Pres. Kenyatta meets Kenyan bishops: Was corruption on the agenda?

It is almost a year now since Pope Francis made his first trip to Africa, visiting Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic. In Kenya, the Pope had tough words on corruption, in response to a question posed to him when he met with young people at Kasarani Stadium, in the capital Nairobi.

“Corruption is something that eats inside, like sugar. Sweet—we like it, it is easy,” said Pope Francis. “And then we end up in a bad way. So much sugar that we end up being diabetic, or our country ends up being diabetic.” Just three days before Pope Francis’ arrival in Nairobi, a member of President Kenyatta’s cabinet, Ms. Anne Waiguru, had resigned under a cloud of corruption allegations relating to contracts for a youth empowerment project. As we speak, the scandal is the subject of ongoing investigations by the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly, the Criminal Investigations Department, and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.

In just the last few days, fresh allegations of possible fraud have emerged, this time, at the Ministry of Health. A leaked interim internal audit report raised questions about double payments for deliveries of medical supplies and suspicious payments to suppliers, as well as doubts about construction projects for medical facilities. The total amount in question was put at 5 billion Kenya shillings (approximately 50 million US dollars). Some of the companies alleged to have received payments are run by relatives of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

As expected, the media are having a field day with the revelations, as the cabinet secretary in charge of the health ministry scrambled to defend his turf, claiming in his latest statement that the amount being scrutinized by the internal auditor was actually 3.2 billion Kenya shillings (about 32 million US dollars).

The country is in a bad way.

It is in this context that on Tuesday, November 2, a delegation of Kenyan bishops, led by Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi and Bishop Phillip Anyolo of Homabay—chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops—met with President Kenyatta at State House in Nairobi. While the communications department at State House was quick to put out a statement on the content of the discussions, the bishops’ conference has yet to give its version of what transpired.

According to State House, the bishops “thanked President Kenyatta and his government for investing in Kenya’s economic development.” The statement goes on to say that the bishops “expressed gratitude to the president and his government for maintaining a peaceful and conducive environment for investors, business people, visitors, and the general public.” As expected, the government statement makes no reference at all to corruption, only vaguely indicating that “the bishops urged the government to continue putting measures in place to ensure the milestone achieved so far is not derailed by those not interested with the well-being and progress of the country.”

In contrast, the local television station that first broke the story of alleged fraud at the health ministry reported that the bishops did tackle the corruption issue, and that they asked for the resignation of government officials under investigation. This demand would seem consistent with a press statement issued by the bishops’ conference in April, in which the bishops were clear that “those holding public positions and linked with corruption must step aside immediately to pave way for investigation.” Like Pope Francis, they used the imagery of disease, describing corruption as a “cancer killing our country,” but adding, “We can’t give up. Now is the time to rise and face this malignant disease with all the weapons we have.”

About two weeks ago, President Kenyatta hosted a forum for stakeholders on governance and accountability issues, at which corruption was the major theme. Broadcasted live on television, key government agencies traded accusations as to who should take blame. The attorney general passed the buck to the judiciary, saying that was the “weakest link” in the quest for justice. The president of the Court of Appeal, the second highest court in the country, in turn said the Office of Public Prosecutions presented weak cases in courts, leading to low conviction rates. In equal measure the director of Public Prosecutions blamed the police for shoddy investigations—and the blame game continued, at which point a visibly angry President Kenyatta walked into the room.

As Kenyans wait for confirmation from their bishops on what exactly the bishops said to President Kenyatta, they can only take solace in the bishops’ April 2016 statement: “We call upon the citizens of this country to be vigilant and expose all the thieves who should then be made to return the money they have stolen and made to face the law. Let us all fight the evil within us, let us commit ourselves individually and collectively to reject any form of corruption that is destroying our social fabric. As your Church leaders we are prepared to join and support efforts to create a society of love, peace, and integrity. May the message of Pope Francis burn within the hearts of all people of Kenya like the Emmaus Disciples and inspire us into action.”

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About Allen Ottaro 32 Articles
Allen Ottaro lives in Nairobi, Kenya, where he is a parishioner at St. Paul’s Catholic University Chapel in the Archdiocese of Nairobi. He is a co-founder of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, and is the former national coordinator of MAGIS Kenya.