Economic and pro-democracy groups in Kenya say one issue that any future government will have to contend with is corruption.
Mwalimu Mati is the CEO of the good governance and anti-corruption organization the Mars Group, in Nairobi. He said in Kenya, there are large-scale bribery scandals, with government officials implicated in the theft of tens of millions of dollars of public funds.
Mati said these scandals affect the political system. He said money buys the influence of political parties, which he said have no philosophical roots. As a result, he said neither politicians nor voters get involved in issues or ideas. Instead, politicians often base their appeals on tribalism, which he said harms nation building.
“Of the three leading parties in our general elections today,” Mati said, “none are older than three years, even though our leaders have been around for decades. So these parties are really election vehicles.”
He said they are supported by large amounts of money from unknown sources. He said one UN study recently revealed that more than half of all money supporting political parties could not be legally traced. Some fear the money could come from illicit arms sales.
“Grand corruption and the money it generates,” says Mati, “is a war chest for [creating] political power.”
Mati said ordinary people are also affected by the petty, or small-scale, bribery of lower level officials, including the police and bureaucracy. As a result, he said, “In Kenya, the very poor are paying several bribes per month which they can ill afford.” He said it’s for this reason as well that corruption has become a significant campaign issue, not just one supported by good governance groups.
Mati said whoever wins will have to tackle the problem. Both leading candidates say they will do so, and President Mwai Kibaki says he will introduce what he calls a “clean hands” cabinet of officials untainted by corruption. Opposition supporters say that should have been a priority over the last five years.