Economists and government critics have often accused Kenya’s current efforts to stamp out corruption as narrow and a public relations campaign that is fixated on numbers.
How much was lost in this scandal? is often the standard measure of its success.
However small a transaction, such as acquiring a driver’s licence, a national identity card, government contracts for goods and/or services, the bureaucratic nature of government operations induces bribes for the process to be completed.
In December 2010, a Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Finance, in a testimony before a parliamentary committee, said each year corruption and mismanagement of public funds rob Kenya of KSh270 billion (a little more than US$3 billion).
And Kenya, the sixth largest economy in Africa by GDP,continues to lose more than just money: her image and reputation among visitors and potential international investors has been severely battered.
At $376bn GDP, and an estimated population of 200 million, Nigeria is the top African economy, followed by South Africa at $349bn and Egypt which is worth $237bn. Algeria ranks fourth with a GDP of $178bn followed by Angola, which is considered one of the fastest-growing economies in the world with a GDP of $124b.
Kenya continues to lose massive investment opportunities to the negative effects of uncontrolled corruption levels. Business and political leaders have to proactively travel to Europe, Asia and the Americas to market the country akin to what a door-to-door salesman would. But this becomes ever harder if everyone has this perception that Kenya is egregiously and irredeemably corrupt.
Streams of breaking news in local and international media on continuing arrest and prosecution of senior Government officials accused of using positions to facilitate individual enrichment in blatant theft of donor funds makes it ever harder to convince investors that Kenyan laws will protect them.
When the international media feeds the world with streams of reports that even Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu and Supreme Court judges deliver rulings based on the size of the ‘brown envelops’ they receive from criminals, the country’s image sinks beyond repair.
It doesn’t help matters any better when the world continues to gather finer details of how Deputy Chief Justice used her high office to apply pressure on bribe givers to transfer ‘loot’ to her various bank accounts.
International perceptions on Kenya’s runaway graft and money-driven politics are making it increasingly harder for the country to compete for investors with other Sub Sahara counterparts.
In the eyes and ears of donors, visitors and investors, Kenya is a risky destination. It makes it more expensive for the state to borrow internationally. In essence, corruption has actively isolated Kenya from the international community.
Governments in Africa have traditionally procured services of international public relations and lobbying firms to redeem and repackage their international image after ruling elites have tarnished it beyond redemption through corruption, avarice and endemic crony capitalism.
For Kenya, these tactics, no matter how suave the PR gurus are, may be severely limited in scope and bite. Such efforts may temporarily alter perceptions but will never actually change facts on the ground.
The government should instead focus on putting out accurate messages to the world and take concrete steps to change the situation on the ground.
But even as it takes such moves, captains and architects of corruption, no matter how high their offices, must be confined behind bars.
In addition to restoring the faith Kenyans and the international community have on our judicial system, the action will dilute anger and bitterness of thousands of jobless youth who have often been sidelined by the sheer greed of a few kleptocrats.
It may assuage the pain of millions of crushed hearts and spirits of mothers and fathers who daily watch their disillusioned children spiral into crime, drugs and radicalization.
Corruption has destroyed Kenya’s soul and needs commensurate punishment. Prolonged prison sentences and seizure of all assets will be a good starting point, though still not proportionate.
This notwithstanding, prison time for corrupt individuals, especially VIPs (sarcastically referred to in Kenya as Very Important Pigs), will undoubtedly change local and international perceptions on Kenya.
Instilling fear on legal rewards for corruption may only be a first, but necessary, bold step. Kenya also needs to inversely communicate the benefits of virtue in governance and business.
This is particularly critical at a time when 47 per cent of Kenyan youth, who have been captured in a recent survey saying they admire people who make money by whichever means, including breaking the law.
Kenya also requires civic education at local levels to instill a culture of good governance on ordinary citizens.
In the words of former US Vice President Joe Biden, “fighting corruption is not just good governance. It’s self-defence. It’s patriotism.”