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To borrow the words of Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi, graft in Kenya “is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”.

Audacious, multi-billion-shilling, high-level scams permeate the Kenyan government and much of the country’s economic system. The Hansard of 17 April 2003 records that a third of Kenya’s revenues have been stolen over the last two decades. Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, then minister for Planning and National Development, told Parliament, “We know for certain that we have been losing about KSh68 billion through corruption and mismanagement.” The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research both also report that in the financial year 2002/3, the government lost KSh205 billion in revenues through graft-related activities, a third of the national budget.

But the recent heist in the oil sector shows how monstrous the thieves have become. Exposing the scam in a press statement on 16 November 2023, Hon Raila Odinga referred to President William Ruto’s government-to-government oil deal as a grand scam hatched to shield oil cartels and to enable three Kenyan companies to fleece the government. The oil deal created a three-company monopoly, Gulf Energy, Galana Oil Kenya Ltd, and Oryx Energies Kenya Ltd, choking the oil industry with inflated oil prices. The clash between Anne Njeri, two Cabinet Secretaries, and Galana Energies over the ownership of diesel worth KSh17 billion, is just a tip of the looting going on. Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah linked the source of the billions mentioned in the oil controversy to the KSh17,224,718,718,632 withdrawn from the National Treasury in June 2023 at the closure of the 2022/2023 Financial Year, ostensibly to subsidise unnamed “private financial enterprises”. In a press statement on 17 November 2023, Hon Omtatah tabled evidence of the government’s unlawful withdrawal of another KSh42,965,290,402 from the consolidated fund, a sum that was allocated to the Ministry of Petroleum as “subsidies to private financial enterprises”. This was done without parliamentary authority as required by law.

This single act of graft will dent the economy and negatively affect millions of Kenyans. In August this year, the government allowed Oryx Energies to sell oil at prices inflated by 17 per cent: having bought the diesel at US$97.88 (KSh14,182) per barrel, Oryx Energies sold it to other oil marketing companies (OMCs) at US$114.5 (KSh16,585) per barrel.

The removal of oil subsidies and the increase in VAT charges in July this year caused a drop in the sale of petrol and diesel to record levels. For example, consumption of Super petrol dropped from 1,074 billion litres to 1.01 billion litres in the six months to June 2023 – a five per cent dip. During the same period, sales of diesel dropped by 4 per cent, from 1.36 billion litres to 1.31 billion litres. The Kenya Revenue Authority, which takes KSh21.95 per litre of Super bought, and KSh11.37 per litre of diesel and kerosene, will experience a drop in revenues with this fall in consumption. The Treasury is staring at dwindling revenues in the current financial year. The 2023 Budget Review and Outlook Paper observes that “given this revenue shortfall, the projections for FY 2023/24 have an estimated revenue risk of Sh133.5 billion”. According to the paper, the decline in oil volumes, motor vehicle imports, and deliveries of domestic excisable goods such as cosmetics, beer, and spirits also explains this shortfall in excise duty.

To avoid inflated fuel prices of up to 59 per cent, on 16 November Ms Ruth Nankabirwa, Uganda’s minister of Energy and Mineral Development, announced that Uganda will no longer purchase petroleum products from Kenya. A landlocked country, Uganda imports more than 90 per cent of its fuel through the port of Mombasa and the remainder through Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam Port. In 2023, the volume ferried via Kenya Pipeline has dropped from 70 per cent to 52 per cent. This implies that Kenya will lose the up to US$100 million (KSh15.23 billion) it has been earning every year from handling Uganda’s petroleum and related products. Approximately 40 per cent of the fuel imported by Kenya is re-exported – mainly through Uganda – to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. The transit volumes account for 51 per cent of the revenues of Kenya Pipeline Company, an average of KShs2.6 billion per month. So, other than making petroleum products more costly, the deal is going to kill the Kenya Pipeline Company as soon as this year.

The statutory oversight institutions entrusted to guard Kenyan resources, such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), are moribund at both the national and county levels. Busy playing courtier to the political elites, they seem unable to detect that the governing elites and their associates are siphoning out money from government coffers.

Other than making petroleum products more costly, the deal is going to kill the Kenya Pipeline Company as soon as this year.

If we are to fight graft, we need to reconsider the tempo and energy of the EACC chairperson. Every president appoints a “useful” head of this institution; indeed, the corrupt elites would not countenance the appointment of an independent, opinionated, exuberant, and sharp-on-law chairperson. No wonder members of parliament hounded Prof. Patrick L. O. Lumumba out of office in August 2011. His successor, Philip Kinisu, did not last; he was implicated in the KSh791 million National Youth Service corruption scandal.

President Uhuru Kenyatta cleverly chose the retired Archbishop Eliud Wabukala to succeed Kinisu at the EACC in 2016, since the bishop would neither be entangled in graft and nor would he wield a razor-sharp sword to cut through corruption. As if on cue, President William Ruto also chose a bishop for this position. I understand Hon. Gichoki Kaguchia’s misgivings who, during Bishop David Oginde’s confirmation hearing, doubted the ability of the religious figures to ably head the anti-corruption body. EACC Chief Executive Officer Twalib Mbarak claimed that during Archbishop Wabukala’s six years at the helm of the EACC, the organisation had become “a stable, professional, and reliable Anti-Corruption Agency that is committed to effectively discharge his mandate to the people of Kenya. EACC is a solid organisation with strategic and policy direction but fights against corruption”. In effect, under Wabukala, the agency had successfully pursued the forfeiture of unexplained wealth and assets obtained through graft worth approximately KSh33 billion. Approximately KSh22.8 billion worth of unexplained wealth and assets obtained corruptly had also been surrendered. But Archbishop Wabukala’s impact on the war on graft is not convincing for it is alleged that KSh2 billion was plundered daily under his watch.

We had hung our hopes on Dr Oginde, the highly respected and accomplished leadership expert whom President William Ruto appointed to the Ethics Anti-Corruption Commission. He came to the war on graft with a sharper vision than his predecessors. No commentator has written more consistently, more critically, against corruption in the Kenyan press than Bishop Oginde. He has written over twenty articles in the past six years, covering taboo scandals from Goldenberg to the latest outrage.

Oginde’s commitment to “contribute to our country” in the fight against corruption was clear during his confirmation hearing. When Hon John Makali, member of parliament for Lugari, asked him, “Have you familiarised yourself with the legislation for anti-corruption? Do you think there is a lacuna in the laws, and if so, what do you suggest we should do?” Oginde suggested expediting corruption cases within a strict timeline. He suggested proposing laws limiting the hearing and determination of graft cases to three months. But Hon. John Makali doubted his preparedness and thought Oginde was unfit for the EACC position.

No commentator has written more consistently, more critically, against corruption in the Kenyan press than Bishop Oginde.

It having been agreed that neither the law nor the legislation were the problem, Hon Stephen Mogaka demanded of Oginde that he propose “specific action to exorcise the demon of corruption”. Indeed, concrete measures are needed if we are to solve the corruption problem.

But who will drive out of Kenya this malevolent ghost raiding public funds?

The challenges of exorcising Kenya’s spiteful ghosts of graft bring to mind a ghost-casting story from Central Gem in the 1940s. In Traditional Ideology and Ethics among the Southern Luo, Prof. Ocholla Ayayo narrates how a girl’s ghost returned to haunt her family. She had died before her father could give her hand away in marriage. This was taboo among the Luo. She would appear as a ghost, demanding an explanation for not having been allowed to marry. At other times she would cook and care for the children, and do household chores as well. This frightened the parents who found no respite, despite calling on various exorcists.

After some time, the man chanced upon a reputed jadil (exorcist) from Ugenya and engaged him immediately. The exorcist arrived to find an empty home; the family had gone to harvest a distant farm. Jadil waited alone in the homestead and as he pondered what to do, he spotted a girl sweeping the cattle shed. The girl abandoned her work, entertained him, gave him a drink of water and cooked him a meal of chicken.

Upon their return, the family found the jadil laying out his paraphernalia ready to take instructions. Pointing to the back of the house where he thought the girl had gone, he commended the parents for having such an industrious daughter who had entertained him in their absence. The awestruck father quipped, “Mano nende e en!” (That was the one!). The Jadil had been a guest of the ghost they had hired him to expel. The terrified Jadil gathered his tools and fled!

Could it be that the good bishop, like the jadil, is entangled with the corruption he is supposed to vanquish? For, as soon as Oginde began his term, President Ruto’s government prosecutors withdrew several corruption cases brought against his allies. Even though in July 2022 a Kenyan court had ordered Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua to repay KSh202 million (US$1.65 million) having determined that the sum constituted the proceeds of corruption, the ruling was mysteriously reversed and Gachagua refunded. Graft in Kenya is inextricably intertwined with governance.

Although Oginde affirmed that the best way to fight corruption is to adopt a top-down approach following the example of Rwanda, he should have weighed heavily the question raised by Hon Farah Maalim, the member of parliament for Dadaab, who during Oginde’s hearing asked, “Are you willing to be independent and go against your appointing authority to deal with corruption?” Job Ogonda, the Executive Director of the Kenyan chapter of Transparency international, contends that “the entire infrastructure of governance in Kenya is corruption”. Politicians must bribe voters to be elected and can only maintain their influence by awarding fishy public contracts.

Hasn’t the good bishop, like the jadil, entangled himself with the corruption he is supposed to vanquish?

Despite the wanton theft of billions, the corrupt are walking free. Such men, Pulitzer award-winning writer Chris Hedges, observed, are legally empowered to pillage the nation, amass obscene wealth, and wield unchecked political and legal control. Why has the EACC let go free corrupt elites who sacrifice nothing for society? It has held none of them accountable for their criminal behaviour.

Did President Ruto find a courtier in Bishop David Oginde? Why must Raila Odinga be calling out the EACC, as he recently did, to investigate and prosecute corrupt government officials?

If the theft of public funds through illegal withdrawals from the treasury that Hon Omtatah has flagged does not bother him and cause the EACC to investigate the goings-on in the petroleum sector, then Oginde should keep the promise he made at his confirmation hearing to resign “if I find the efforts that we are making are not helping”.

It is now clear that we are on our own. Abdullahi Abdille Shahow was right to opine that this looting continues unabated because of the weakened oversight of anti-corruption agencies. The lack of political will at the national level to fight graft is fuelling theft and corruption at all levels of government. These political elites are oligarchs who do not care about democracy. They are not interested in the consent of the governed. Worse still, Western governments support the oligarchs – as Chris Hedges observed, “They are legally empowered to pillage the nation, amass obscene wealth, and wield unchecked political and legal control.”

Unless we stop them, this class will dismantle the structures that make social bonds possible, seeing in them an impediment to profit. They care little about social and income inequality and as such, they are inflicting more damage on society, eviscerating jobs, and leaving us underemployed or unemployed. The job losses excite them because, as Karl Marx said, unemployment creates great pools of desperate surplus labour. So, we must not allow them to obliterate the primary social security networks; however feeble, they have held the nation together. The breaking of these bonds will set millions of Kenyans adrift.

With Karl Marx, we should see this alienation as a positive force, one that must make us question the structures of power that exploit us. This awareness should cause us to revolt. The moment we stop being afraid and use our collective strength, that will be the moment the power elites will become frightened of us. And then we will see the downfall of the system.

The people of South Korea dealt with corruption in their country through protest. In late October 2016, President Park Geun-hye’s aide, Choi Soon-sil, used her proximity to power to extort money from several business firms. According to investigations, Choi and President Park’s senior staff members, Ahn Jong-bum and Jeong Ho-sung, used their influence to extort 77.4 billion (US$60 million) from large family-owned business conglomerates including Samsung, Hyundai, SK Group, and Lotte, and established two culture and sports-related foundations – Mir and K-sports.

The moment we stop being afraid and use our collective strength, that will be the moment the power elites will become frightened of us.

These revelations triggered mass demonstrations in Seoul, where protestors called for the resignation of Park Geun-hye. Over 1 million citizens protested, demanding her resignation or impeachment at Gwanghwamun Square on 12 November. On 19 November, another 1 million citizens were at the national protest after President Park refused to cooperate with the investigation into her abuse of power. On 26 November, over 2 million people came out in protest, calling for the resignation of President Park.

Following the wave of protests, on 9 December 2016, 234 of the 300 members of the South Korean National Assembly voted to impeach and temporarily suspend Park Geun-hey’s presidential powers and duties. On 10 March 2017, the constitutional court of Korea upheld the impeachment in a unanimous 8–0 decision, thus removing Park from office. She was found guilty of abuse of power and sentenced to 24 years in prison on 6 April 2018. However, upon the prosecution’s appeal, the sentence was raised to 25 years and a fine of ₩20 billion (US$17.86 million) was imposed.

We need mass mobilisation and civil disobedience to defeat the oligarchs; these are the first steps necessary to win back Kenya. For we will only exorcise this life-sucking vampire by rising together in mass protest, as South Korean citizens did.