Thursday, March 25

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Corruption

I'm a journalist by training. Every semester of my four years at Gonzaga I was reminded of its highest aspects. I was told to “speak truth to power.” My professors urged my classmates and me to move beyond the traditional notion of totally objective reporting toward public-service journalism and looking after the interests of the greater populace.

That part of me cheered a little every time I saw a front-page article in The Daily Nation or The Standard that exposed another minister's corruption. I thought that if Kenya were to eject the thieves and bullies and nepotists from its halls of power, it would have to begin in the newspapers. The politicians had to know that their misdeeds would be uncovered and revealed to the entire nation. Those who followed them would have to know they had been given the public trust and that held them to a higher standard. They, and Kenya, would be better for that.

I lost that faith earlier this month. On March 13, a Saturday, to be precise. The headline was “Four More Raila Ministers Targeted.” It followed a week of revelations and accusations surrounding improper landsales for a cemetery and future technocity. The former was focused on a prominent member of the Orange Democratic Movement, the party of Raila Odinga, the prime minister. It was sourced on documents leaked from a pending investigation led by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission.

Macharia Gaitho, a columnist for The Daily Nation, believes these were passed on to journalists in retaliation for Odinga's presumption in ordering the immediate dismissals of William Ruto, Minister of Agriculture, and Sam Ongeri, Minister of Education, while investigations into their respective scandals continued. The order was reversed hours later by Mwai Kibaki, the president and member of the Party of National Unity. Kwendo Opanga, The Nation's editorial director, agrees.

Yes, the people have a right to know when their elected officials have not kept their promises and taken advantage of their positions. Yes, the guilty should be revealed and punished. But these past weeks makes a mockery of all that. It doesn't matter what is true and what is not, who is guilty and who is not. It only matters that the other party is a little weaker, that a few more incumbents will lose their seats in the next election.

In some ways, it's not that different in the States. Every Blagojevich is a little more lost faith in the Democratic Party. Every Sanford is another Senate election without a Republican incumbent. Revealed scandals and corruption are political opportunities for the opposing party. It's true everywhere.

The difference between the States and Kenya, in this regard, is that once all the evidence has come to light and the American politician found guilty, he has no friends. No one will come to his defense and risk being tarred by the same brush. In Kenya, there is nothing if not party unity. Odinga, who was so eager to take the high ground and claim Ruto and Waithera must vacate their offices while they were respectively investigated for the sale of emergency grain reserves during a drought and the theft of money intended for primary schools, would only protect his allies and their right to remain in power while the investigation remained ongoing. All that matters is power. Not what is right, not what the people deserve. It's disgusting.

A Tanzanian friends says that Kenya will be the next Nigeria in ten years. I see no reason to disagree with her.

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