Kenya: Uhuru Kenyatta's War On Graft - a Turning Point or Just Scoring Points?

Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu at the Milimani Law Courts on July 29, 2019.

A Kenyan governor accused of corruption was ordered to step down during his trial, a minister and his deputy were arraigned in court for alleged abuse of office. Kenyans are not used to such things.

The landmark ruling by a Kenyan judge that Kiambu County Governor Ferdinand Waititu must step aside during his trial is widely seen by governance experts as a victory in the fight against corruption in Kenya. The ruling could set the stage for other corruption cases in a country where powerful politicians and government officials accused of graft generally continue to occupy office.

"It's a precedent in the Kenyan legal system because for the first time, the court spelled out the actions to be taken against a senior official who is facing criminal charges in court," Peter Wendo, a political analyst and project adviser with the Rule of Law Program for sub-Saharan Africa at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Nairobi, told DW.

In the past, such people were taken to court but then "the matter just ends without any convictions," Wendo said. That's because the suspects still had access to their offices which meant they could easily influence the witnesses and interfere with the investigations.

According to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, Waititu is being accused of irregularly awarding tenders worth 588 million Kshs (5 million euros, $5.6 million ), to companies associated with the governor or members of his immediate family. He has denied any wrongdoing and argues that he can account for every cent.

Waititu's case is taking place after the East African nation made headlines when police arrested and charged the country's Finance Minister, Henry Rotich and his deputy Kamau Thugge. The two high-profile government officials are accused of conspiring to defraud the public, financial misconduct and failing to adhere to guidelines in procurement procedures relating to the construction of two multi-million dams.

Kenyatta's critics and supporters face off

In 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared corruption a 'national security threat' and vowed to tackle the vice head on. On several occasions he declared that no one who engages in corrupt practices would be spared. Kenyatta has constantly faced widespread criticism that his administration is one of the most corrupt in the country's history. He is eager to leave behind a legacy that shows he fought corruption to the best of his ability. "The two cases [Rotich's and Waititu's] are an indication that there is light at the end of the tunnel," analyst Peter Wendo said.

But for Kenyatta's critics, the war against corruption is all about the 2022 succession battle. They view the president as going after politicians aligned with his deputy William Ruto. "We have so many other cases that we have been told of by the Director of Public Prosecutions," Mutahi Ngunyi, a political analyst, told DW.

One-sided fight?

One example is what has come to be known as the 'Ruaraka land saga'. In that particular case, a piece of land was allegedly bought illegally by the government. "Even though a court ruled that the piece of land was bought illegally, the people involved are nowhere near the radar in this particular war against corruption," Ngunyi said.

Ngunyi believes that Kenyatta's critics are therefore right. "If you seem to be targeting one group of people, and you are letting another group of people go scot free, then there is a contradiction in the methodology of this war against graft."

Despite the recent court cases against prominent Kenyan officials, many citizens remain skeptical about President Uhuru Kenyatta's war on corruption. Transparency International ranks Kenya 144 out of 180 nations in its Corruption Perception Index. To improve on that ranking, Kenyatta will definitely need to put in more effort. As political analyst Peter Wendo puts it: "Only successful convictions will convince Kenyans that the fight against corruption has gathered pace and has taken a turn for the better."

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