In the past few years, we have heard of billions of shillings lost that were meant for projects in the country. And the sums seem to keep going up.
Not a week goes by without a huge corruption scam erupting. We have come to accept and normalise such loss that we shrug it off and get on with life as if a billion is small change from mama mboga. But such losses should concern ordinary Kenyans more than ever before. It is time Kenyans thought of ways they could plug the leak.
Whereas I applaud the government’s efforts of eradicating corruption, many will agree with me that we have been down this road before. Promise after promise was made to bring perpetrators to book but very little has been achieved. Many who embezzled public funds in the years gone by have reaped generously from the fraud and living large locally and abroad.
Politicisation of the war on graft does not help matters either. It has started to raise doubts in our mind that it is the same old game being played with Kenyans as tennis balls. There are also claims that it is just another tribal warfare to pave the way for a preferred candidate for 2022. But that could be legitimate or just a pushback from cartels embedded in the government to ward us off the scent.
Kenyans need to stop being too tolerant to corruption. Nobody should accept poor services when the money meant to improve our lives were stolen. Those missing medication in public hospitals and whose children study under leaking roofs in muddy classrooms are not the corrupt officials but ordinary lowly paid Kenyans who pay taxes whether they like it or not.
Questions must now be asked of those elected and appointed to safeguard public funds. They are public servants and not there to harvest money trees.
The constitutional right to information should enable us to know where every cent goes. The suffering grassroots lot must start to believe they have the autonomy to make their lives better.
I am impressed by the efforts being made in the slums of Bangladesh, Mombasa, where residents have taken upon themselves to demand proper accounting of ‘their’ CDF funds. They have started a small movement to hold the authorities to account. This is a model that needs to be ‘copy-pasted’ by Kenyans across the country. Communities must have a say in how and when projects are initiated and implemented. It will impact on their lives, after all, and it is their taxes.
Public participation is a right that has been glossed over so the authorities can pull wool over our eyes in order to steal. If, indeed, the State is serious about fighting corruption, then it must put communities at the heart of the projects in their areas.
Transparency would go farther in fighting graft and bringing about development than shoddy dealings in closed-door meetings between developers and officials.
It is crucial to also cushion members of the public from perennial attacks over their rights to protest social injustice committed against them. Every Kenyan has the right to picket and demonstrate peacefully to put pressure on those who malign their rights. Use of force by state machinery to deny such rights plays into the hands of the corrupt, who wrongly rely on the authorities to intimidate communities who are justified to demand what is rightly owed to them.
We have witnessed many cases where police officers have been deployed by individuals who have grabbed public land or evicted residents from their homes with a deafening silence from the State. Dunga Unuse, at the coast, is a case in point. Their ancestral land, a beautiful spot by the sea, has become a target of “private developers”.
Tolerance for suffering and hardship has made Kenyans sitting ducks. Those hell-bent on corruption get away with the vice because communities have been deliberately stripped of their rights to question, participate and access information.
It is important that the “ordinary” mwananchi understood that Kenya is theirs, too, and does not belong to corrupt leaders and individuals alone.
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The current drought is one among many that Kenya has experienced since Independence 55 years ago.
We should easily forecast them by now. Famine does not just drop from the sky; it takes months before it reaches a catastrophic level. The easiest intelligence to collect is on drought: Hunger, suffering and death is on the lips of famine victims and is witnessed on emaciated animals and carcasses months before full-blown famine. I should know; I am from the north.
The northern counties are suffering at the hands of insensitive leadership that has no ears on the ground to know the people’s plight. Don’t blame the weather but poor local governance that fails to plan early to mitigate perennial hunger among the nomadic communities.
Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected] @kdiguyo