In Kenya, corruption is no longer the elephant in the room. It is the beast that lives in every corner of the nation. Corruption has become so vicious that whenever one is charged with the crime, the same individual converts into an elected politician and soon the villain becomes a hero.
Recently, the United Nations General Assembly held its first ever session on Anti-corruption. Addressing this session, New Zealand’s Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi, whose Ministry is responsible for the fight against corruption, said that, “Corruption is a global problem, it damages businesses, markets, democratic institutions and the social fabrics of societies everywhere. It weakens the delivery of essential services, undermines the rule of law and erodes justice. It has a negative effect on trust in institutions and political legitimacy.”
The Honorable Minister has the moral authority to utter these words because last year in 2020, Denmark and New Zealand were ranked as the joint least corrupt countries in the world. In the last ten years, New Zealand has occupied the top spot for a record eight times, only coming in second to Denmark in 2014 and 2018. Meanwhile, Kenya was ranked 124 in 2020, giving it a slot among the 55 most corrupt countries in the world. Nations like Niger, Sierra Leone and Panama all scored better than us.
In 2019, we were ranked 137th while in 2018 we were 144th. This means that we are making small gains. Time is ripe to translate those small gains into large leaps. For starters, I suggest that we learn critical lessons from New Zealand. They have very elaborate anti-corruption laws that include the Crimes Act (CA) for the public sector, and the Secret Commissions Act (SCA) for the private sector.
These laws are religiously enforced without fear or favor. Suzanne Snively, the Chair of New Zealand Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) has previously said that her country’s strength lies in its commitment to investigate and prosecute instances of fraud. It is not surprising therefore that earlier this year, almost 70% of New Zealanders said that they trusted the public sector.
Indeed, The Presidency and the legislative arms must support The Judiciary’s ability to investigate and prosecute corruption. This will prompt unprecedented trust from the public sector towards The Government and its institutions.
Kenyans must however realize that it is they who can determine the direction of our public sector. They can do so by voting out legislators bearing a corruption brand and replacing them with those with proven track records in upholding integrity irrespective of their political affiliations. It is so easy for us to identify corrupt legislators because they live amongst us, we know them!
Politics continues to live up to its reputation as a dirty game mostly because the referee allows dirty people to participate. If the referee boldly red cards all dirty players, the game’s reputation shall change. The referee is the voter.
The most potent weapon that citizens have is their voice, as expressed through their votes. Unfortunately, millions of Kenyans already are disempowering themselves either by not registering as voters or not planning to vote despite being registered voters.
Last week, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman Wafula Chebukati revealed that only 760,000 Kenyans had registered as new voters. IEBC had targeted registering 4.5 million voters by then. Out of those who had registered, only about 200,000 were youth. Considering that 6 million new voters attained voting age in the last five years, voter apathy amongst young people below 23 years seems to be quite high.
Those six million youth, who have never voted, have a golden opportunity in 2022 to effortlessly and democratically transform our nation. But only if they register and then vote wisely.
Voter apathy also exists amongst registered voters. They too must realize that the constitution repeatedly grants us an opportunity to democratically to clean up our politics and root out corruption every five years through elections. Time to act is now. Are you ready? Think green, act green!