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Mganga Hajigangi – Thoughts on the “war’ on corruption in Kenya.

By Matunda Nyanchama

Toronto, Canada
November 2, 2006

[This article was written in November 2006 and published in the Kenya Times newspaper. It is reissued here in September 2007 as it remains relevant to the events today. The Kenya parliament recently voted not to investigate economic crimes committed prior to 2002! This will exonerate those that looted the country prior to 2002. Many continue to run the show masquerading as reformers.]

Among NARC’s 2002 election promises was an all-out war on corruption. On this score, the government gets a failing grade. It has not only failed to prosecute culpable individuals but perpetuated the vice through its ranks. The government failed to take advantage of mwananchi‘s goodwill, and now the momentum is lost.

The Goldenberg scandal is perhaps the largest pillage of state resources perpetuated by those in power. It is estimated that the money looted through the scandal could have funded education for close to a decade!

The NARC government inherited another scandal from the outgoing KANU government: so called Anglo Leasing. This is a scheme that plotted to plunder even more money from public coffers for private benefit. Some in the NARC government wanted Anglo Leasing money used for political campaigns, effectively perpetuating the KANU tradition of corruption.

Since then, we have had false starts with the investigation of mega corruption in the country. Indeed, the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission (KACC) under Judge Aaron Ringera has acted as a toothless bulldog, which has prompted opposition politicians to call for the judge’s resignation.

Attorney General Amos Wako has been equally hapless in this respect, leaving yesteryear’s looters to continue enjoying the fruits of their sins. And Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Martha Karua continues to threaten naming individuals that would face the law for their corrupt acts from the past. On his part, Hon Raila Odinga, ODM-Kenya presidential candidate [through Spectre International Ltd, a company controlled by his family], has obtained a court order to stop the publication of findings of the Ndungu Commission Report that examined the issue of land grabbing in the country.

For many of us, this see-saw of events was predictable.

First, there is no will to prosecute those that stole from the public for they are closely intertwined with those in power. In fact, many of those in power today won this through financing gained by corrupt means. As the Kiswahili saying goes: mganga hajigangi!

Secondly, there exists a culture of corruption in the country tolerated by mwananchi who routinely forks out chai to the policeman, the land registry clerk, the court clerks and all! In fact, mwananchi has come to expect that people in authority would eat from where they work! Moreover, many Kenyans have low regard for individuals who have worked in strategic positions with “opportunity” to enrich themselves but failed to do so. Let us be truly honest on this score and accept that corruption is a way of life in the country; it is fully entrenched in the nation’s cultural fabric. The late president Jomo Kenyatta is said to have asked the Police how many vehicles pass through the roads they man in response to requests for increased salaries. He may have planted the seeds for open corruption in the public service.

Thirdly, there has been no open clamour to wage war on corruption despite gallant efforts by individuals such as John Githongo, former Permanent Secretary of Ethics & Governance. And true, opposition politicians have been calling for action by the government on vexing files such as Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing. Yet there is hypocrisy when some of them rush to court to protect the publication of reports on corruption, as did Hon. Raila Odinga on the Ndungu Commission Report. Mwanachi sees though this and opts to save precious energy for better things rather than going up in arms with authorities.

Finally, the current political class falls on one side or the other of the same coin of our corrupt political culture. Part of the friction we see between those in power and those in opposition is “eating-related”. There are many in opposition that expected to be in power, or indeed had been in power before and enjoyed the “privilege” of corruption that comes with power. Their intent is to replace those in government in order to have access to the “eating table”. Sure, they couch their fight in the language of mwanachi‘s struggle for a corruption-free nation. Yet, if there is a lesson to learn from NARC government, it is that we can expect more of the same if and when those in opposition come to power.

For those Kenyans that feel really deeply about the issue of corruption, the hope for change has been diminishing over time considering that, as another Kiswahili saying goes: (mavi) ya kale hayanuki. The fact is that we have forgotten about the 1960s/70s land grabbing that happened under Jomo Kenyatta. As well, few talk about the fleecing of state corporations under Daniel Arap Moi. For example, it is old news that corporations like Kenyan National Assurance Corporation folded that time, led by individuals like Hon. Henry Kosgey, now an ODM-K chairman.

And Goldenberg is fast becoming old news and may fade away soon; Anglo Leasing will follow in tow, as well, the more time passes between inaction and potential action in future.

We Kenyans need to wake up to the reality that the current crop of leaders cannot fight corruption in any meaningful sense. They remain part and parcel of the system of corruption; it is nonsensical to expect that they will do away with self-interest and act altruistically. That would be a tall order for, again as the Waswahili say, mganga hajigangi! In fact, only a Third Force, without links to the current political and economic order, can do this! The fact, though, is that this Third Force has not jelled to become powerful enough to effect change.

In the interim, Kenyans may wish to consider a different option that would save time and effort for the benefit of all. It has been said that some looters have expressed willingness to confess and return moneys they stole, provided they can be pardoned and spared jail terms. This would be a starting point.

Those willing to bring back money should be given a chance to do so. They should be forced to confess their crimes, go through the legal process and get (even if symbolic) pre-bargained sentences. This approach would ensure that the money comes back to the country for mwananchi‘s benefit. It would also ensure that their criminality is understood, underscored and goes on record.

Pre-bargaining is used the world over in justices systems. It saves time and resources, and allows for justice to be done. And we know this is not perfect justice. However, as the English saying goes: better half a loaf than no loaf at all.

This approach would also save the country time and resources needed for investigation and prosecution; at the same time it would avail stolen money for economic development.

As a country, we should think very carefully what is best for the country. As it is mwananchi continues to suffer and there is no clear indication that this would change even if there is a change in government.

The truth is that mganga hajigangi!

© November 2, 2006 Matunda Nyanchama

Matunda Nyanchama, a Canadian-based information security professional, is a past President of the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA). He can be reached at

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