Walking a tightrope in his war on corruption, President Kenyatta chose safety over popularity. Facing a possible backlash from his party members, the President chose the more tried and tested approach of waiting for investigative and prosecutive agencies to do their bit before heads can roll.
Deflating expectations by Kenyans that he would use the occasion of the State of the Nation Address to sack Cabinet secretaries and government officials implicated in corruption, President Kenyatta said: “I must, however, caution that the pursuit of the corrupt will be undertaken strictly within the remits of the law — and not through vigilante justice and pitchfork protest. Though media narratives rally our resolve, as they should, our actions will not be based on condemnation before one has been heard.”
He added: “The cornerstone of our democracy is the rule of law, and the principle of due process is a critical anchor. We must aspire abidingly to this ideal, and ensure that we do not pursue justice in one area through injustice in another.”
But even as he took refuge in the law, his inaction was also interpreted in the context of the political cost of letting go the Cabinet secretaries.
There has been hue and cry from Deputy President William Ruto’s supporters in the Jubilee Party, who claim the corruption war targets their “own”. So real was the unease in the ruling party that last week there was talk of some members of Parliament planning to heckle the President during the address.
However, government officers will cease holding office once they are charged in court, the President said.
“There will be no turning back in the war against corruption and impunity. There will be no sacred cows, no compromise. The fight against corruption is a fight for the soul of our nation,” he added.
He also outlined measures to strengthen institutions handling corruption, sending a strong message to politicians, who have been complaining about the powers of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).
Opposition leader Raila Odinga said he agreed with the President’s stand that everything should be done within the rule of law, and not the jungle law, but called for speedy conclusion to investigations and prosecutions. He warned that, should the investigating and prosecuting agencies continue dragging the cases, Kenyans would lose confidence in the government.
“We need to move to ensure that the people looting the wealth of this country are prosecuted. The President needs to ensure that members of the Judiciary are clean. Judges linked to corruption must be investigated, just like anyone else. If you find a corrupt judge, deal with them. That’s what we are saying,” Mr Odinga said.
But Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi and a host of MPs who reacted to the President’s address said he had disappointed Kenyans by failing to take action.
“He has talked tough that all Kenyans must be involved in the war against corruption and those intimidating the institutions — those planning to clip the powers of the DCI. If we are committed to the war against corruption, we can’t do that,” he said.
He was, however, categorical: “I want to disagree with the President that he won’t sack people until they are charged. He should have gone farther because if you have been summoned by the DCI, you need to go. If you have been investigated, don’t wait to be taken to court because you are bringing embarrassment to the President and the country,” he said.
He added: “It is very difficult to investigate people when they are still in office. Those summoned by the DCI have the obligation to leave to pave the way for investigations.”
Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka praised the President’s speech, but said that more needed to be done in the war against corruption. “It was a great speech, determined and focused. The President said ‘no turning back’ in the war against serious social issues more than 10 times. That is commendable,” he said.
Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula supported President Kenyatta's challenge to the Judiciary and investigative agencies, saying, they must do their work within the law.
But Uriri MP Mark Nyamita said the President’s speech was not inspiring as it lacked the punch that Kenyans had been yearning for for a long time.
“He is still talking about what his government will do, which he has been saying for the last two years while Kenyans are waiting for action. To me, he was not inspiring at all,” Mr Nyamita said.
However, National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi (Suba South) and Murang’a Senator Kang’ata Irungu said the President’s speech was well-thought-out, especially his decision not to hurriedly sack ministers alleged to be corrupt.
Mr Mbadi said that in 2015, the President acted on allegations to send some CSs home, only for it to turn out that there was nothing, hence his being cautious before taking action this time around.
“Merely appearing before the DCI should not warrant the sacking of a CS. The President has confidence in the investigative agencies,” Mr Mbadi said — sentiments Mr Kang’ata echoed.
However, Mr Enoch Wambua, Kitui County Senator, was of a different view.
“The President did not say anything today that he did not say yesterday. It is one thing to talk tough against corruption, it is a completely different thing to act decisively against the vice. We won’t slay the dragon of corruption by shouting at it. In my view, the President fell short of the legitimate expectations of the majority of Kenyans, including me. I am disappointed.”
Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua said unless someone is arrested and charged within the next two days, all the President said in his address would be of no importance.
The leader of Maendeleo Chap Chap Party said there was a need to have the big fish implicated in graft face the law.
“All the great plans that Uhuru has for Kenya will be undermined if the spirit of goodwill by Kenyans is broken,” Mr Mutua said.
“Uhuru means well, but he’s being set up for failure by some greedy people, who think they own and can control Kenya,” he said.
Central Organisation of Trade Unions Secretary-General Francis Atwoli said the President indicated he is committed to the rule of law.
“Kenyans expected him to act against the individuals who are believed to have swindled Kenyans of billions of shillings and he has committed himself to the rule law, so let us give the investigative agencies time to do their work,” the Cotu boss said.
Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma said the President is just waiting for the investigative agencies to complete their work and Kenyans will see action.
“I see a President who has just postponed action for a few days. I expect arrests soon after this address. His stand on corruption, however, remains firm” Mr Kaluma said.
However, MPs Owen Baya (Kilifi North), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), Omboko Milemba (Emuhaya), Richard Tongi (Nyaribari Chache) and Jared Okello (Nyando) faulted the President for dashing the hopes of Kenyans by failing to state measures his government was taking to address the ravaging drought.
According to Mr Baya, the issues of hunger and famine are dear to Kenyans as hundreds of them face starvation due to failed rains.
“It is unfortunate that he failed to address the issues of hunger in this important speech. At least he should have told Kenyans whether his government had any mitigation measures,” he said.