Friday, 24 July 2015

Boniface Mwangi: President Obama; Welcome to Mafia Country.

Other countries have mafia. In Kenya the mafia have a country. So President Obama; welcome to Mafia Country. Here the crooked rich call the shots and never have to worry about consequences. Kenya’s mafia is so entrenched that they can get Armenian mercenaries to serve as police commissioners. The Kenyans you mentioned in a 2011 drug list are busy enjoying their drug money without fear of arrest. Extradition orders issued by the United Kingdom in 2011 against two men for money laundering were stashed in judiciary dustbins.

This year alone, the Kenya Police have killed 13 people in peaceful demonstrations. Whistleblowers have been threatened. Since president Uhuru was elected in 2013, there hasn’t been a single conviction for corruption. Don’t get me wrong, he threatens corruption all the time - he even launched an anti-corruption website in 2013 and admitted that his office is the most corrupt but instead of firing and ensuring the corrupt were charged, they were transferred to other ministries. Once the heat died down, nothing happened.

Our president is surrounded by ‘yes’ men, hungry to loot, knowing fully well that the president is more concerned with public relations than actual work. Active citizens have been demonized because they are the only voices left. The opposition is disorganized, corrupt, and visionless and their aging leader has refused to democratize his party and pass on the baton.

I read that you and Michelle are worth $6million after six years as president. Consider this, an accountant working in the Nairobi County government earning $850 dollars a month accumulated $5 million dollars in a few months. In fact, every year the auditor general reports on billions misappropriated in government and still no one has been convicted. The government itself admitted it loses one-third of the national budget to corruption. In a 2.1 trillion budget, that means if the government stopped corruption, foreign aid would be unnecessary. In places like Turkana, almost everyone elected to date was an employee with an aid agency and was elected as thank you. That, President Obama, is the kind of democracy you are visiting.

Reforms, you suggest? We have tried those.

First we tried land reforms but President Kibaki and now Uhuru both refused to fully implement the Ndung'u report on illegal and irregular land allocation, commissioned specifically to guide such a process. We have every reason to fear that a repeat of the 2007-08 post-election violence will happen, encouraged by grievances over land ownership.

We tried judiciary reforms. They stalled because the rot is so entrenched that the man leading the reforms has been falsely attacked, finding himself alone as he finishes his time in office. We attempted Police reforms. The people implementing them discovered a way of "eating and cleansing" officers who can't explain their source of wealth.

In fact, the Kenya Police has been ranked the most corrupt institution in East Africa by Transparency international for years, and the Kenya Police, Ministry of Lands and Judiciary remain the most corrupt institutions in the country. These three institutions together have contributed to the stunting of our growth as a nation. I’m 32 years old and in my entire lifetime l can’t remember seeing or reading about someone working for any of these institutions being convicted for corruption.

Looks can be deceiving. For the two days you will be in Nairobi, the areas you will visit will be the cleanest, safest spaces. Street families have been rounded off the streets and those flowerpots near State House are just for you. Once you leave, there will be leaks over inflated “Obama” tenders and as usual no one will be charged. There will be outrage for a few days and then we shall go back to our "normal" accustomed to the theft in government. Our normal tolerates evil, would lynch a man who steals to fend for his family, and proudly puts thieves in office.

We “ordinary” citizens help entrench impunity by our inaction. We look the other way when evil happens because we are scared. We vote for our tribes, and defend our thieves while some of us steal from accident victims. Trust me, economic terrorists have done more harm in this country than Al-Shabaab will ever do. But you will be safe from Al-Shabaab because 15,000 police officers (10% of the total police force) have been assigned to secure the city during your visit.

You will discuss terror without noticing the irony. In Northern Kenya more than 100 schools have been closed because of insecurity but the victims of terror are now treated as suspects. Our president has no strategy for tackling terror; first blaming the opposition, then profiling Somalis and rounding them up in internment camps. The government’s policies are radicalizing our peaceful Somali population – as a black man in America you know the impact that profiling has on the individual and the community. Eastleigh is our Ferguson and we also can’t breathe.

Our leaders will keep you away from these issues. They will drive you on brand new roads, fixed in weeks after being neglected for decades, just for you. Enjoy your stay. Don’t stray far from your hotel or your second name Hussein may get you arrested by the Anti Terrorism Police Unit, without a due process stopover in court no matter how innocent you are. They may torture you and kill you, and never tell your family where your body can be found.

Mr. President, believe it or not, I am actually hopeful for Kenya. Hopeful that my peers will rise above tribalism, mediocrity and corruption and push for real change in the 2017 elections. However, that won't happen if the current electoral body is still in office. This is the same class of criminals recently implicated in the “Chickengate” scandal, and while their criminal counterparts in the United Kingdom were jailed, the Kenyans were "cleansed” after sharing the chicken with the investigators.

We hope your visit will push our president to fight corruption from the highest level. Tell him this: he, unlike witnesses against the powerful is safe. Unlike the whistleblowers, activists, investigative journalists and average Kenyans he is safe to do the right thing. He is under protection from an elite presidential guard ready to die for him. He can defeat the Kenya mafia and lose popularity with the corrupt but gain a whole country.

Tell him, many Kenyans think he can do better. Ask president Uhuru if he believes in himself. He has the power to change Kenya for better, but will he? Here’s hoping he starts chanting “Yes we can” fight corruption and build a better Kenya.

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