What you need to know:
- Dr Ndii has become an advocate for impunity.
- He’s ginning up intellectual fallacies to justify unthinkable sins.
Economist David Mwangi Ndii, my fellow intellectual, is a deep and provocative thinker. He would be a gift for any serious university. But he’s a man of ungoverned extremes, especially when he veers into politics. There – in the thicket of ambition – he allows his hormones to run wild like a boy who’s just entered puberty. Recently, he served up a doozy. In widely discussed outbursts, Dr Ndii proposes that Kenya forgive all looters so that it can genuinely start fighting corruption going forward. His thesis – which they didn’t teach at Oxford University – is a simpleton’s head fake. He avers that Kenya can’t depoliticise corruption and defeat it unless all past and present thieves are given a blanket amnesty.
Dr Ndii has become an advocate for impunity. He’s ginning up intellectual fallacies to justify unthinkable sins. In a breathless voice, he’s stated without batting an eyelid that those forgiven for corruption should include DP William Ruto. Now that one threw me for a loop. Dr Ndii, as is well known, is Mr Ruto’s economic Svengali. He tells Mr Ruto what to think and parrot about the economy. He’s sold him line, hook, and sinker worn-out clichés and outdated models. These catchphrases, which are sold as though they were iPhone 15, are nothing but warmed over ugali. They include “hustler,” “bottom-up,” and the ubiquitous “wheelbarrow” economics. It’s a hackneyed, tired bag of tricks for empty populism.
Mr Ruto is like a child in Dr Ndii’s candy store since he’s never heard of these terms before. What he doesn’t realise is that the language is out of date. Only aspiring dictators mouth these slogans to a hapless electorate hoping it will drool all the way to the ballot box. It’s like telling someone to climb the tree from the top. Any real transformational economic models in Kenya must be preceded by the replacement of the thieving political class and the uprooting of the culture of impunity and voiceless-ness. Cheap slogans meant to bamboozle the hoi polloi won’t do. Dictators from Hugo Chavez to Muamar Gaddafi and Mobutu Sese Seko are dead proof of their futility.
What I couldn’t fathom was why Dr Ndii mentioned Mr Ruto in the same breath with corruption. It’s true that in the past, Dr Ndii has called DP Ruto every epithet and dirty name, from murderer, thief, to conman. He even accused him of holding a fake PhD. If you doubt me, check Dr Ndii’s Twitter timeline over the past three years. It’s all there – in black, white, and whatever colour you choose. But that was back in the day when Dr Ndii was a key strategist for ODM’s Raila Odinga and Nasa. Today, his epithets are directed at Mr Odinga and the Luo community, not Mr Ruto any more. To Dr Ndii, Mr Ruto is today a saint.
I don’t know whether Dr Ndii was speaking on his own volition, or whether he was cleared by Mr Ruto to float the balloon of amnesty. Or whether it was an admission by DP Ruto through Dr Ndii that the latter was corrupt but should be amnestied with other pilfering mandarins. If I didn’t know any better, I would conclude that Dr Ndii suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the mental discombobulation caused by extreme emotional or physical violence. It’s not also clear whether the amnesty Dr Ndii supports for looters and other criminals would be extended to everyone, including Hustler Nation chicken thieves, rapists, and small-time pickpockets. Would tax cheats go scot free, and all jails emptied?
I know a little something about truth commissions and transitional justice. I ran the official task force that preceded the establishment of Kenya’s truth commission. I’ve taught and written about truth commissions for three decades. An amnesty, even in the exceptional circumstances it’s agreed upon as policy, is highly conditioned. The thief, or perpetrator, returns the loot and suffers lustration, which is a bar from holding any public office. In no case – ever – would the thief be elevated to the highest office in the land. Amnesty isn’t about forgiving evil conduct, or forgetting it. It’s a permanent scarlet letter that marks the perpetrator as society’s enemy who’s been let go without criminal sanctions after restitution, penance, and public shaming.
Amnesties are only given to make sure the perpetrator never ascends again to power to torment society a second time. In no situation is the looter or perpetrator of atrocity given the keys to the treasury and welcomed by singing virgins at the gates of the kingdom of heaven. He’s a pariah to be recorded in history as a lesson to others and to society never to allow such a pariah to emerge again. Dr Ndii needs to know that no society develops on impunity, or amnesia on past wrongs. I hope this isn’t how Dr Ndii and Linda Katiba protect the Constitution. Justice always cries out until it is done.
Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s chair of KHRC. @makaumutua