Military best bet for ending graft

KDF

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Chief of Defence Forces General Robert Kibochi on the Commander-In-Chief Ceremonial Vehicle at the Moi Barracks Recruits Training School in Eldoret during this year's Kenya Defence Forces passing-out parade ceremony on November 5, 2021. 

Photo credit: PSCU

I thoroughly enjoyed that rare appearance on public television the other day by the head of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), General Robert Kibochi. The Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) came off as an articulate and smart officer.

Public servants who speak plainly and in such a convincing and persuasive manner are rare in Kenya these days. With KDF taking up more and more assignments outside its core mandate by the day, Gen Kibochi will increasingly find himself in the public limelight, having to communicate to the public even more plainly about the tasks his men and women outside the barracks are performing.

One of the most topical issues today is what is being perceived as mission creep and meddling by the military in the management of the civil side of government. Last week, KDF was tasked to run the affairs of the corruption-ridden Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa). A few weeks earlier, Major-General (Rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa was moved to the Ministry of Energy, where he has been tasked to play a key role in the ongoing transformation of the troubled electricity utility Kenya Power.

The military was earlier tasked to rehabilitate the troubled Kenya Meat Commission (KMC). Its civil engineers have only recently completed rehabilitating the old metre-gauge railway network. Navy engineers completed rehabilitating — in just six weeks — a ship in Kisumu that had been derelict for more than 50 years.

Kahawa Barracks-based mechanical engineers rehabilitated hundreds of vehicles and trucks that had been rotting at the Nairobi County government junk yards for years.

City Hall is, itself, run by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), under Maj-Gen Mohamed Abdalla Badi.

Policy errors

Former top KDF officers chair boards of key parastatals: Gen (Rtd) Joseph Kibwana the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) board; Gen (Rtd) Samson Mwathethe the Kenya Electricity Generation Company (KenGen) board; Gen (Rtd) Julius Karangi the board of trustees of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF); and Maj-Gen (Rtd) Umudho Awita, the former Navy Commander, the Kenya Railways Corporation board.

Military meddling? Mission creep? All I can do is put the trend in the context of what has happened in this country before and the happenings elsewhere in Africa.

When things go belly-up for you as a head of state in Africa — when you find yourself marooned in dysfunctional institutions, and where policy errors are the order of the day — you do one of these two things or both. You either parachute technocrats from the private sector into the public service bureaucracy or start giving more tasks to the few remaining pockets of technocracy and efficiency in public service.

Former President Daniel arap Moi did a similar experiment in 2000, when he came up with that team we in the media nicknamed “The Dream Team”, which was headed by Dr Richard Leakey.

We’re grappling with a phenomenon that Francis Fukuyama — perhaps the most famous economic philosopher of our time — would describe as the collapse of state capacity. Countries are divided into high- and low-capacity states, depending on the effectiveness of their bureaucracy.

In East and Central Africa, Ethiopia is regarded as having a better record at delivering projects on time and at low cost. Rwanda, in the early years of President Paul Kagame’s administration, would have qualified to be called a high-capacity state.

We’ve failed to mould a disciplined and effective state apparatus. We seem to have accepted that KDF is the only remaining efficient technocratic enclave within the state apparatus with the capacity to deliver improved services to the people.

How does retrogression to a dysfunctional civil service bureaucracy with low state capacity start? When you push political patronage appointments to ridiculous limits and go overboard with distribution of state jobs by political patrons to followers.

Self-advancement

Patronage appointments did not start with Jubilee but the regime went overboard by crafting an unwritten formula where top positions in ministries and parastatals were neatly shared between the elite of the two ethnic communities that provided the core support of the party’s election campaign. That way, you create influential rent-seeking constituencies opposed to any bureaucratic reforms they perceive as threatening their control over patronage and self-advancement.

You end up with indiscipline and an unproductive civil service, proliferation of inefficient and debt-plagued state corporations, widespread financial distress in public universities, limited esprit de corps within the bureaucracy and enclaves of highly paid civil servants working alongside underpaid inadequately trained colleagues who are prone to corruption.

You end up with exaggerated public contracts at inflated prices to insider contractors, well-connected big industrialists who neither pay taxes nor electricity bills and declining revenues.

My message to President Kenyatta is, keep giving more assignments and tasks to KDF. The biggest headache for your successor will be to reorient and rebuild the state apparatus as the country cannot progress without an effective state.

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