By W Osiro
“Fifty per cent of Kenyan youth believe it does not matter how one makes money as long as one does not end up in jail” – Aga Khan University East African Institute 2015 Kenya Youth Report.
The victory of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto in Kenya’s 2013 Presidential Elections set the stage for their (anti-climactic) trials at The Hague on crimes-against-humanity charges. Much to the joy of the duo’s jubilant supporters, the (two) suspects avoided conviction not because they were innocent but because the evidence against them hadn’t improved to the extent that the “alleged criminal responsibility could be proved beyond reasonable doubt”. This unfortunate conclusion by Fatou Bensouda was aided in part by what Judges Chile Eboe-Osuji and Robert Fremr characterized as the “troubling incidence of witness interference and intolerable political meddling”.
Cleared of the charges, the duo have gone on to preside over what former President Daniel Moi characterized as corruption and gross malfeasance that was “out of hand”. Tis a subject – corruption and gross malfeasance – that Mr. Moi knows a lot about given the adverse mention he has in the Kroll Report.
As usual, Kenyans reacted to Mr. Moi’s observation with an indifference that underscored their acceptance of both scourges as normal threads in the fabric of their society. Just like Americans heard charges that Mr. Trump and his supporters had normalized patently and hitherto abhorrent behavior, Kenyans appear to have normalized theft of public property and acquisition of wealth/property through nefarious means. I don’t know of any politician in Kenya, including Mr. Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, who has not been implicated, directly or indirectly, of gaining wealth through nefarious means.
Like the 2016 American voters in the key battleground states of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Philadelphia, a section of Kenyans have embraced the mutation of the posterchild for privilege and entitlement into a “blue-collared billionaire”. In Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenyans have their “down-to-earth” nyama choma-eating “president of the people”.
Lost in this feel-good narrative is the fact that Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta is the beneficiary of wealth, mostly land, his father Jomo acquired through suspect means as evidenced in the Ndungu Land Report, Akiwumi Report and most recently, Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Report.
From the rather innocuous but patriotic-sounding call harkening Kenyans to “pull together” i.e. “harambee”, ostensibly towards nation-building, the Kenyattas have parlayed their proceeds from “willing sellers/willing buyer” and “hard work and productivity” into an impressive and ‘legitimate’ portfolio of land and business holdings so that most Kenyans do not bat an eye when Uhuru’s own sister and cousin are implicated in a multi-billion-shilling scandal involving shady payments to equally shady companies. According to Deputy President William Ruto, his boss’s sister Ms. Nyokabi Muthama “is a woman like any other and is therefore entitled to receiving government tender”.
Overlooked in the scandal brewing in the Department of Health and the Deputy President’s ensuing obfuscation, is the fact that members of the country’s richest family (and their friends) are illegally benefiting from a provision aimed at benefiting “Disadvantaged Groups” re: receipt of preferential treatment when they bid for tenders.
In another illustration of the normalization of malfeasance, even after being unearthed as a fake surgeon who was practicing medicine without the necessary qualifications, the good people of Chemamul in Tinderet accorded Mr. Ronald Mell a hero’s welcome and encouraged him to run as their MCA (Member of County Assembly)!
The playbook used by Mr. Mell, the grandson of the late Ezekiel Barng’etuny and powerful Moi-era politician is similar to the one scripted by none other than presidential confidante and former CS of Devolution and Planning Anne Waiguru. After “resigning” from the ministry amidst accusations of having misappropriated approximately one billion shillings, the self-proclaimed “whistleblower” gladly entertained calls from supporters who urged the tainted former CS to consider vying for the governorship of Kirinyaga.
This acceptance and by extension normalization of behavior that is antithetical to the ethics and values Kenyans purport to hold dear is eerily similar to the normalization and embrace of behavior that is traditionally antithetical to that speechified by the conservative Americans in the fly-over states; the same voters who gave Mr. Donald Trump his margin of victory in the just concluded American Elections of 2016.
The KSh.64K question leading up to the August 2017 Presidential Elections is whether enough Kenyan voters – like those in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Philadelphia this past November – will normalize behavior (corruption, gross malfeasance, bigotry, negative isms) that is diametrically opposed to all they claim to hold dear and give Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto the margins they need to secure re-election.