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All arms of government must help beat corruption

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The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), a culmination of a yearlong campaign to interview ordinary Kenyans across the country and compile a comprehensive list of our wants and needs, made many things loud and clear. We need more unity. To build a universal national ethos. To put an end to tribalism once and for all. To take responsibility for our actions. And much more.

But what really stood out is corruption. It is bad in many countries in Africa, but it’s even worse here. The BBI architects listed it as the greatest challenge we face as a nation right now: “Kenyans believe the system is rigged and that it rewards cronyism and corruption as opposed to production and hard work. Corruption is today the greatest risk to Kenya’s cohesion and security. Tackling corruption is the single most important mission Kenya has today.”

Well, it is true. These beliefs do not come from nowhere. The system is rigged against regular people, particularly against the poor. It encourages cronyism by regularly giving the wealthy, sometimes quite literally, a get out of jail free card.

But we have to make an important distinction. While the executive branch of government is trying to bring those who commit economic crimes to justice, there is only so much it can do. In Kenya, we have a democratic system of checks and balances whereby the judiciary is separate from the executive.

This is so that no single branch of government has too much power. So that everybody in a position of leadership is kept in check. We do not want a system where one person gets to make all of the decisions. In theory, this is ideal. In theory, it ensures the fairness of our democracy.

But sometimes, democracy is flawed. Sometimes, the practice does not meet the expectations of the theory. Just look at Israel, which recently had its third round of elections in one year because no single candidate can form a majority coalition.

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The goal of the election process there is to ensure that there are as many candidates representing as many opinions as exist. But the problem with that is that no one can agree on anything, and now they are left in a deadlock with a dysfunctional government.

Legally, democracy in Kenya is robust. But it does bring a few issues to the surface that we have to be creative about solving. It also causes us to be retrospective and reflect upon where to channel the blame.

What I am referring to is the fact that while the Executive branch hunts corrupt men and women in power, those involved in questionable procurement deals and those who have abused their power to secure lucrative government tenders, the Judiciary is not keeping up the pace.

It seems that certain judges here are just not on the same page. While Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti and his Public Prosecutions counterpart Noordin Haji build strong cases against alleged criminals, the fate of those criminals in a court of law often depends on their economic status and social connections. Take the recent case of MP Babu Owino, who may soon be acquitted even though he drew a gun on a DJ at a Kilimani nightclub.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s anti-corruption campaign is exactly what we need to really call out the big players. But the goodwill and the collaboration of judges also needs to be in place in order to change our country. Yes, Kenyan judges enjoy the democratic right to operate independently. It is time they filled those big shoes of responsibility and got to work administering justice where justice is due.

A criminal benefiting from the corrupt status quo may not have the Lord on his mind when he steals from the public or gets away with it in a court of law, but his day will come. But that is beyond our control. In the meantime, let us focus on our sublunary problems and begin calling attention to a flawed justice system. It is imperfect, but our democracy is a work in progress.





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