President of Kenya — a job he performs with distinction by dint of good verbiage. Words roll off his tongue as easily as water glides off a duck’s back, inspiring ideas and becoming things. Nothing illustrates the utility of words more powerfully than the war on corruption.
A year ago, President Kenyatta started speaking about corruption during the annual State of the Nation Address, and he has not stopped for a moment.
Criticism has followed thick and fast as if people expect the President — as commander-in-chief — to pick up a rifle and shoot corruption in the backside.
That has no effect at all.
The President not only talked six Cabinet secretaries facing corruption allegations out of a job, but also inspired the chairperson and two members of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to leave office in the middle of their own investigation.
Subsequently, the EACC has emerged more fierce and efficient, summoning Opposition leader Raila Odinga to record statements to discourage rumour-mongering and clearing unfairly besmirched public figures before their appointment to high office.
Mr Kenyatta has spoken out against corruption in the National Assembly, resulting in the disbandment of the Public Accounts Committee and approved changes to the law that encourage the Auditor General to reduce the volume of fiction he produces each year.
The President’s words have been printed in agreements signed with US President Barack Obama pledging to cooperate in catching, trying and jailing corrupt individuals.
His persuasiveness has fired up erstwhile lackadaisical private citizens to confront corruption. Private sector leaders have not only led the way in declaring their wealth, but have also written their own Bribery Bill to separate corporate corruption from public sleaze.
NO NEW TAXES
The watermark of the President’s talking truth to corruption is in his November 2015 address to the nation. He had spared the loftiest, most high-sounding and eloquent words for the day when he gave Kenya’s runaway nightmare a name — and labelled corruption as a threat to national security.
On that day, he gave 12 directives to Cabinet Secretaries, his Chief of Staff and Head of the Public Service, the Public Procurement Oversight Authority, the Inspector-General of Police and the Attorney General on a range of things he wanted to see.
Companies trading with government would have to be straight or else … public officers would be clean; ethics would be taught in school; whistle-blowers would be protected by law; and staff at the Kenya revenue Authority, the Customs and Immigration Department would be vetted. There would be no new taxes without his say-so, and those who caused losses of public funds would be surcharged.
He wanted people to go to jail — quickly. Every week, Chief of Staff Joseph Kinyua was ordered to tell the President what progress had been made in fighting corruption.
Since then, corruption has all but disappeared from government, leaving only old cases evidenced in a proliferation of affidavits in court. It can only be expected that the upcoming State of the Nation Address to the National Assembly next week will surpass the standards of eloquence achieved thus far.
Generations to come will look back at the Uhuru years in Kenya’s history as the golden era when great oratory and eloquence were deployed to solve great national crises.
Forbid it that Kenya would be stuck with a stammering stutterer torturing the nation — not unlike Moses in the Bible story — with his struggles to pronounce words like Eurobond, slum upgrading, and youth transformation.