Nairobi – Kenya’s president promised on Thursday to take personal charge of a battle against corruption and said anyone in office cited in a report by an anti-graft watchdog should step aside pending investigation, regardless of their rank.
President Uhuru Kenyatta made the fight against graft a priority on taking office in 2013, but critics say he has failed to sweep out corrupt officials in a nation where corruption is seen as a major obstacle to business and law enforcement.
Past Kenyan governments have made similar commitments to fight corruption, only to have the campaigns fizzle away.
In a state of the nation address to parliament, Kenyatta said he had issued an order directing civil servants who felt pressure to engage in unethical or illegal acts to contact his office, regardless of who was pushing them.
He said a new report had been handed to him by Kenya’s Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission that “contains a catalogue of allegations of high-level corruption touching on all arms and levels of government.”
Without citing names, he said any officials “adversely mentioned in this report” regardless of seniority should step aside pending investigation.
The president said he would pursue convictions in present and past scandals, including the Anglo Leasing affair that began before Kenyatta took office and in which multi-million dollar security sector contracts were awarded to non-existent firms.
“The rhetoric suggests he is serious. The actions don’t match,” said Samuel Kimeu, executive director of the Kenyan branch of anti-graft non-governmental organisation Transparency International.
Kimeu said in many nations it was routine for officials named in probes to step aside during investigation. “I think it would be a big deal if it weren’t for the contradictions,” he said.
Other Kenyan governments have also promised action without delivering, critics say.
When former President Mwai Kibaki first came to office in 2002, he appointed an anti-corruption czar, John Githongo, who then turned whistle-blower against the state, accusing the government of sidelining his work.
The government denied this.
Western diplomats often cite corruption as a factor deterring investment, adding to business costs and making it difficult to battle Islamist militancy and other threats.
Some Kenyan security officials quietly admit police are often ready to accept bribes to allow people to the porous border with Somalia illegally and to purchase fake passports.