The guilty are afraid.
Economic criminals are quaking in their boots, no doubt, and that is a desirable end for the majority of Kenyans who genuinely toil every day to put food on the dinner table.
Even if that is the only thing the ongoing fight against corruption will achieve, over 30 million Kenyan workers will be a happier lot.
The mere reality that the thieves are running scared means that, at that moment, no stealing is being planned or executed.
As President Uhuru Kenyatta unleashes strategy after another in the fight against corruption and related economic crimes, it is clear that the public will somehow recover a substantial percentage of the stolen, or otherwise illegally acquired, wealth with the bonus of the economic criminals suffering.
The hullabaloo following Central Bank Governor Patrick Njoroge’s announcement of the new notes on Madaraka Day is normal since change always elicits mixed reactions.
But the move by Dr Njoroge can only evoke two reasonable reactions: happiness and its opposite number, sadness — for the law-abiding citizens and the criminal minority, respectively.
There are many reasons why the toiling masses should be happy with the news, especially in the short and medium term.
First, Kenya is flooded with fake currencies. Almost every trader in the country has had the misfortune of being paid with a currency note only to realise later that it’s not legal tender.
Mobile money agents are the hardest hit and many have been pushed out of business by the fake money merchants, informally known as “wash wash”.
In the past four months, police have caught more than Sh50 billion in fake currencies in Nairobi and its environs.
In February, they seized over Sh32 billion in fake cash in Ruiru, Kiambu. The previous month, Sh3 billion in fake money was found in the city’s Westlands suburb. Then there was the over Sh2 billion discovered in a bank vault bang in the city centre!
Assuming the police interception account for 10 per cent (which is on the higher side, knowing our crime busting history), it means fake money in excess of Sh490 billion is doing the rounds in the capital.
The new notes will, definitely, push some fake billions out of circulation, obviously making some people quite sad.
And then there is this group of Kenyans, we hear, who have, in the past, carried millions upon millions of shillings obtained through corruption in sacks and stowed it in places other than the banks.
They, too, are in real trouble. While launching the new-look banknotes, the CBK governor said some denominations of the old money would cease to be legal tender — and hence become worthless — in the next four months.
The much-loved Sh1,000 note is the target of extinction — through demonetisation.
But although the money is actually genuine, the holders have a reason to worry because, to change it to the new currencies, they will be required to explain its source — and that is not very easy since it is stolen!
The corrupt have been cornered. For the little money that they will manage to exchange, the common citizen will be better off as it will mean more money in circulation.
And there is insecurity. Terrorists and narcotic drug dealers love their money in hard cash and keep lots of it in this form. This is because cash transactions are hard to trace due to lack of paper work.
The new directive and attendant short notice is an undesired disruption to the operations of this group and, definitely, make its membership unhappy. The general public, on the other hand, is a lot safer.
Finally, there is the matter of the enhanced features on the new notes.
That one can tell the value of a note by simply feeling the texture is a factor that will bring a hitherto disadvantaged group into the fold.
Inscription of the value that is easy to decipher through touch will help the visually impaired to navigate the financial world more smoothly.
All said, only the corrupt, the terrorist and the “wash wash” have reason to be afraid.
Mr Mugwang’a, a communications consultant, is a former crime and security reporter. [email protected]