Just hours after former Kenya Pipeline manager Joe Sang and former national hospital insurer head Simeon Kirgotty were arrested in a Friday morning swoop that targeted 22 others, Deputy President William Ruto made a statement that seemed to back an ongoing debate this week about an alleged onslaught on the Kalenjin community in the anti-graft war.
Mr Ruto had a message to civil servants, asking them to relax and do their jobs as he called on the anti-corruption war to remain neutral and fair.
“Let us not politicise matters to do with independent institutions of governance, prosecutions and investigations. Those institutions must operate independently without instructions from anybody and without serving any ethnic, regional, or any other partisan interests,” Mr Ruto said at Lelboinet Boys High School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County on Friday.
It is a statement that buttressed a debate this week that Kalenjin politicians have started terming the ongoing war on corruption as targeting professionals from the community in top government positions, and ultimately, Mr Ruto’s 2022 State House ambitions.
The noise grew following the arrest of Mr Sang, the Kenya Pipeline chief, who this week announced his decision not to seek a second term after immense pressure from the public following revelations of loss of 23 million litres of fuel.
He was arrested on Friday, and charges approved against him over a different matter — the Sh2 billion Kisumu oil jetty.
He will be facing prosecution with five other top KPC managers, among them Mr Vincent Cheruiyot, the company’s supply chain general manager.
“No one should take advantage of the fight against corruption to pursue persecution of an ethnic community. What we are seeing is the ethnic profiling and persecution of people whose careers are being destroyed simply because their surnames have betrayed them in this 2022 succession politics,” Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei told the Sunday Nation.
Mr Cherargei, who has fashioned himself as Mr Ruto’s ask-questions-later defender, and who had earlier this week taken a diplomatic tone on the matter, said, “People should not take our silence for weakness,” and that the noise is only going to get louder.
Arguing that it is all part of a grand scheme to deny Mr Ruto a stab at the presidency, Aldai MP Cornelius Serem wondered why the chief executives were arrested yet the parastatals’ boards were not questioned to determine their culpability.
“This is a clear case of calling a dog a bad name to get a reason to kill it. The grand scheme is to brand the DP as corrupt, then followed by all these top Kalenjin professionals in government. This is all in a scheme towards 2022,” Mr Serem said.
He said while he does not dispute the fact that corruption must be dealt with head-on, the current fight, he believes, if done correctly and fairly, “it should have a lot more people than the one-sided arrests we are seeing”.
“We are not against the war on corruption in any way, but I want to ask: Is it that corruption is only present in areas where Kalenjins are in charge so that there is inordinate focus there? Look at cases where a CEO of an organisation is caught, and the board that approved those multibillion deals being investigated are left untouched, even promoted. What do you call that?” Mr Serem posed.
Apart from Mr Sang and his predecessor Charles Tanui, Rift Valley politicians have cited the cases of former Kenya Power chief executives Ken Tarus and Ben Chumo, former National Cereals and Produce Board head Newton Terer, and ex-Kenyatta National Hospital chief Lily Koros as some of those who were unfairly targeted.
They said they believe more individuals should have been netted in these cases.
“We want this fight against corruption to be fair. That is all, otherwise, the way things are going, there will be no Kalenjin in any top government position in two, three years to come,” Mr Serem said.
The discussion on Saturday came just a day after Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji defended the ongoing swoops, while his Directorate of Criminal Investigations counterpart George Kinoti vowing not to slow down.
“There are those who used to think that they are untouchables, and now we want to be told who is this that can steal from the public and no one will touch him/her.
"There is nobody who is going to stop this; and we will go the whole hog. In a year, I promise you, this is going to be a different country,” Mr Kinoti said on Friday.
While Mr Cherargei and Mr Serem appear convinced that the war on corruption had turned tribal, others think those caught up in the net were in the middle of a vicious power battle — they were easy targets in an attempt to get to their patron, Mr Ruto.
Given Kenya’s tribal politics, more and more arrests of Kalenjin professionals is believed to hurt Mr Ruto’s political ambitions.
Some analysts believe the purge will invite questions about his own qualifications in his bid to be Kenya’s 'Number One'.
“Nobody is targeting anybody. The unfortunate part is that some of these Kalenjin CEOs and heads of parastatals are being used to fund 2022 campaigns, with set money targets to be given weekly, and monthly. They have been forced to do unscrupulous activities to meet these targets,” vocal Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter told the Sunday Nation.
Mr Keter termed as “complete false” the narrative that only Kalenjins were being targeted, saying: “It is just that our sons and daughters’ careers are being sacrificed for the sake of an individual’s own political agenda.”
Mr Keter — who had joined hands with MPs Joshua Kutuny (Cherang’any) and Silas Tiren (Moiben) to call for a probe on the DP in the maize scandal — tied the ongoing debate on whether the corruption war has been tribalised to the proposed lifestyle audits of leaders, which was furiously opposed by a section of Jubilee politicians.
“People have been lecturing us on generosity, instead of telling us where they got the money. All the money we see in fundraisers are being looted from somewhere, and that is why some people are very much opposed to lifestyle audits,” the Nandi Hills legislator argued.
Mr Kutuny agreed with Mr Keter, saying the war on corruption should continue as is.
“These politicians crying that the Kalenjin community is being targeted should give us a break. No community is under siege, and everybody should be answerable for their actions,” Mr Kutuny said, calling for a completion of the investigations into the maize scandal.
Nominated MP Maina Kamanda dismissed the debate, saying it was unnecessary and diversionary.
“This thing is simple: If you were in a position entrusted with public money and they got lost, you should be answerable. It is not a tribal war, because really, which community has not been touched in this? They should just let the process go on,” Mr Kamanda said.
The nominated lawmaker backed calls to have Mr Haji appoint prosecutors from outside Kenya, even suggesting that for high-profile cases, there should be foreign judges “because corruption has permeated all aspects in this country”.
Mr Kamanda added: “The DPP, the Judiciary and the Attorney-General should sit and see if there is a possibility to hire five or so foreign judges to hear these high-profile judges because of the extent of interests in these things.”