Why political parties are not eager to fight corruption

In 1992, as the Goldenberg ogre entered the third trimester in the womb of the Nyayo regime, the Kanu manifesto declared that “Kanu will supply the political will to root out corruption in the civil service”.

Soon after, Kanu was re-elected with about 35 per cent of the valid votes cast and revelations emerged about the unprecedented Goldenberg financial scam that had been invented to finance the party’s re-election. By the end of their tenure in 2002, Kanu’s power men had ceased to seriously care about their reputation or respond to accusations that they lived on corruption.

It came as no surprise, therefore, that Narc rode on the anti-corruption platform to bundle Kanu out of power in 2002. In his inauguration speech, President Mwai Kibaki declared that the era of “anything goes” and roadside declarations was gone and corruption “will now cease to be a way of life in Kenya and I call upon all those members of my government and public officers accustomed to corrupt practise to know and clearly understand that there will be no sacred cows under my government”.

RHETORIC DISSIPATED

Narc’s anti-corruption rhetoric soon dissipated and whilst the government delivered in the social and economic fronts, it witnessed the return of the lords of corruption in its corridors of power. By 2005, Narc’s Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Kiraitu Murungi opined that jailing the corrupt was not necessarily the most effective way of fighting corruption.

In Michela Wrong’s book It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower Narc’s anti-corruption czar John Githongo is quoted stating in reference to the Anglo-Leasing financial scam that “Kanu handed us a skunk and we took it home as a pet”.

NOT OCCUPY

The important point here is that when Mr Kibaki sought re-election in 2007, anti-corruption commitments did not occupy pride of place in the Party of National Unity manifesto. Subsequently, under the grand coalition government, anti-corruption rhetoric was remarkably mute. Little surprise that in the 2013 General Election, fighting corruption did not feature prominently in the manifestoes of both the Cord and Jubilee Alliance Party coalitions.

Today, neither the National Super Alliance nor Jubilee Party manifestos for the 2017 General Election breaks bones over graft. Whilst anti-corruption rhetoric is usually a good platform for an Opposition party to ascend to power, it is unlikely for a ruling party to use the same to seek re-election. Secondly, in our patronage-based politics, it is not easy for politicians to be too hard on corruption lest they lose support of campaign financiers.

STATE CAPTURE

The way I see it is that political systems, particularly democracies, are vulnerable to State capture by the economic class whose major players might be corruption, arms and drugs cartels. Political parties are the principal facilitators of State capture by corruption cartels. Writing in The Prince, Nicolo Machaivelli observed that a “prince who wishes to remain in power is often forced to be other than good. When the group whose support he deems vital to his survival is corrupt – be it the common people, the soldiers, or the nobility – he must follow their inclinations… to satisfy them”.

During the political parties’ nominations last April a group of civil society organisations tried unsuccessfully to compel IEBC to ban 20 aspirants from contesting for political offices. The 20 belong to both coalitions. Going by opinion polls, the persons named in the two lists are candidates with high chances of being elected or re-elected. This means that Kenya’s electoral system has no effective means to prevent persons incriminated in corruption from seeking control of State power. Secondly, because of the political popularity of these persons, no political party or coalition is willing to shun sponsorship of such candidates.

BEYOND RHETORIC

Truth be told, neither Nasa nor the Jubilee Party and their manifestos should be counted on to liberate Kenya from the jaws of corruption. It is also possible that the Kenyan electorate is itself corrupt so, beyond rhetoric, voters do not mind when their homeboys and girls bring home the corruption cake.

Kibe Mungai is a constitutional lawyer.

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