Kenya and Zimbabwe were almost drawn into a diplomatic spat after some reputable global news media reproduced comments attributed to President Robert Mugabe on corruption in Kenya from a spoof website.
I must say, I had not seen the article until some of my Kenyan colleagues, who knew I am Zimbabwean asked me “why is your President attacking us?” At first I avoided commenting until I read the article in question and checked with my colleagues back home if such a story existed. But even before then, I suspected that something was not right with the story for I was so sure that the President can distinguish between a subject and a degree and he would never say things like, “You can even think that there is a subject in their universities called Bachelor of Stealing”.
In The Spectator, a spoof website, Mugabe is alleged to have defamed Kenyans for their “wizardry in stealing” which is “in their blood”. And that they “steal enough money to buy their freedom because even the judges, who listen to their cases are financially powerless”. As we all know, Mugabe did not say those words and neither did he make any comment related to Kenya in recent days.
However, back to my colleagues in Nairobi, I wondered why their reaction to the news article was different from their usual reaction to other stories that attack Kenya. Said or not said, there are some among Kenyans who believe that those words are actually a true reflection of the state of corruption in their country.
Issues of corruption everywhere else are very sensitive, so without being affront, I asked one of my colleagues why someone would fabricate such a defamatory quote and attribute it to a Head of State of another country. His response was straight to the point. He said corruption was rife in his country and it is one of the number one concerns among his fellow Kenyans. He showed me several articles from local newspapers where corruption is covered as a big problem.
He showed me stories with some examples where Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee allegedly uncovered a list of bloated expenses in some government departments. Some of the alleged expenses include basic wheelbarrows charged at $1 000 each, standard writing pens at $85 each, a basic desktop computer for $11 000 and a television set for $17 000. These expenses have an effect on the end-users, who are the ordinary people, who survive on government services.
He mentioned to me that these are some of the stories that are making headlines and raising anxiety among Kenyans. Some senior government officials were under pressure to either explain themselves or resign. Again, I went back to my question, why would someone write a quote and attribute it to a head of State on such an incriminating issue?
He says maybe it was a desperate effort to bring global attention on corruption in Kenya and also using Mugabe’s name to put pressure on Kenya politicians and government officials to reform — without worrying about the diplomatic consequences between the two countries. Spoof or nor spoof, it is undeniable that the fabricated quote has generated more impetus on the corruption debate in Kenya.
While corruption is one of the reasons most African governments have not been able to develop their countries, in my view the Kenyan President has set a good tone for other African countries. There are some credible efforts to curb corruption among the top political brass and government officials in the country, no matter who they are and how much power they wield. This is why a parliamentary committee has the power to investigate any government ministry without fear or favour and make the findings public, including making recommendations to the President of the country to take action.
As it has proven, these efforts are not futile or just a political public relations gimmick to buy time or votes from Kenyans. President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed that “no one would stand between Kenyans and what is right in the fight against corruption”. Events thus far have shown that he is serious about the anti-corruption drive.
Corrupt officials are facing the music. For example, last month, 63 police officers including a police spokesman, were fired for corruption and other integrity issues. That was before five cabinet secretaries and several parastatal chiefs were suspended in President Kenyatta’s fight against corruption in August.
In Zimbabwe, we last heard of government ministers being punished for corruption in the 1980s. Since the 1990s, it was free for all for anyone brave enough to join in corrupt activities. We can only find solace in that no matter how corrupt our politicians are, they remain very poor, which is why most become beggars the day they are dismissed from government. They are good on spending on pleasure rather than investing.
While Kenya may be far from eradicating corruption, it is certainly on the right course. One can only wish that such an attitude spreads to other African countries where political patronage is the bedrock of corruption. In most African countries, people become politicians not because they want to develop their countries, but they want to access opportunities for corruption. Politics in Africa is the main platform for corruption starting from the campaigns and the voting system.
●Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa