Two top-ranking officials in Kenya were charged with corruption this week in a $3 billion Chinese-built railway project, as part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s efforts to show no official is out of reach in the war on graft. However, some analysts question if the charges will lead to convictions or if they are simply political theater.
Kenya Railways’ managing director Atanas Maina and Lands Commission chairman Muhammad Swazuri are accused of overseeing $2 million in fraudulent compensation payments. More than a dozen other Kenyan officials and business people are also facing charges related to the illegal buying and selling of the state corporation’s land.
While the accused deny the charges, the arrests were hailed in Kenya as a rare crackdown on top-level corruption.
However, political analyst Linda Oloo says the prosecutions are less about systemic change and more about Kenyatta.
“Uhuru [Kenyatta] is more concerned about his legacy [and] how will history judge him after his presidency, so that is why he is trying to play the good-man syndrome right now, by doing things that will appeal to the general public. What he is doing is mostly for his image after office,” Oloo said.
In June, Kenyatta announced that all public servants would undergo a compulsory “lifestyle audit” to account for the sources of their income and assets.
Some argue it’s not all political theater.
Kenyatta and Swiss President Alain Berset signed an agreement aimed at helping Kenya recover corrupt assets stashed by Kenyan officials in Swiss banks.
In addition, Kenyatta’s director of public prosecutions has arrested top officials at Kenya’s National Youth Service, electric power provider, and more than a dozen firms accused of benefiting from illegal tenders and misappropriated funds.
And Kenyatta on Sunday declared his determination to win the war on graft, even if he has to go after his close associates.
“Over the last few weeks, I have lost many friends,” Kenyatta said. “Many have called me asking, ‘How can you be watching when all the destruction is going on?’ I say a time has come to fight impunity.”
Opposition leader Raila Odinga last year accused the president of diverting the railway to benefit the Kenyatta family. Odinga ceased his criticism in April after making a deal with Kenyatta to work together.
In June, a Kenyan lawmaker linked Kenyatta’s younger brother, Muhoho, to the importation of contraband sugar. In response, President Kenyatta said that if there is evidence, then his brother should be investigated and prosecuted.
But going after a sitting president’s family is unlikely in Kenya, and the National Land Accord Movement’s David Kimanzi doubts top officials will be among those punished.
“There has not been a single conviction of a person who has looted the public coffers. Every person now is looking for how it is going to be their turn to eat,” Kimanzi said.
Despite this week’s high-level arrests, there are still officials who are untouchable, according to Kimanzi. If you touch them, he says, you touch the very core of the government.