Learning from other young democracies about the struggle against corruption

What you need to know:

  • Corruption can tear apart a country, it threatens to taint the essence of a country’s national essence, and it disadvantages everyone except for the privileged few at the top who gain money and power from it

Kenya is not alone as a young country fighting severe corruption problems. Though we have half a dozen decades of experience as an independent entity, we are still grappling with transparency and freedom from corruption. 

And corruption spreads far beyond Africa, it is rampant in many low income countries, but also in wealthier states in North America, Asia and Europe.

In Kenya, we have our own problems. Corruption has been part of the fabric of our identity since the very beginning. It has been a huge element of every presidency, until the current one.

The difference is, that the government is actually doing something about it. When thinking about how we can eradicate it, it is useful to look at what other nations did in similar circumstances.

For example, when Mongolia shifted to democratic governance in 1990 after 70 years of communist rule, the democratic revolutionaries had their work cut out for them.

One of those leaders was the young Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, who later went on to become Prime Minister and then President of Mongolia.

He was one of the key leaders in the 1990 revolution and helped draft the constitution in 1992, which guaranteed freedom of democracy and a free market economy.

Supporters laud him as one of the key figures for changing Mongolia’s political landscape for the better, and with good reason. At home is called “the Golden Sparrow of Democracy,” a reference to the bird that accompanies spring sunshine at the end of a harsh, cold winter.

Elbegdorj focused his tenure as PM and president on fighting against corruption, and for environmentalism, women’s rights, judicial reform, and civil engagement. Like President Uhuru Kenyatta, these reforms were key to building a thriving, prosperous democracy.

Elbegdorj once opined, “See corruption as a mortal enemy for young democracies.” Indeed, it is as much a mortal enemy for Kenya as it was for Mongolia. Corruption can tear apart a country, it threatens to taint the essence of a country’s national essence, and it disadvantages everyone except for the privileged few at the top who gain money and power from it.

But even those people will eventually meet their doom - especially at the rate that Uhuru’s anti-corruption campaign is going. 

Really, no enemy is as great for us as corruption. Yes, Kenya has mortal enemies in the form of terrorists that seek our destruction. But corruption comes from within. It is an internal cancer that can continue to multiply if left unchecked. 

Taking a look at Central Asia, we can learn about the importance of a safe and functioning democracy from Genghis Khan. Elbegdorj referred to Genghis Khan as a leader who sought equal protection for all citizens under the law.

He called him “a man who deeply realised that justice begins and consolidates with the equality of law, and not with distinctions between people. He was a man who knew that good laws and rules lived longer than fancy palaces.”

The same idea is as powerful today as it was centuries ago. First and foremost, the law must protect a country’s citizens from corruption. In Kenya, our law does protect us against corruption.

Many new ones have been passed in the senate under President Kenyatta’s leadership to that effect, such as laws demanding that public servants provide evidence of how money used on overseas trips was spent.

But sometimes there is still a problem with enforcement. As Kenyans, as free citizens operating in a young democracy, we all deserve the right to justice.

That means not worrying about being treated unfairly because of our background, or not receiving worse services from the state because of socioeconomic position.

This is what we are promised when we are born here. Sometimes, people continue to take advantage of their position in life, of the cards that they were dealt at birth. But with the anti-corruption campaign in full swing, things are taking a turn for the better.

We can finally be optimistic that the democracy our forefathers worked so hard to construct will remain robust, fair and successful. 

Through thick and thin, we only have one Kenya. And it is our duty to protect it.

Mr Mugolla is a public policy analyst.

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