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Public office, the new alley where crime lurks


Public office, the new alley where crime lurks

State actors likely to be behind Kenya's bad reputation as a destination for drug and arms

The government will have to recalibrate its machinery in the war on crime and hunt for criminals within its ranks if big strides are to be realised in securing the country, reveals a Nation Newsplex investigation.

Kenya has the 11th-highest prevalence of organised crime in Africa, with state-embedded actors being the greatest contributors, above other big threats like criminal networks, mafia-style groups and foreign criminal actors, according to the Organised Crime Index Africa 2019 report.

The report measured the levels of organised crime, awarding points on a score of one to 10 (the higher the score the worse the situation) and resilience to such activity from one to 10, the higher the score the more the resilience. The survey took place in 54 African countries and 11 benchmark countries in Latin America, North America, Europe and Asia.

"Where state-embedded actors are seen as the leading vector in criminality on the continent, investments to reinforce the technical capacity of key state institutions are of limited value, or can even
be counter-productive," says the Organised Crime Index Africa 2019 report.

State-embedded actors attracted 7.5 points, criminal networks seven points, mafia-style groups six, same as foreign criminal actors.

In the last decade or so, massive corruption and theft have become the moniker of crime within government.

The inability to rid public service of powerful criminal elements has mainly played out in the continued loss of billions of shillings of public funds under the supervision or with the help of people in authority.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) investigated some 2,898 cases in the 2017/2018 financial year, an increase by almost half from 2013/2014. In the same period, the commission also recovered over Sh3.8 billion of public funds already stolen and averted the loss of assets worth Sh4.7 billion. The sum is less than half of the Sh20 billion lost in the Arror and Kimwarer dams scandal, which is just one of the many scams that have happened recently.

Big-money theft

However, the modest results from the commission’s efforts have been depressing to the public, considering the high rate of big-money theft reported in high offices.

This year, a few people, including former Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and Permanent Secretary Kamau Thugge, were removed from office and charged in court, but few high-profile convictions from such moves have been forthcoming.

Like long-distance running, corruption has put Kenya on the world map. Last year, the country was 144th in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public-sector corruption according to experts and business people. This means that Kenya is perceived to be among the 50 most corrupt countries.

The report, State Capture: Kenya’s Inability to Fight Corruption, by the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG), which outlines how people close to power collude with senior public officers to steal from Kenyans, refers to the country’s anti-corruption war as “motion without movement”.

Drugs and arms

However, the looting of public funds is not the only preoccupation of some public officers. State-embedded actors are likely to be behind Kenya’s bad reputation as an international route and destination for drugs and arms. The 2019 organised crime report by the EU-funded Enhancing Africa’s Response to Transnational Organised Crime programme puts the country among the top five heroin markets in Africa, alongside Mauritius, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa.

Last year, one in 11 crimes reported to the police involved dangerous drugs, according to the Economic Survey 2019.

In most cases, smuggling goods into the country takes nothing short of the cooperation of a tight network of customs officials and police officers, some in senior positions, working with criminals to circumvent the law. Among the goods listed by a brief recently prepared by the National Crime Research Centre as those frequently smuggled into the country are illegal drugs, firearms, charcoal, sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, cereals, wheat and maize flour, cooking oil, timber and clothes.

Wildlife crime

Wildlife crime is yet another domain where criminals are known to get assistance from the police or other people in authority.

Kenya scored 4.5 and 6.5 points as a flora and a fauna crime market, respectively in the organised crime report. The country has a long history of poaching, with most such loot sold abroad, especially in Asia.

Some 2,976 kilograms of ivory, 176 kilos of horns and 200 kilos of scales were seized from suspects in 2016 and 2017, according to a report by wildlife Direct.

Also, one in six people prosecuted for a wildlife crime in the same period had a trophy-related offence, indicating that poaching, which unlike crimes such as grazing in national parks and game reserves, is an organised crime, was prevalent.

Appreciating the danger of ‘well-placed’ individuals being at the forefront of criminal activity, the organised crime report notes that this leads to investment in relevant institutions achieving little or even being counter-productive “because such institutions are undermined, or are captured to protect and facilitate criminality rather than prevent it, [hence] reducing a country's resilience rather than enhancing it.”

In the East African Community (EAC), Kenya’s prevalence of crimes committed or aided by state-embedded actors is only surpassed by Burundi, with a score of 8.5 points. Uganda ties with Kenya with 7.5 points, Tanzania has 5.5 points and Rwanda has the most flattering result of five points.

Eritrea has the highest influence of state-embedded actors in the continent, with 9.5 points, followed by Somalia, Mali and Equatorial Guinea (with nine points each) while Sao Tome and Principe, with one point, has the lowest tendencies of people within the state contributing to crime, followed by Cape Verde with two points, and Botswana and Swaziland (with three points each).

Despite Kenya’s criminality rate, it performs fairly well on resilience, at number 13 with 5.04 points, implying that frameworks to combat crime have, to a reasonable extent, been put in place. Rwanda is number seven, Tanzania 22, Uganda 29 and Burundi 51.
Of the 12 resilience indicators, the country’s best performance (seven points) was in two areas – national policies and laws and non-state actors (e.g. a well-established civil society that campaigns against graft), with the worst being in crime prevention (1.5). And the modest four points Kenya scored in government transparency and accountability only reinforce the existence of protected criminal elements within the state.

Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria, three regional economic hubs, exhibited both high criminality and high resilience tendencies, with 11 countries demonstrating low criminality and high resilience traits and the rest having low crime and resilience levels.

The three demonstrate features such as large and diverse criminality profiles, high levels of corruption and crime-related violence. “This suggests that organised crime has introduced a level of fragility that belies [the] apparent strength of these three countries economically and politically, and which undermines the democratic traditions and institutions that these countries have been building,” says the report.

Rwanda is the only country in the EAC and one of eleven in the continent with low criminality and high resilience, a combination that all countries aspire to attain. Its neighbour Burundi has low criminality but also low resilience scores while Uganda and Tanzania each suffer a double tragedy of high criminality and low resilience levels.

Crime and resilience levels were captured through a literature review of over 3,000 academic articles, some 1,300 policy reports and more than 8,000 news articles. It utilised 49 underlying data sources, built on 26 indicators and informed by the expertise and input of more than 200 contributors.

The report defines organised crime as “Illegal activities, conducted by groups or networks acting in concert, by engaging in violence, corruption or related activities in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or material benefit. Such activities may be carried out both within a country and transnationally.”