Answering an Urgent Call on Corruption
Op-Ed by U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec
The specter of corruption is haunting Kenya. It undermines the country’s security, prosperity, and even its democracy. It threatens Kenya’s very future. While there has been some progress recently in the fight against corruption, winning the war will require more and faster action.
To do our part, during his visit last July, President Obama joined President Kenyatta in making an unprecedented pledge committing the United States and Kenya to work together against corruption. In the Kenya-U.S. Joint Commitment on Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Activities in Kenya, the two leaders agreed to over 40 U.S. and Kenyan graft-fighting actions. It is a bold promise that, if effectively implemented, will significantly improve governance and accountability for all Kenyans.
What’s been accomplished so far? Under the pledge, Kenyan and U.S. investigators are collaborating on the creation of a special investigative unit to focus on cross-border crimes involving corruption. Likewise, special U.S. advisors experienced in building the rule of law are assisting the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, the National Police Service Commission, and the National Police Service’s Internal Affairs Unit to end impunity in the police service.
The Kenyan government has also developed a new ethics training curriculum that will soon be mandatory for all public officials. At Kenya’s request, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics consulted on the curriculum and provided examples of U.S. best practices. We will support the roll-out of the training to counties later this year.
Reform of the government procurement and contracting system is in the pledge, and has strong private sector support. We back the draft Anti-Bribery Act now before the National Assembly and urge parliamentarians to pass it to ensure all firms play by the same rules in procurement and contracting. The American Chamber of Commerce has joined the fight too, launching a working group on anti-corruption.
While these are all useful steps, they are not enough. Now is the time for decisive, quick action. We urge Kenya to deepen engagement with the Partnership on Illicit Finance, the Open Government Partnership, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. These widely-supported global initiatives offer Kenya expertise and valuable assistance to root out corruption.
Further steps to strengthen critical institutions and systems are essential. Kenya should finish rapidly the task of digitizing land and birth/death records, expanding eGovernment, and launching an effective online portal for registering and acting on corruption complaints. Taking these steps will reduce opportunities for corruption while improving government service to the public.
Most importantly, defeating corruption requires ending impunity and holding everyone, regardless of their position, accountable. We welcome the actions President Kenyatta has taken to do so, including removing cabinet officials accused of corruption, and support for key institutions, notably the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. There are more corruption cases pending before the courts now than at any time in Kenya’s history. Nevertheless, many more files await investigation. And, too many cases are languishing. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Judiciary must make sustained and visible progress toward trying and convicting those guilty of corruption, recovering their ill-gotten gains, and appropriately punishing them, including with jail time where appropriate. All must be equal before the law, including prominent suspects. We support the decision to constitute special anti-corruption courts, and urge quick action to ensure they fast-track cases.
Corruption remains the single greatest obstacle to a brighter future in Kenya. Americans understand the scope of the challenge. Our country is not perfect; we too have struggled with corruption throughout our history. However, when corruption is exposed in the United States, there are serious consequences. Our leaders – including a Vice President, members of Congress, state governors, judges, diplomats, and senior military officials – have left office, and some have served, or are serving, prison terms.
I reiterate my pledge to all Kenyans: in any case where the evidence points to crimes involving U.S. persons or the jurisdiction of the United States, U.S. authorities will thoroughly investigate, aggressively prosecute, and appropriately punish the perpetrators, regardless of their identity or stature. As we do the world over, we will continue to deny visas to those about whom we have substantial evidence of corrupt activities.
In the end, only Kenyans can stop corruption in Kenya. Doing so will take courageous action by leaders and citizens alike, and international partners are ready to help. This is a unique moment in your history. Never before has there been such sustained focus on the specter of corruption. And, never before has there been a promise from both the President of Kenya and the President of the United States to work hand-in-hand to fight it. Let’s seize the moment. Let’s end corruption in Kenya.