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Monday, December 11, 2023

Strong political will critical for addressing systemic corruption


By Mohamud M. Abdi

The late President JF Kennedy, the 35th president of the USA and the youngest to be elected in office, epitomised a man of great courage and vision. He came into office amid enormous turmoil and challenges: the Cold War, nuclear war tensions with the Soviets and low economic growth. He used his position to navigate through all that and made Americans the most optimistic and active citizens of that time.

In his memorable peace speech in June 1963, he called upon the world powers to peacefully resolve conflicts. He particularly beseeched America to change their attitudes, for the better, towards their enemies. 

Further afield, the story is the same for Singapore’s Lee Kwaun Yew and President Seretse Khama of Botswana. Both leaders are celebrated for building their nations on a responsive, accountable and working public sector platform. Their words and actions inspire many to lift their people from the rubble and make their nations oases of good governance and prosperity.

Back at home, Kenyans mention President Kibaki with nostalgia. They remember him, especially his first term, as a transformative leader.  He assumed office after years of bad governance, dictatorship and corruption by the KANU regime. He drove the country on a trajectory of reforms, especially in the public sector. The enactment of new laws and review of public sector governance policies galvanised the country’s mood as a working and prosperous nation.  This is the only time Kenyans were rated the most optimistic people in the world.

Throughout the world, leaders shape the culture and set the vision of a country. They define how bureaucrats should run the affairs and business of the State. Their beliefs, values and thoughts form the governance philosophy and guide those in critical positions. The words, pronouncements, and actions of leaders significantly impact decision-making. Those in public offices take cues from the pronouncements and actions of the head of government. Understandably, every Government institution has to align its policies and allocate resources to realise the mission of the Government of the day.

Like any reasonable and competent leader, every head of government has to set the tone to fix the people’s most pressing and immediate concerns upon assuming office. In Kenya today, the high cost of living, unemployment, endemic corruption and poor service delivery of public institutions are the issues bedevilling the country. Corruption and bad governance remain the overarching problem that not only precipitates and aggravates but impedes efforts to address the other challenges. Graft is endemic and poses an existential problem to Kenya.

Therefore, leaders must use their positions strategically to address the runaway corruption and bad governance that are the Achilles’ heel of the nation. In every sector, graft and wastage, if not addressed swiftly and decisively, will hamstring every effort to fix the development agenda. All government institutions are one allocation away from a scandal. Corruption and bad governance are the malignant tumour that consumes efforts to grow the nation and better the lives of Kenyans. Any serious leader must address corruption and bad governance as a priority. 

Among others, demonstrable strong political will is crucial; others are enacting tougher laws to make corruption a high-risk venture, and strengthening independent law enforcement institutions.

Kenyans, at both levels of government, want to hear, see and feel their leaders’ words and actions to address lousy governance. Leaders’ words and actions are contagious; they sink deep and define the behaviour of any institution. This will also inspire public confidence and inject hope for better governance in the people. Leaders should use the entrusted powers and authority to commit to making sound decisions and better service delivery to the people. Such commitment will form the basis of accountability for their actions.

The single major challenge to implementing anti-corruption reforms has been the lack of strong political will. Corruption and bad governance are the children of political decisions. Well-intended leaders have established strong and independent institutions to deal with corruption. By strengthening and resourcing institutions of governance, the political leadership will not only set the tone but also show by action the intentions to deal with vices.

The heads of government are judged by the levels of commitment to walk the talk and leave a legacy of a better-governed nation. In dealing with Corruption, it should not be business as usual. Corruption is a political problem in Kenya. It is a gift of bad governance by successive governments and the creation of extractive institutions that serve the interests of a few and those in authority. It requires a strong, sustained and unwavering resolve from the head of government to undo this.  

Among others, demonstrable strong political will is crucial; enacting tougher laws to make corruption a high-risk venture, strengthening independent law enforcement institutions, public office appointment on merit, personal integrity and competence, and separation of powers. The bureaucrats should be given the space to implement the policies. Otherwise, the opposite will be rife for conflict of interest.

Kenyans yearn for the leadership to bring public confidence and trust in public institutions by decisively addressing corruption at all levels. Any leader who walks the talk and fulfils that promise will not only achieve the objectives of serving the nation and improving the lives of the people but will also be remembered as the messiah who saved the nation from the fangs of a dangerous monster of corruption and delivered them to the promised Land. (

The writer is a lawyer and governance analyst; @inasaney, msaney25@gmail.com

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