President Uhuru Kenyatta has pledged to reduce corruption in Kenya in a bid to promote economic growth. But following an initial burst of activity in which Kenyatta first announced that new technology would be used to remove “ghost workers” from the government pay roll and later moved to suspend a number of politicians suspected of corrupt activities, the government has little progress to show for all its fine words.
Worse still, in late May the president’s “clean credentials” were called in to question when he moved to suspend the Chairman and five officials of the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) – the very body whose recommendations had initially led Kenyatta to demand that 175 officials accused of fraud step down so that they could be investigated.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga seized on the announcement to argue that the president’s anti-corruption “crusade” was little more than a smokescreen, designed to create the necessary cover for the president to protect his core allies. The conspiracy theory put forward by Odinga also crossed the mind of many journalists, who wondered whether the strong support that Kenyatta initially offered to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission was intended to create the impression that the new government was taking graft seriously, so that it would be easier for Kenyatta to remove genuine reformers from power at a later stage.
Kenyatta’s decision to remove both the chairman and the deputy chairwoman of the EACC came after MPs voted to sanction them, ironically accusing the EACC leadership of the abuse of office. Although it is clear that the EACC has made a number of errors, its biggest mistake appears to have been one of strategy rather than one of moral judgement: by taking on so many leaders at the same time, anti-corruption officials effectively inspired the emergence of an “anti-reform” alliance within the legislature. Put simply, too many MPs had something to lose from allowing the EACC to continue with its work.
The president’s apparently contradictory positions – on the one hand, supporting the EACC’s investigation, while on the other sacking senior EACC officials, has left the government’s anti-corruption efforts in disarray. It has also called into question the capacity of the president to deliver clear and decisive leadership in this area – a complaint that increasingly threatens to characterise his time in office.