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Be very afraid as political elite team up with criminal gangs

Tuesday February 18 2020

Former Sports CS Rashid Echesa 

Former Sports Cabinet Secretary in a Nairobi court on February 17, 2020, when he and three others were charged with 12 counts of attempting to defraud an American organisation in a Sh40 billion military equipment deal. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JAINDI KISERO
By JAINDI KISERO
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Welcome to the shadowy world of Kenya’s new overnight millionaires.

Indeed, the Sh39 billion scam is a gripping tale on the extent and gravity of corruption in sections of the Jubilee administration.

Since the matter is still before the courts, I will not comment on the substance of the allegations. But in the interest of public knowledge, some broad comments about the trends we are witnessing in this case are in order.

At issue are not the usual exploits about a ‘tenderpreneur’ peddling influence to manipulate a tender process. If the allegations are, indeed, true, former Sports minister Rashid Echesa and company are accused of being in possession of fake tender documents and contracts purporting to show that the Department of Defence was executing a single-sourced multibillion-shilling arms procurement.

But this must be a very brave lot because military procurement is treated with utmost secrecy.

I can’t wait to see the quality of evidence that the prosecution will present in court but expect sensational tales on how inflation peddling is played at that level.

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From the evidence in the public domain, the saga points to a situation where influence peddlers have now resorted to employing political influence to shield them against criminal responsibility.

We expect to get a rare glimpse into how links between organised criminal groups and the incumbent political actors are playing out and relations between shady characters and our leaders are deepening.

I hope that, at the end of the criminal proceedings, we will have a clearer picture on the bona fides of the Polish equipment supplier. How much due diligence did they conduct before committing to pay consultancy fees to Echesa and company — if at all they did? Who was the whistle-blower in this scam?

Kenya is evolving into what is now referred to as a ‘wash wash’ economy — the explosion of parallel business dealing in counterfeits, narcotics, arms and fake currency.

A month cannot pass before you hear about a bust by police on a fake currency printing syndicate, a gold-smuggling cartel or the impounding of billions worth of fake Kenya Revenue Authority excise duty stamps imported from wherever.

What is most worrisome is that the emerging trends appear to point to deepening links between these syndicates and the political elite. Today, Echesa is on the spot for allegedly employing political influence to con Polish arms dealers. Last year, it was a group of Dubai-based gold merchants claiming that they had been conned by syndicates with political links.

The emergence of Echesa and company represent another phenomenon: the rise to the limelight of a new generation of Kenya’s nouveau riche, who have accumulated massive wealth by exploiting the patronage of the regime’s inner circle.

They are engaged in freelance rent-seeking, are adept at flaunting their loot by purchasing goods of ostentation — Range Rovers, Land Cruiser V8s and houses in prestigious addresses of the capital city.

To play the game, you have to enter into what some academics have described as ‘pacts of impunity’, which allow you to enjoy protection from the high and mighty.

Corruption in this country is evolving into a complex nexus between influence peddlers and criminal gangs. The reason Echesa and company find themselves where they are is more or less a reflection of the dwindling power and influence of their political godfathers and patrons. You can bet that this deal was conceived when Mr Echesa was still in office.

If the investigators and the prosecution prove their case, they will have taken us through a gripping tale on the audacity of the nouveau riche and the lengths they are prepared to go in the pursuit of ill-gotten wealth.

The level of impunity displayed with sensitive military procurement can only be compared with what we witnessed at the height of the Daniel arap Moi dictatorship, when the likes of Ketan Somaia ruled the roost.

In 1991, the chairman of the defunct British multinational Lonrho Group, Tiny Rowland, publicly disclosed that the businessman and Nyayo-era oligarch Somaia, who has since been jailed, used to walk about in London brandishing fake LPOs from the Office of the President to manufacturers of security equipment, offering deals to whoever agreed to his price.

Political enemies of Deputy President William Ruto have been quick to link him to the scandal and called for his resignation. But Dr Ruto responded by tweeting that some of his critics had also been involved in corruption and should also resign!

Tit for tat is the name of the game when it comes to political accountability for corruption in this country.

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