How corruption is sinking the ‘Kenya model’ and Uhuru legacy

President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers his speech during the devolution conference at Kirinyaga University on March 5, 2019. He is striving to end corruption. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • A 2016 Report indicated that 42pc of Kenyans believed there was widespread corruption and mismanagement of funds in the 47 counties.
  • Corrupt leaders are using ethnicity, depicting the war on graft as a collective responsibility of communities, to shield themselves from action.

This month, Uhuru Kenyatta marks six years since his election as Kenya’s fourth President on March 4, 2013. But the President is not taking a victory lap. Endemic corruption threatens to sink the “Kenyan model”, and his own legacy.

As a term, the “Kenya model” came into vogue in scholarly circles in the 1970s when the country was hoisted as a model of capitalist success in the former colonial periphery.

Kenya jettisoned socialism as the ideological path to development championed by liberation luminaries in the 1960s.

Instead, it became a trailblazer in capitalist market economy. Politically, Kenya’s soldiers have steered clear of the scourge of military rule.

And its elite never resorted to the barrel of the gun to win power. After the 2010 Constitution, the country joined the league of the world’s emerging democracies.


And the March 2018 historic détente (“handshake”) by the country’s top leaders revealed the political maturity of its elite. In the war-torn Horn of Africa, Kenya is the closest one comes to the biblical shining City upon a hill.

Since coming to power, Kenyatta has laboured to hew a legacy based on democracy and market capitalism, upending the old ‘Kenyan model’ which was an odd mix of authoritarianism and liberal market.

The contours of Kenyatta’s legacy are briefly explored in the new book, Uhuru Kenyatta: A Legacy of Democracy and Development (2018).

Suffice it to say, however, that the Kenyan model is losing its shine to pervading perceptions of corruption. Kenyatta’s legacy is sinking deeper under the weight of massive corruption.


A 2018 survey ranked Kenya 143 out 183 in the world corruption index, a slight improvement from its 2017 ranking (145 out of 180 countries).

Experts estimate that the country loses one-third of its national budget, approximately one trillion shillings, to corruption.

A recent study of media reporting of cases of embezzlement of public funds between 2009 and 2019 shows that a total of Sh48.2 billion is either missing, misappropriated or unaccounted for in the first two months of 2019, including Sh21 billion sank in the Arror and Kimwarer phantom dam projects in Elgeyo-Marakwet County.

Ominously, local corruption cartels are starting to operate on a global scale and to close ranks with international criminal networks.

There is a need to address systemic impediments to anti-corruption. Once hailed as “county magic”, devolution is becoming a poisoned chalice.


A 2016 Report indicated that 42pc of Kenyans believed there was widespread corruption and mismanagement of funds in the 47 counties.

Kenyatta’s resolve to fight corruption is not in doubt. In March 2015, he launched a robust anti-corruption war. Last year, the President declared that he wanted the renewed fight against graft to be his legacy.

Nevertheless, Government wonks are still trumpeting health, housing, food security and manufacturing as the four planks of Kenyatta’s legacy.

Beyond this ‘economism’, however, the President’s real and unfeigned gift to future generations is the political trinity of integrity, justice and social cohesion as the enduring foundation of a stable and prosperous nation.

But corruption is fighting back dramatically. Kenya’s anti-corruption architecture, perhaps the world’s most elaborate and well-oiled, is no more than a sleeping cat that cannot catch a rat.


The doctrine of separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary is not working. Rights groups and the government alike have blamed the Judiciary and Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission for corruption’s spread.

As the first Kenyan leader to govern without the powers of imperial presidency enjoyed by his predecessors, Kenyatta is unable to take unilateral measures or to wield a heavy stick against corrupt officials.

This is giving legs to the view that ant-corruption will come a cropper. Some 82 percent of Kenyans think Kenyatta will not succeed in his anti-graft war during his final five years in office.

Even worse is the politicisation of anti-corruption, subtly transforming graft into a foremost security threat.

In the run up to 2022, corrupt leaders are using ethnicity, depicting the war on graft as a collective responsibility of communities, to shield themselves from action.


In the Rift Valley, sections of the political class are warning against “selective prosecution targeting predetermined individuals”, cautioning that the fight can only be won if it is not selective and the right agencies are supported.

Critics are accusing them of meddling in the institutions tasked with investigating corruption and beating the war drum, resurrecting the ghosts of the 2007/8 inter-tribal violence.

Despite this, there is reason for optimism. During the 6th Annual Devolution Conference, governors boosted the war against graft, resolving to have those charged in court in relation to corruption step aside.

Moreover, the opposition and human rights lobbies are ratcheting up pressure on Kenyatta to sack corrupt ministers and other senior government officials implicated in graft cases.


On the extreme, some are calling for the death penalty to curb insidious corruption.

Convinced that slaying the hydra of corruption is a necessary step to restore dignity and respect of the country, a renowned cleric even suggested the hanging of two or three Cabinet secretaries to end the crime.

Kenyatta’s Government now needs to shift the axis of the war on corruption from its current hard power to smart power strategies, which combine the hard power of State institutions with the soft-power of community-based action against graft.

It needs to invest in a robust accountability system, run by some of the most gifted forensic experts, technology doyens, chartered accountants and attorneys and employing the latest technologies to ensure that none will get away scot-free with public money.

A vibrant moral regeneration agenda is needed to counter the ‘end justifies the means’ outlook now driving the insatiable and senseless rush for wealth and pushing many Kenyans to corruption.

Professor Peter Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser and Currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute.