President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the Nation Address to a joint House of Parliament on April 4, 2019 revealed corruption as an existential threat to the Kenyan nation.
Despite the surge of democracy in recent decades, the fear of Africa’s emerging democracies becoming ‘failed states’ hang over the continent like the proverbial Sword of Damocles.
Corruption is the highest and nastiest stage of crony capitalism, defined as the deliberate, systematic use of public policy to rig markets in ways that benefit politically connected actors.
Corruption and crony capitalism, occurring in the cesspool of elite fragmentation and disunity, have often led to national disintegration and state failure and even collapse.
While declaring that the state of our nation is strong, Kenyatta’s speech echoed through the nation like an earnest war cry against corruption as an emerging mortal threat to one of Africa’s promising democracies. But the unity deal (the “handshake”) also emerged in the address potentially as the sharpest sword in slaying the hydra of corruption.
Notably, the address itself is a reality check against the state’s failure to deliver on its roles. In a sense, it is an early warning mechanism built into the constitution to detect when the country starts to slide into failure. The President is required to report on measures taken and progress made in the realization of three pre-requisites of a functioning democratic state: national values/goals, the state of security and fulfilling the international obligations.
Kenya’s State of the Nation mechanism is a unique response to the 2008 post-election crisis, when the country almost tipped.
Although the country quickly pulled back from the brink, and has enjoyed relative effectiveness and legitimacy under the new constitutional order, fragility still lingers on.
Kenya is a poster-child in stemming a slid to a Hugo Chavez-type of populism in Venezuela. Its historic unity deal ended the paralysis that followed the double-elections in August and October 2017 and set a 14-member Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), now expected to point the way to a new social contract based on inclusivity and shared prosperity.
The economic dividends of the deal are crystal clear. Relative stability has enabled Kenya to plan on long-term, a pre-requisite for transformative development.
Kenya is on course implementing its long-term strategy, the Kenya Vision 2030, with Big Four Agenda as its Medium Term Plan for the 2018 – 2021 period.
As a result, the country’s economy growth has averaged 5.6 percent over the last 5 years, faster than the world average. Provisional estimates show the economy grew by 6.1 percent in 2018.
Since April 2013, the country has pumped more than 1.7 trillion shillings into Kenya’s new devolved governments (Counties), quickly becoming the engine of bottom-up growth and transformation of grassroots.
Kenya’s new China-built speed railway line, the Madaraka Express, was listed in 2018 among the top 13 most magnificent railway tours for 2019. As a vital artery of local and regional development, the line has been used by two and a half (2.5) million passengers since inception in May 2018 and transported 3.9 million tons of cargo.
And the ‘World Bank Ease-of-Doing-Business Index – 2019’, ranked Kenya 61 globally, with Kenya poised to be among the top 50 countries in making it easy for domestic and foreign business to invest and grow by the year 2020.
Despite this, the scourge of corruption within the context of the 2022 electoral matrix threatens this stability and prosperity. Although supremacists in the ruling Jubilee party remain oppose the handshake, it signifies the newest development in African politics—the growing resilience of the state and its increasing capacity to heal itself and tackle internal challenges without much external support or intervention.
Kenya’s deal might have inspired developments in the neighbouring Ethiopia, which held together after the surprise resignation of former Prime Minister Haile Mariam, and ethnic rivals in the ruling party successfully elected Abiy Ahmed Ali as Prime Minister in April 2018.
This triumph of nationalism over ethnic blinkeredness is Uhuru Kenyatta's real legacy. Not surprisingly, all leaders of opposition leaders attended this year’s State of the Nation address.
The unity deal is morphing into a new nationalist consensus against corruption and crony capitalism, now unfolding into a popular movement.
Unity has enabled Kenyatta to revamped Kenya’s anti-graft architecture based on the concept of “multiagency coordination” (DPP, DCI, NIS and EACC) —now spearheading the campaign.
But the forces of cronyism and corruption are fighting back in a fast, furious and fierce fashion. Kenya’s fiercely independent Judiciary remains the weakest link in the fight against crony capitalism and corruption.
Convinced that the war might be lost in the corridors of justice, Kenyatta, Odinga and their allies are pushing for a clean Judiciary as a necessary step to win the war on graft. “We need to first make sure that Judiciary members are clean before they can act on any cases”, Raila said. “If you start with a corrupt judiciary, we will not achieve justice in this country,” he added.
Sadly, an impoverished ordinary citizen (popularly known as ‘Wanjiku’) is increasingly becoming a gullible pawn in the war against corruption.
On April 3, supporters of one Governor of a Country accused of embezzling millions poured into the streets calling for immediate release of their leader.
They were protesting against a judge’s ruling that slapped the governor with KSh100 million cash bail and a bond of KSh150 million (a high court judge has since reduced the bail to KSh10 million), a move seemingly aimed at making corruption so expensive that Kenyans opt to be uncorrupt.
Kenya’s future lies in seizing and turning the unity into a colossal popular movement against corruption.
Professor Peter Kagwanja is Former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy institute (Kenya).