WHAT THE PRES­I­DENT SHOULD DO

The pri­mary rea­son why war on graft re­mains lit­tle more than words on pa­per is be­cause we are fo­cused on chang­ing per­son­al­i­ties and or­gan­i­sa­tions rather than the rules that un­der­pin the sys­tem

The Star (Kenya) - - Voices - PATRICK GATHARA Com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant and car­toon­ist

“What do you want me to do?” With that, Pres­i­dent Uhuru Kenyatta seemed to throw his hands up in res­ig­na­tion. It surely does seem that ev­ery­thing the Ju­bilee ad­min­is­tra­tion touches turns to loot. Few of the pro­jects it has ini­ti­ated over the past 43 months — from lap­tops for schoolkids to the stan­dard gauge rail­way to the free ma­ter­nity pro­gramme — have es­caped the reek of cor­rup­tion. Anti-cor­rup­tion cru­sader John Githongo says Ju­bilee is “by far the most cor­rupt gov­ern­ment in our his­tory”.

It is all so very dif­fer­ent from the eu­pho­ria that ac­com­pa­nied Pres­i­dent Mwai Kibaki’s elec­toral tri­umph and as­sump­tion of of­fice a year af­ter 2001. Then, it seemed, Kenya was well on the way to slay­ing the prover­bial cor­rup­tion dragon. Kibaki and his Narc al­lies, in­clud­ing Raila Odinga, had built their cam­paign on an un­abashedly an­ti­cor­rup­tion plat­form, promis­ing to end the plun­der the coun­try had ex­pe­ri­enced un­der his pre­de­ces­sors. How­ever, the rev­e­la­tions of con­tin­u­ing theft in high places cou­pled with the de facto im­mu­nity af­forded to Nyayo era thieves, would bring such hope crash­ing down to earth. How did we come to this?

In their in­sight­ful book Why Na­tions Fail: The Ori­gins of Power, Pros­per­ity and Poverty, Daron Ace­moglu and James Robin­son iden­tify the na­ture of a coun­try’s in­sti­tu­tions, whether ex­trac­tive or in­clu­sive, as the pri­mary de­ter­mi­nant of its suc­cess. But un­like Kenya, where we equate in­sti­tu­tions with an al­pha­bet soup of or­gan­i­sa­tions, Ace­moglu and Robin­son de­scribe in­sti­tu­tions as sim­ply the rules, writ­ten and un­writ­ten, that in­flu­ence how sys­tems work. Coun­tries where such rules en­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion by the masses, dis­trib­ute po­lit­i­cal power broadly and sub­ject it to con­straint will tend to be suc­cess­ful whereas those where the dis­tri­bu­tion of power is nar­row and un­con­strained will end up with sys­tems geared to en­rich a pow­er­ful few at the ex­pense of the rest. The pri­mary rea­son why Kenya’s war on cor­rup­tion re­mains lit­tle more than words on pa­per is be­cause we are fo­cussed on chang­ing per­son­al­i­ties and or­gan­i­sa­tions, rather than the rules that un­der­pin the sys­tem we in­her­ited from the Bri­tish. In 1963, it was all about get­ting rid of the “colo­nial masters”. Half a cen­tury later, it was all about “Moi must go”. As the TJRC re­port demon­strated, the rules of the game re­mained mostly un­changed. The gov­ern­ment still func­tioned as a ve­hi­cle of plun­der, with the only dif­fer­ence be­ing that in place of white op­pres­sors, we had black ones.

The 2010 Con­sti­tu­tion pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress this sys­tem but here, again, form is tri­umph­ing over sub­stance. The fact of its pas­sage con­tin­ues to be hailed as a suc­cess (and it is) even as its spirit is crushed. Nom­i­nally in­de­pen­dent in­sti­tu­tions, such as the po­lice and the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions, re­main, for all in­tents and pur­poses, sub­servient to the pres­i­den­tial whim. Par­lia­ment, too, is lit­tle more than a lackey of the ex­ec­u­tive. The po­lit­i­cal sphere still ex­cludes par­tic­i­pa­tion by most cit­i­zens in gov­er­nance while con­tin­u­ing to be the dom­i­nant in­flu­ence over their lives. Im­punity for wield­ers of power is the norm. Pass­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion was just a nec­es­sary first step. As at In­de­pen­dence, the real work lies in its im­ple­men­ta­tion and in over­throw­ing the ex­ist­ing au­thor­i­tar­ian un­der­pin­nings of the state. This is where we are fail­ing. The ex­clu­sive fo­cus on pros­e­cu­tions and con­vic­tions sadly elides this.

It is true the Con­sti­tu­tion lim­its the role of the Pres­i­dent in punishing of­fend­ers. But that is not the prob­lem. The ques­tion is why, de­spite the Con­sti­tu­tion, op­por­tu­ni­ties to steal with im­punity con­tinue to pro­lif­er­ate, while trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity con­tinue to di­min­ish. Where the Pres­i­dent has been largely ab­sent is in ar­tic­u­lat­ing and lead­ing the nec­es­sary sys­temic re­form to en­sure that the state de­liv­ers the sys­tem that the con­sti­tu­tion he swore to up­hold en­vis­ages. More than sim­ply set­ting up more or­gan­i­sa­tions or re­plac­ing ex­ist­ing ones, it will re­quire a fun­da­men­tal re­think­ing of the in­sti­tu­tions gov­ern­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween state or­gans and that be­tween the state and its cit­i­zens.

That, Mr Pres­i­dent, is what we want you to do. Not turn back the clock.

IT IS TRUE THAT THE CON­STI­TU­TION LIM­ITS THE ROLE OF THE PRES­I­DENT IN PUNISHING OF­FEND­ERS. BUT THAT IS NOT THE PROB­LEM

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