18 envoys challenge Uhuru to act against corruption

Activists protest against pay rise demands from Members of Parliament on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya on May 14, 2013. Photo/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Donors offer assistance to tackle challenges but also note a link between corruption and insecurity
  • Ambassadors want President to take more robust action against graft and warn that bribery could hinder the war against terrorism. The best way to combat terrorism is to have well-trained and honest security forces, say ambassadors

Top Western diplomats and donors in Nairobi have issued a bold warning to the Jubilee government that failure to tackle corruption is “undermining Kenya’s future”.

A statement sent to the Sunday Nation and signed by 18 chiefs of mission that represent Kenya’s biggest multilateral partners — including the American, British, German, Japanese, Canadian, European Union and International Monetary Fund representatives — makes it clear that President Uhuru Kenyatta should take more robust steps to fight corruption at national and county levels.

“At the moment when Kenya is restructuring government through the devolution process, attracting investment, expanding trade, creating jobs, and fighting terrorism, corruption is holding the country back.  It is an unwelcome companion, and has no place in Kenya’s bright future,” reads the statement and calls for “strong commitment” and genuine political will from the government.

And in the face of recent terrorist attacks and increasing security threats, the diplomats and donors offer assistance to tackle the challenges but also note a link between corruption and insecurity.

“The best way to combat terrorism is to have well-trained and honest security forces committed to serving justice through established legal means. Security officers must be beyond reproach, impervious to bribes, always seeking to help people,” says the statement.

Suspected terrorists thought to be affiliated to the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab have in recent weeks carried out deadly attacks — killing six people when gunmen stormed a church in Likoni, Mombasa, on March 23 and six others when two explosive devices were lobbed in crowded areas in Nairobi’s Eastleigh on April 1. These come six months after the Westgate Mall siege where terrorists killed 67 people.

Last weekend, US ambassador Robert Godec and High Commissioners Christian Turner (United Kingdom), Geoffrey Tooth (Australia) and David Angell (Canada) met President Kenyatta at State House and pledged to support Kenya in the fight against terrorism. It was a rare meeting because the Jubilee administration has in the last one year exhibited a lukewarm relationship with Western diplomats. 

In the backdrop of a tough first year for the nascent county governments, including incriminating reports by the Auditor General, and what commentators have cynically described as the “devolution of corruption”, the diplomats’ statement presented as an opinion write-up, calls for financial accountability.

“The 47 counties should also work to establish a fair, transparent, and accountable devolved governance system with strong institutions and checks and balances to prevent corruption from taking root,” the chiefs of mission say.  

The carefully crafted statement that combines feeble slaps with gentle strokes while retaining sterilised diplomatic language, also expresses the willingness of the international partners to continue supporting the Jubilee government in tackling corruption and insecurity.

“As partners, we stand ready to continue helping Kenya put in place the systems, processes, and procedures needed to make progress in the fight against corruption,” they say.

To effectively fight corruption in the long-term, the chiefs of mission suggest strengthened governance and transparency, strong democratic institutions, enforcement of anti-corruption laws, resolving past corruption cases, assets recovery, and creating a conducive and predictable business environment. They also insist that the government should fight “the impunity for corruption irrespective of the social and political status of someone suspected of having committed a crime”.

Applaud president

In an apparent effort to express a sense of balance, the chiefs of mission applaud the President’s commitment to tackling corruption, citing his State of the Nation address to Parliament last month where he acknowledged the problem and committed to take on corruption head-on, including in his office.

But critics, including the Opposition Cord coalition, have been keen to point out the gap between the Jubilee administration’s public statements against corruption and the supposed failure to act.

For example, the government has been fighting off allegations that the tendering of the multi-billion-shillings Standard Gauge Railway to be built mainly by a Chinese loan and contractors was overpriced and opaque to cater for corrupt interests. Parliament’s Public Investment Committee chaired by Aldas MP Adan Keynan is investigating the deal while the Transport Committee led by Starehe MP Maina Kamanda gave it a clean bill of health.

The flagship Sh24.6 billion project to provide laptops to Standard One pupils has also been halted, and is the subject of a court case over a tendering dispute, with hints of vicious behind-the-scenes fights pitting various corrupt political and business interests.

India’s Olive Telecommunications had initially won the tender to supply 1.2 million laptops before the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board reversed the deal following complaints filed by Chinese firm Haier and American technology giant Hewlett-Packard.    

But in a hard-hitting rejoinder to the envoys, the Director of Public Communication at State House, Mr Munyori Buku, told the Sunday Nation the “foreign junior officers” should keep their opinion to themselves or use the right channels to air them.
“They must start to learn that the world has shifted and nobody really cares about what they think. They can neither take us to heaven nor deliver us from hell,” said Mr Buku.

He emphasised that the government had acknowledged the existence of corruption and was fighting it even without the diplomatic “preaching”.

President Kenyatta’s government has had a difficult relationship with Western diplomats, mostly hinged on ongoing cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The President, his deputy William Ruto and journalist Joshua arap Sang are facing charges related to the 2007/2008 post-election violence.

Their supporters believe the cases, which started before they were elected last year, as being pushed by the West at the behest of local political opponents. 

In the run-up to the March 4 elections, last year, the Jubilee Alliance accused Western diplomats of attempting to influence the outcome of the elections in favour of the rival Cord and its presidential candidate Raila Odinga.

The criticism intensified after then US assistant secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson pointedly warned Kenyans that they risked diplomatic isolation if they voted in Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto before the ICC cases were concluded.

Mr Carson’s famous “choices have consequences” warning lent itself as a campaign slogan with Jubilee leaders using it to rally its supporters against perceived neocolonialism while Cord cautioned voters against the risk of turning Kenya into a pariah state by electing ICC suspects.

The UK High Commissioner to Kenya Christian Turner ratcheted up the diplomatic hardball when he warned that his country would only have “essential contact” with the Jubilee duo if they were elected.

After its electoral victory, the Jubilee administration has ill-disguised its disdain for the West and strengthened trade and diplomatic ties with China.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expected in Nairobi next month on his African tour, becoming the first top leader from the world’s biggest economic powers to visit the country. 

The Chinese mission to Kenya is conspicuous in its absence from the statement by the chiefs of mission released to the Sunday Nation. No African country also appears among the 18 signatories while Japan is the only Asian nation to endorse the anti-corruption message.

But the guarded language used is different from previous statements from Western diplomats, especially during the Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki presidencies.

For example, in a scorching speech on corruption in 2004, less than two years after the starry-eyed Narc administration took over, the then British High Commissioner to Kenya Edward Clay expressed the frustrations of donors and diplomats against the new government’s rampant corruption, saying the corrupt in government “eat like gluttons”.