How politicians use intimidation to frustrate graft war
By SABINA AKOTH
A few weeks ago, a rowdy group of youths brought the Nairobi central business district to a standstill.
Their actions caught many by surprise as they protested the grilling of Governor Mike Sonko by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.
Bonfires were lit on the tarmac roads, motorists were harassed and security personnel threatened.
Sonko had been summoned to EACC offices to shed light on alleged corruption and mismanagement at City Hall, among other issues.
For many onlookers, the chaos was stage-managed to divert attention from the weight of the concerns by the commission and also as a warped show of love for, and devotion to, the governor by “ordinary folk”.
Just a few weeks ago, Mexico City turned into a war zone after the bungled arrest of drug lord El Chapo’s son in Culiacan. The militarised police had discovered the drug lord’s heir, Ovidio Guzman, in a safe house and were able to hold him in custody for a short moment. Their efforts were, however, thwarted by a band of fighters loyal to the drug lord and his cronies.
Photos and video footage from the incident show women fearfully clutching their children while their men searched hopelessly for safety amid gunfire. The world witnessed their fear and helplessness even as their homes and property went up in flames. What’s unfortunate is that the authorities had to release the young drug lord to stop loss of life and limb.
One can’t help noticing the similarities between the two events. It appears the overall agenda was to create fear, assert dominance and escape accountability.
Indeed, the relationship between the elite and various forms of violence is not a new phenomenon. We see it frequently in our socio-political order and its continued purveyance within our governance structures is not uncommon.
In fact, for many Kenyans, it is now almost a given that any prominent person whose conduct is brought before a court of law -— or the court of public opinion — has to enlist a bigger army of supporters to protect their name and image.
The degree of approach may vary, but the mode of operation sticks to intimidation and ultimately, the subversion of justice.
If Sonko’s excesses are anything to go by, this conduct has far-reaching consequences on our governance and particularly on our fight against corruption.
For starters, transparency cannot thrive where fear rules supreme. The use of gangs in this manner is often meant to deter present and future whistleblowers from disclosing improper or criminal actions in public entities.
Those who implicate the elite in any wrongdoing are often threatened with real and imagined dangers to their person or kin.
In other instances, societies are likely to choose peace, especially where the arrest of a powerful person is likely trigger strife and bloodshed.
Such an environment makes it difficult to nurture a culture of whistle-blowing or get public goodwill to effectively fight corruption and abuse of office.
Tied to this is also the threat to existing accountability structures. Like in the Mexican scenario, gangs can be used to arm-twist legitimate governments into abetting corruption. Left unchecked, criminal gangs can and do facilitate the creation of governments within governments.
That even militarised personnel can be intimidated into releasing a criminal shows the extent to which such unruly phenomena can flourish.
Most disturbing, however, is the presence and manipulation of youth in the cycles of corruption. Yet it is the young who are most affected by corruption in terms of their access to basic rights and services.
Young people also stand to suffer the most in the future where corruption thrives in the present.
Unfortunately, it is young who are most susceptible to misuse as gangs for hire as the elite subvert justice for their economic crimes.
We must, therefore, remain conscious of the nuances that impact our fight against corruption and the use of criminal gangs as an appendage for corruption is an additional undertone.
—The writer comments on socio-political and development matters