Fight­ing graft on a wing and a prayer

UHURU’S LAT­EST ‘CRACK­DOWN’: Will it peter out like all its much vaunted pre­de­ces­sors?

The East African - - FRONT PAGE - By WACHIRA MAINA

In the 1942 war movie, The Fly­ing Tigers, Cap­tain Jim Gor­don, frets about one of his planes out on a sor­tie. He learns that the Ja­panese have at­tacked the plane and that his pi­lot is now com­ing in “on one wing and a prayer.” From then on, “on a wing and a prayer” came into us­age to de­scribe an or­deal in which one sur­vives against great odds, on thin re­sources and great luck. Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta has de­pleted nearly all his re­sources – bil­lions of shillings and great po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal.

In the 1942 war movie, The Fly­ing Tigers, Cap­tain Jim Gor­don, played by John Wayne, frets about one of his planes out on a sor­tie. He learns that the Ja­panese have at­tacked the plane and that his pi­lot is now com­ing in “on one wing and a prayer.” From then on, “on a wing and a prayer” came into us­age to de­scribe an or­deal in which one sur­vives against great odds, on thin re­sources and great luck. Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta has de­pleted nearly all his re­sources – bil­lions of shillings and great po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal – bat­tling cor­rup­tion in his ad­min­is­tra­tion with­out suc­cess. This last Thurs­day, at the 16th Na­tional Prayer Day, he, like Cap­tain Gor­don’s pi­lot, fi­nally turned to prayer. It won’t work.

One, if there is a god, why would he lis­ten to the pufferies of such showy “pen­i­tents?” As the Bible tells it, his own son rode a don­key into town but these “hum­ble” ser­vants ar­rived in throaty, mul­ti­mil­lion off-road machines that do ev­ery­thing but fly. Where Christ wore a crown of thorns and died in a Mi­noan loin­cloth, these re­pen­tants were dressed for the run­ways of Mi­lan, in Taglia­tore, Bri­oni and Ar­mani suits. Just one of the Rolexes and Patek Phillippes on dis­play could en­rol 20 Kenyans into the Na­tional Hos­pi­tal In­sur­ance Fund. God’s pur­poses are some­times best served when he ig­nores prayers. On the cross, a tor­mented Je­sus begs his Fa­ther to “take this cup of suf­fer­ing away” but in pray­ing thus, he ac­cepts that it is not his will but his Fa­ther’s that will be done.

This Na­tional Prayer Day is made for TV, a gaudy rather than godly affair. It is a con­fes­sional feel-good show com­plete with prayers pinned on buntings and ban­ners. Cler­ics whose coun­sels will be promptly ig­nored as soon as the TV arc lights go off are thrust to the fore. It is al­ways a time for an in­ter-faith clergy to at­tempt mir­a­cles, that is, try to connect Kenya’s mostly spir­i­tu­ous lead­ers with their usu­ally fugi­tive spir­i­tual side. But it is a le­nient ab­so­lu­tion. No con­tri­tion is asked of these great ones. Hav­ing cheated Kenyans out of their money, they hope to hood­wink mercy out of God.

Per­ish the thought. None knows the mystery of God’s ways, but the Greek gods usu­ally re­sponded to such hubris with a well-aimed thun­der­bolt to the head. Is it not more likely that the Lord will first grant the or­di­nary folks’ pleas for jus­tice be­fore he hears these noisy im­plo­rations?

Two, be­fore these ef­fete prayers came to be, Kenya had slipped into one of its pe­ri­odic bouts of anti-cor­rup­tion evan­ge­lism or, as Mac­beth would say, its an­nual graft “tale told by an id­iot, full of sound and fury, sig­ni­fy­ing noth­ing.” It re­ally is a tale of sound and fury. A spate of high-pro­file scan­dals is re­vealed in gasp­ing head­lines in the daily press. Armed with their stock phrases, the usual chat­ter-boxes turn out on TV to talk ex­pan­sively – and with great te­dium – on “this” and “that” ar­ti­cle of the Con­sti­tu­tion that will be in­ter­preted “this way” and “that” by “this” or “that” court.

Com­men­ta­tors re­cy­cle the old clichés: Kenya’s “adrenal­in­fu­elled greed” and its “can­cer­ous growth in our body politic.” Politi­cians di­late darkly on “our moral col­lapse” and ser­monise loudly about never named but ap­par­ently known “sin­is­ter and pesti­len­tial car­tels” in high places. Pros­e­cu­tors talk in im­pe­ri­ous terms about “im­mi­nent ar­rests,” al­most cer­tainly a warn­ing wink to the crim­i­nals to burn ev­i­dence and hide the money: The bet­ter to weaken the com­ing prose­cu­tion and squir­rel away a cash kitty to pay high-priced lawyers to get them off. This PR scam treats or­di­nary peo­ple as daft, a bunch of empty onion-heads that can­not see through the racket.

Pres­i­dent Keny­atta will re­spond that this is no show; that this time he means busi­ness. Could he have a point? It may seem so, for po­lit­i­cal and personal rea­sons. Po­lit­i­cally, he is free from dis­trac­tions, hav­ing won over his main ad­ver­sary, Raila Odinga of NASA, with some yet-to-be-dis­closed prom­ises and good­ies and, on the home front, he seems gen­uinely wor­ried about

his legacy. Pres­i­dent Keny­atta would be partly right to re­spond this way.

Since his con­nu­bial hand­shake with Mr Odinga on March 9 this year, he has had a joy­ous po­lit­i­cal honey­moon. His now re­laxed mien says as much.

Mr Odinga gave Pres­i­dent Keny­atta le­git­i­macy, some­thing he des­per­ately needed af­ter an elec­tion termed il­le­gal by the court and a re­peat with the low­est turnout in the his­tory of elec­tions in Kenya. Freed from the shakes of those elec­tions, Pres­i­dent Keny­atta must now be lick­ing his chops.

Mr Odinga now talks and be­haves like the Pres­i­dent’s herald. In ef­fect, he is Pres­i­dent Keny­atta’s crier, the fel­low that walks the ridges with a loud­hailer an­nounc­ing the bulletin of com­ing events. When the NYS scan­dal first broke, nei­ther Mr Odinga nor his party criticised Pres­i­dent Keny­atta. In­stead, Mr Odinga took to Pres­i­dent Keny­atta’s side, baldly an­nounc­ing that the pres­i­dent would soon form a task force on cor­rup­tion, a far­ci­cal mea­sure that a re­lieved Pres­i­dent Keny­atta must have been glad not to be mak­ing.

This is the prob­lem. Mr Odinga had solid re­form cre­den­tials be­fore he ar­rived on the steps of Haram­bee house in March. He usu­ally sounded vig­or­ous, as if he had the spine to de­stroy car­tels. Who would have thought that his first pub­lic an­nounce­ment as Pres­i­dent Keny­atta’s crier would be a pro­posal for a task force, that whipped-dog tool of di­ver­sion­ary pol­i­tics and mis­di­rec­tion? What hap­pened to all those ideas he once so loudly pro­claimed?

On his part, Pres­i­dent Keny­atta seems more in­ter­ested in keep­ing Mr Odinga sweet than in bor­row­ing his ideas. Un­for­tu­nately, a happy Odinga will not strengthen Pres­i­dent Keny­atta’s will to fight cor­rup­tion. He will prob­a­bly weaken it. Politi­cians travel large, none more so than Mr Odinga. He comes into gov­ern­ment with a train of re­tain­ers nearly bank­rupt from years in the trenches. What price will Pres­i­dent Keny­atta pay to keep them quiet? If Ann Ngirita can be paid Ksh60 mil­lion ($600,000) for just ask­ing “about op­por­tu­ni­ties” in NYS and then “sup­ply­ing air,” what will Mr Odinga’s al­lies get for mak­ing Pres­i­dent Keny­atta look good and al­low­ing him to fo­cus on the so-called Big Four? Read this way, the hand­shake won’t pres­sure Pres­i­dent Keny­atta to fight cor­rup­tion. More likely than not, it will shuf­fle out Pres­i­dent Keny­atta’s old al­lies, now largely idle and use­less at the feed­ing trough, to make room for Mr Odinga’s peo­ple. Is that what the ar­rests are?

Dons and doffs prin­ci­ples

But sup­pose that Mr Odinga has remained true to his cre­den­tials – though he dons and doffs his prin­ci­ples with alarm­ing speed – there is still a prob­lem. For all the ca­ma­raderie be­tween the two newly re-united “brothers” – their own word – they are a discordant pair. They fre­quently talk at cross-pur­poses, of­ten hurt­ing their mu­tual in­ter­ests, some­what like two ac­com­plices locked away in dif­fer­ent in­ter­ro­ga­tion rooms be­fore they can agree on a com­mon story. Mr Odinga wants con­sti­tu­tional re­form and has been talk­ing of round-the-coun­try ral­lies to drum up sup­port. Pres­i­dent Keny­atta wants to fo­cus on his Big Four agenda. Their still shell-shocked al­lies flip-flop be­tween baf­fle­ment and hos­til­ity, un­sure what the party line should be. Should they em­brace this po­lit­i­cal mar­riage or ob­struct it?

Deputy Pres­i­dent Wl­liam Ruto has been mostly hos­tile. He thinks, cor­rectly, that any­thing that makes Mr Odinga strong weak­ens him. He sus­pects, again with rea­son, that Mr Odinga is, at best, a stalk­ing horse for Kikuyu big money, which prob­a­bly has a se­cret can­di­date that it hopes to spring into the pres­i­dency. Mr Ruto is smart: he prob­a­bly does not buy Mr Odinga’s protes­ta­tions that he won’t run in 2022. He prob­a­bly be­lieves, as many do, that this is Mr Odinga’s ploy to soften his en­e­mies ahead of con­sti­tu­tional change.

Mr Ruto is not tak­ing chances on any of this: He is build­ing a po­lit­i­cal ma­chine, not wait­ing for Pres­i­dent Keny­atta’s bless­ings. He is also pil­ing up cash, lots of it, know­ing that he will be strong­est if he can drag Mr Odinga, a pop­ulist, into a spend­ing cam­paign. With­out money, Mr Odinga will be like a boat bob­bing fu­ri­ously at its moor­ings: All fran­tic mo­tion, very lit­tle move­ment.

What this means is that the three most pow­er­ful men in Kenya are not look­ing in the same di­rec­tion. It is not a Mex­i­can stand­off in­side gov­ern­ment, yet. But it comes close. Mr Ruto does not care about ei­ther con­sti­tu­tional re­form or the Big Four. Mr Odinga does not re­ally care about the Big Four but he is very keen to stymie Mr Ruto’s bid for the pres­i­dency in 2022. Pres­i­dent Keny­atta does not care about con­sti­tu­tional re­form and, to the cha­grin of both Mr Ruto and Mr Odinga, he is prob­a­bly ag­nos­tic about their mu­tual an­tipa­thy and wary of their vaunted am­bi­tions. Francois Mau­riac, the French nov­el­ist, might have called this “knotty” al­liance a nest of vipers. But given the post-prayer pub­lic draw­ing of the venom, this tan­gled coali­tion is more Shake­spearean: Three “spent swim­mers that do cling to­gether” and “choke their art.”

It is said of Pres­i­dent Keny­atta that his worry about legacy steels and mo­ti­vates him enough to snuff out cor­rup­tion. That misses the point. Pres­i­dent Keny­atta’s six years of in­ac­tion have drained away any vi­tal­ity he ever had to en­gage in this fight. The lat­est ar­rests – like the list of shame that Pres­i­dent Keny­atta gave to par­lia­ment in 2015 – merely re­ar­range the leeches around the pub­lic kitty. Many know that this is their “last chance saloon” – one last drink be­fore they hit the road. That is what ex­plains why these lat­est scams are so fran­tic. It is il­lim­itable and glut­tonous car­nal greed: The ex­er­tions of an en­dan­gered species in the throes of a des­per­ate fi­nal mat­ing.

It is a prim­i­tive thing, this eat­ing: a nar­cis­sis­tic, an­cient crea­ture of the deep, like Lord Ten­nyson’s Kraken of “the abysmal sea” come to shore wrapped in rank veg­e­tal smells. Even de­bauched Rome did not reach these lev­els of pub­lic deca­dence.

This is the thing that Pres­i­dent Keny­atta does not get. Cor­rup­tion is “power.” Michel Fou­cault taught that power is in­sid­i­ously dif­fused through society. Cor­rup­tion be­haves as power does: It cir­cu­lates through the society. Fou­cault in­vented the term “cap­il­lar­ity” for this dif­fu­sion. It is the “cap­il­lary” qual­ity of cor­rup­tion in Kenya that in­fuses it with its ex­pan­sive and in­sid­i­ous char­ac­ter. When it con­fronts threats, cor­rup­tion re-groups, re­or­gan­ises and re­fur­bishes it­self. It then adapts, changes and mi­grates. To­day it serves one set of in­ter­ests, to­mor­row an­other. This cir­cu­la­tion rests on regimes of truth. Cor­rup­tion is a “prob­lem of cul­ture not of in­sti­tu­tions.” “Our fore­fa­thers gave gifts and there­fore bribes are in our genes.”

These “bo­gus truths,” of­ten treated as self-ev­i­dent, are em­bel­lished with pub­lic spec­ta­cles – fre­quent wakes for moral rear­ma­ment, staged ar­rests and show trials. This cha­rade draws the vic­tims of cor­rup­tion into a dis­cur­sive space of col­lec­tive moral guilt. If all have sinned and fallen off the moral pedestal, why blame the lead­ers?

And thus, in full dress, the play un­folds. Pres­i­dent Keny­atta, cheered on by Mr Odinga, has or­dered ar­rest and in­dict­ment of “the cor­rupt.” Few Kenyans will have read Ber­tolt Brecht’s poem, “Pa­rade of the Old New.” They should. This play re­ally is “the Old” “dis­guised as the New.” By the time these cases come to trial, ev­i­dence will have been lost. The in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cers will have been trans­ferred and or­dered to hand over their files – with­out proper han­dover pro­ce­dures. The ac­cused and their over­priced at­tor­neys will do what they can to avoid an early trial.

Doc­tors will weigh in too: Ac­cused per­sons who never sneezed be­fore these charges were filed will from now be af­flicted by a plague of “in­dis­po­si­tions” – the lawyers’ term – that mostly fall on trial dates. In­ept or ham­strung prose­cu­tions will then fol­low. Un- bid­den, frus­trated judges will set the ac­cused free. In a pique of right­eous anger, politi­cians will threaten to strip judges of their job se­cu­rity. Paid blog­gers will lam­poon Chief Jus­tice David Maraga for giv­ing a “safe har­bour to the cor­rupt.”

And then? Back to the old nor­mal: New scan­dals will erupt; a new task force will be ap­pointed. Some cru­sad­ing MP might even amend the Pe­nal Code to stiffen penal­ties on cor­rup­tion. And as usual, the law of un­in­tended con­se­quences will kick in: Cops will lever­age the stiffer penal­ties for higher bribes and mys­tify all of us with their mon­ey­mak­ing skills. The ever­green signs in gov­ern­ment of­fices, “You are now in a cor­rup­tion- free zone” will be re­freshed, per­haps through a rigged bid­ding process.

Danger­ous Game

Pic­ture a wise Kenyan study­ing this uniquely Kenyan opera. He might lament, with Brecht:

“I stood on a hill and I saw the Old ap­proach­ing, but it came as the New. It hob­bled up on new crutches which no one had ever seen be­fore and stank of new smells of de­cay which no one had ever smelt be­fore.”

But this is a danger­ous game. As “the Old” strides in “dis­guised as the New,” the coun­try’s eth­i­cal frame is vi­o­lently twisted out of joint. In churches around the coun­try, the cor­rupt are adored for the booty they bring, which is of­ten looted from fel­low wor­ship­pers in dis­tant coun­ties. Priests, whose own fi­nances can­not bear scru­tiny, rain bene­dic­tion on the Church’s lat­est bene­fac­tor, per­haps an air-sup­ply bil­lion­aire come to break ground for a new church hall. In the mean­time, out there in the pub­lic, the mood is cur­dled by these dis­ports.

To­day, the pub­lic will be fa­tal­is­ti­cally re­signed to their mis­ery and seek so­lace in ex­trav­a­gant prayers. To­mor­row, they will be morally in­dif­fer­ent about right and wrong and ex­plode in rage to­wards their blame­less neigh­bours. Thus, the same pa­per that gave the low­down on the NYS and Na­tional Ce­re­als and Pro­duce Board money-trail, also told of three school­teach­ers who beat a lit­tle child – a Class One pupil – so badly that they tore his gen­i­tals. It makes one cold with rage. And yet, in the hor­ror of that de­mented ac­tion lie the fright­en­ing omens of the change to come.

Is this the roil­ing rage of Langston Hughes “dream de­ferred?” Will it “dry up like a raisin in the sun?” Or will it “fes­ter like a sore?” Or, will it just ex­plode? Sooner rather than later, the delu­sions of the cor­rupt that only money moves peo­ple will be tested against the con­vul­sions that come from help­less fury. Be Afraid.

It is a prim­i­tive thing... Even de­bauched Rome did not reach these lev­els of pub­lic deca­dence

Pic­ture: File

Wachira Maina.

Pic­ture: File

Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta (se­cond right) and op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga shake hands dur­ing the Na­tional Prayer Day in Nairobi on Thurs­day. Look­ing on are Deputy Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Ruto (right) and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kenya

© PressReader. All rights reserved.