In the face of the Eurobond, National Youth Service (NYS) and Afya House corruption scandals, to name just a few — and amidst claims that devolution has led to the localisation of graft — there is a growing sense that corruption is at an all-time high.
This is clearly a source of popular anger, as citizens bemoan the diversion of public funds into private pockets and political campaigns. Nevertheless, endemic corruption does not yet appear to have significantly reduced President Uhuru Kenyatta’s chances of re-election.
But how can this sense of popular frustration with the current national and county level administrations and ongoing support for the President in many quarters be reconciled?
First, many, rightly or wrongly, seem to believe that the problem is not the President — who, as someone recently explained to me “is a good guy who already has a lot of money” — but the people around him. An understanding that only seems to have been reinforced by recent media coverage of a “blame game” between Anne Waiguru and Deputy President William Ruto over the NYS corruption scandal.
Second, many Kenyans are simply not convinced that the opposition would do a better job. For some, this is an issue of policies and approach. The idea is that, while Raila Odinga and his allies might steal less money if they were in power, they might do an even worse job at managing the economy overall.
For others, this is an issue of popular political scepticism — politicians are members of the same elite, and they are all corrupt. This perception gains some credence from the fact that Cord-controlled counties seem to be just as corrupt as those controlled by Jubilee.
However, some go further and point to a rot that has set in from top to bottom. In this vein, Peter Ngare wrote in the Daily Nation recently: “Do not be deceived that it is only the government that has been breast-feeding that animal called corruption. The opposition, preachers, private companies, civil society, and even helpless Wanjiku are all party to nurturing unstoppable corruption”.
This overview is clearly an oversimplification, but it raises at least two important questions.
First, if Jubilee is re-elected next year, what impact (if any) will a burgeoning sense that it is the people “around the President” who are to blame for many of the current corruption scandals have on the Alliance’s future?
Second, and more importantly in the immediate future, will Cord — or a new proposed super alliance — manage to persuade Kenyans that they would provide a more effective and cleaner government?
The answer to this second question is critical as it will help determine who wins next year’s election. Since, while Jubilee and Cord have both retained much of their support in key strongholds, both alliances need to ensure that people in these areas register and turn out to vote, and that they attract a larger proportion of the fairly sizeable number of swing voters who are currently unimpressed with all of the available options.
The opposition is clearly trying to ensure that the question is answered in their favour. For example, in a recent opinion piece, Odinga refers repeatedly to the idea of the Jubilee administration as a “bandit government”.
According to Odinga, “A kleptocracy is taking roots here. It is stealing public resources to buy and retain power and to create an absolute dictatorship bordering on a royalty and a monarchy. If we don’t stop it, nobody will”.
However, such words would be much more powerful if they were associated with a clearer message of exactly how Cord would tackle corruption, and action on the same. In this way it is significant that the opposition’s recent about turn on Waiguru — after she cast aspersions on the Deputy President — suggests that the stance is not necessarily ideological, but about undermining their opponents.
Similarly, the failure to address corruption in Cord-controlled counties undermines a narrative of difference between the good guys and the bad guys, or the cops and robbers.
The implication is that there is still everything to play for in next year’s election, and that the blame game on corruption is likely to continue to take centre stage.
Ms Lynch is an Associate Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Warwick (firstname.lastname@example.org; @GabrielleLynch6)