State capture: The Kenyan edition

Nakuru, Kenya — A delivery of towels worth 20-million Kenyan shillings (R2.9-million) — to build a dam. A wall that costs R50.5-million a kilometre. A whopping R640 000 paid for just five 70-inch TVs — to compound the crime, only 65-inch screens arrived.

These are just a few of the corruption scandals that have rocked Kenyan politics this year, implicating some of the country’s most senior officials and laying bare the deep divisions between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his ambitious deputy, William Ruto.

It is Ruto’s chief of staff, Ken Osinde, whose name is at the centre of the biggest scandal. Some R3-billion was disbursed to an Italian firm to build two dams in Elgeyo Marakwet county. But the firm spent the money strangely, on items such as towels and tiles, leading to accusations of corruption.

The firm is now bankrupt, and the dams were never built. A hefty chunk of the misspent money — R6.7-million — was paid to Sanlam General Insurance, in which Osinde is a director. He denies any wrongdoing.

Implicated in the same scandal is Henry Rotich, the treasury secretary who allegedly rubber-stamped the dodgy deals.

He is a key ally of Ruto. He also denies any wrongdoing.

The focus on Ruto and Rotich have led to accusations that Kenyatta is selectively using corruption probes to go after his rivals in government. Ruto is famously ambitious and wants to succeed Kenyatta as president when he finishes his second term in office in 2022, but Kenyatta may prefer to install his own hand-picked successor. Kenyatta has firmly denied that he is involved in any score-settling.

Meanwhile, members of Parliament this month demanded an investigation into how a 10km section of wire fencing cost $350-million to build. The fence is supposed to run along all 700km of the Kenya-Somalia border, apparently to deter infiltration by terror groups and to discourage immigration, but construction has been halted.

As the BBC noted: “This is more than double the amount of money the Kenyan government has put aside for its strategic food reserves this year.”

But any investigation into the wall — which must be a contender for the world’s most expensive — may run up against another kind of barrier: this being a military project, the detailed accounts are classified.

Other corruption allegations implicate officials at all levels of government. Some Kenyans have had enough.

“It perturbs to see Kenyans struggling to place a single decent meal on the table, pay their bills and take their children to school, yet we hear of 21-billion shillings not being properly accounted for,” said Catholic Bishop John Obala, as reported by Nairobi News. “If we do not see the culprits of corruption being punished, then we are telling the younger generation that they do not have to work hard to earn a living but only be smart and steal from innocent Kenyans.”

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Njeri Kimani
Njeri Kimani is a journalist based in Nakuru, Kenya.

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