It’s crunch time for Kenya
This is indeed our “moment of truth”. For every nation, every organisation, every individual, there comes a time when the brutal facts must be faced squarely. That time is here for Kenya. We will either deal with this truth bravely and resolutely; or we will acquiesce again and fall into another decade of stagnation.
John Githongo’s dossier has set the cat amongst the pigeons, and the resulting mayhem is not pretty to watch. The BBC made the dossier freely available on its website following its historic interview with Githongo last week. For the first time, Kenyans are able to read the harsh realities of what happens in the corridors of power.
For the first time, senior heads are rolling down the steps of State House. Even the most stubbornly entrenched leaders are learning the meaning of the word “accountability”. They sowed the seeds of deceit, and are reaping a bitter harvest. For the first time in our history, there is actually a downside to being involved in grand corruption (whatever that involvement).
Forces from the political opposition are jumping up and down with glee. But in their Schadenfreude songs, we can detect some false notes. There is fear in their own hearts, for many have dangerous skeletons hidden in many a cupboard. Government forces are warning these politicos that they are next in the nyolewa-ing line: that after Anglo Leasing, the Goldenberg and Ndungu reports will lead to many more forcibly shaved heads.
That is as it should be. Grand corruption is not a Narc thing, nor a Kanu one. The twisted roots of the graft flower are not found in the soil of political parties. This is one phenomenon that cuts across party lines. In 40 years of self-determination, we have struggled to put up a man or a woman who leads in the interests of the nation. So, if we start to investigate with vigour and seriousness, the shaving queue may indeed stretch from State House to JKIA.
It is no wonder that the facts of corruption were suppressed for so long. It was in no leader’s interest to mess with this can of worms. This is what Githongo has finally done for us: he’s kicked the can open and placed the worms under the glare of the world’s media, for all to see. We are appalled; we are ashamed; and we are very, very grateful.
I find it remarkable that some call the man a coward. It says something about how we have managed to blur the lines of morality over the years. Cowardice? How would 99 per cent of Kenyans in Githongo’s position have behaved, when faced with overwhelming evidence of top-level deceit, and threatened by the country’s leading lights? We would have joined in the feeding, people; or we would have run away in terror, never to speak again. We would have had neither the nous nor the nerve to bide our time, compile a dossier in painstaking detail, and then unleash it to devastating effect. If that is cowardice, then we have forgotten the meaning of heroism.
Things will not be pretty now. The dirtiest of linen will receive the most public of washings. The air will be thick with accusations and counter-accusations. “Carry your own cross” will become the most overused phrase in our history. Tribespeople will be gathered around besieged sons, to protect them from the slings and arrows of their accusers. If we are truly serious, jail terms will have to be served, property confiscated, reputations ruined.
That is the cost of grand, entrenched, long-lived corruption. We have no choice but to bear it. If we sweep it all back under the carpet, as we have done many times before, the ogre will strengthen itself further and emerge one day to consume us. Our national karma has caught up with us now; it’s payback time.
Let us not shirk the responsibility. The clamour must continue, even if it is an assault on our sensibilities. The pressure must remain unrelenting, even if it distracts us from economy-building and consumes all our attention. This is a heaven-sent chance to clean up our act, once and for all.
And let none of us enjoy the moment and sit in personal judgement. Let us not mock and deride the big names as their foibles are exposed. This cancer is in all of us. We are all part of the web of deception, all swimming in the currents of selfishness and personal gain. In all our lives, we have bribed and been compromised, deceived and covered up the traces. Our deceptions may be small and trivial in comparison to the plundering of billions; they are deceptions nonetheless, and we all have to square them with our consciences. It is not just the institution of leadership that must be cleansed; it is the soul of every Kenyan.
If you doubt this, look back at the recent proceedings of the Goldenberg Commission. As the inquiry rolled on, I was struck not by the impunity with which the architects of this mega-scam had destroyed our economy; that fact we knew, and had absorbed over the years. No, what was truly alarming was the extent to which the great and the good of the Kenyan republic had fed from the hand that distributed the takings of plunder.
From lawyers to clerks; judges to drivers; permanent secretaries to casual workers: all had eaten the money of taxpayers. Watching the proceedings sometimes felt like observing a pit of snakes; was there a person in the room who did not have his own secrets, her own ancient compromises? When the masks of false righteousness are pulled away, the faces behind them will be revealed to be identical.
A new Kenya can emerge from this. This wave must sweep all the marked and the tainted from the decks. Into the space that is cleared must step forward good men and good women of good intent. No nation has developed on the back of corruption. For too long have we tolerated the destruction of our institutions, and acquiesced in the rewarding of patronage.
We have allowed spivs and shysters, the unschooled and the unskilled, chumps and charlatans to be the ones who receive the prizes in our economy. Basi! If we are to go forward together, we must learn to build the institutions of governance and reward good behaviour. When the purging is done, let us ensure that the patient now eats the right things and is kept away from excesses.
Prosperity beckons for Kenyans. The moment is here. In the words that Shakespeare placed in the mouth of Brutus: “There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; / Omitted, all the voyage of their life / Is bound in shallows and in miseries. / On such a full sea are we now afloat, / And we must take the current when it serves, / Or lose our ventures.