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Friday, February 15, 2008

East Africa can learn from Kagame and Kikwete

Rumour has it that Paul Kagame is the most sensitive East African President to issues regarding corruption. Those in close circles are rumoured to be terrified in his presence should some mad individual claim that such and such a public servant is on the take on matters below the table.

The fable goes that if a government minister or public servant is suspected to be corrupt, Paul Kagame does not have to wait for the courts to determine the authenticity of such claims. The individual concerned goes home immediately pending further investigations. And even if later found innocent, there is no guarantee that the individual will be reinstated. Kagame believes that lack of evidence is no proof that some smart alec never covered his tracks. In other words, if you are interested in working with him, you had better be like Caesar’s wife— beyond reproach!

Lately, we have been treated to a rare spectacle from Tanzania. There was some political upheaval of sorts. The Prime Minister went to parliament one morning, apparently in some foul mood. His juniors in Parliament had been fingering him for some time over some Anglo Leasing type of deal with some energy supplying firm in America. According to his accusers, the power deal that costs Tanzania $160,000 a month in offshore repayments has not even worked and that power rationing still goes on unabated. Because of this persistent fingering, he announced his resignation as the nation’s Prime Minister, a decision that triggered off two more resignations from the cabinet! What followed was even least expected. For corruption-related resignations from three members of Jakaya Kikwete’s cabinet, the President dissolved the entire cabinet!

Compare this to the Kenyan situation four years ago when the then Vice President, Attorney General, Finance Minister, Justice Minister, Education Minister and Internal Security Minister were the talk of the international and local audience for nearly two years. Instead of resigning, a number of them, including the Vice President, defiantly stayed put in their offices despite abundant negative publicity. When Justice, Finance and Education Ministers finally threw in the towel, it was a technical withdrawal to let the drums die down.

What Jakaya Kikwete, his Prime Minister and two other ministers have done is a good thing for the region and the EAC in particular. It may be symbolic for what it's worth, but it is proof enough that Tanzania has the political leadership that listens to its citizens, and that leadership has the courage to correct the mistakes that the citizens of Tanzania may be crying loud for. The reason Kenya is currently undergoing a crisis is because for years we have nurtured the culture of impunity. We have rigged elections for years without anybody going to jail for it. We have looted our own treasury for 18 years without a single individual going to jail for it. If anything, we have rewarded our looters with even better public jobs and more medals to go with them! We have robbed our banks left and right without the masterminds being taken to court and instead we have gone after whistleblowers and small fries. The big fish have remained intact.

The political class started it all to be swiftly followed by the public service cadre. When politicians at the highest level started condoning and succumbing to graft from crafty and shady business men, the top civil servants joined the gravy train to loot and plunder public coffers with abandon. Several attempts to arrest the situation or even correct it have been an uphill task. When President Kibaki swore to Kenyans in 2002 that he would deal decisively with the Moi era corruption scandals, his own administration bore an even uglier scum in the form of Anglo Leasing.Now five years later, the demon of Anglo Leasing has refused to die. It resides in London in the archives of one John Githongo, the man President Kibaki recruited to deal corruption a deadly blow.

How are Uganda and Burundi faring on the corruption index? Nobody will never really know until bubble burst as it did in Kenya in 2004 and in Tanzania four years later. However, for Tanzania, some public demonstration that some semblance of accountability still remained forced the Prime Minister and his two co-accused to resign. This is the way to go and the rest of East Africa had better take notice of Jakaya Kikwete and Paul Kagame’s attitude towards public graft.

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