Corrupt Kenyan Officials are Now Afraid to Steal Public Funds
Abdi Latif Dahir.
The governor of Kenya’s capital city has made no secret of his love for bling: He has posted photos of a golden lion statue and a gilded dining room set, and has shown up at meetings draped in gold jewelry. At rallies, he hands out cash to supporters. The governor has also been accused of drug trafficking, was recently seen slapping a journalist, and was thrown out of Kenya’s starchy Parliament for wearing ear studs and sunglasses. But he has faced little in the way of serious consequences, until now.
On Friday, the governor, Mike Mbuvi Sonko was arrested and charged with money laundering and unlawful acquisition of property for his alleged involvement in a multimillion dollar corruption scandal.
In a news conference in Nairobi, Noordin Haji, the director of public prosecutions, accused Mr. Sonko of “deploying intimidation tactics” and “using goons to threaten law enforcement officials” who were trying to investigate the case.
Mr. Sonko denied the accusations against him on Friday, calling the commission’s investigation “shallow” and saying that he had not tried to evade arrest.“I want to confidently state from the onset that I am more than ready for the lawful course that will help us know the truth,” he said in a statement on Facebook.
The arrest of Mr. Sonko comes as President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed to crack down on corruption. Residents and international investors have long complained of corruption in Kenya, the business hub and richest economy in East Africa. Over the past year, Mr. Haji, the public prosecutor, has ordered the arrest of current and former public officials on charges such as dishing out millions of dollars for projects that only exist on paper.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, which led the investigation into the governor, said on Twitter that Mr. Sonko had been detained while trying to escape arrest at a roadblock in Voi, about 200 miles southeast of Nairobi, and was then transferred back to Nairobi.
The commission also announced the arrest on Friday of the former Nairobi County secretary, along with the former head of procurement.Thirteen other people were also listed as suspects in the corruption case announced on Friday, and they were asked to present themselves at the nearest police station. These included members of the county’s tender evaluation committee, along with directors of several companies.
The governor is not the only nationally prominent politician recently arrested in the crackdown. In July, Finance Minister Henry Rotich was arrested on corruption charges related to a multimillion-dollar project to build two massive dams, becoming the first sitting cabinet member to be charged with financial misconduct in Kenya. Mr. Rotich has denied the charges.
But while Mr. Kenyatta has vowed to stamp out graft, critics have said that his administration isn’t serious about fighting corruption, calling it a mere public relations exercise. Efforts to tackle graft have also borne little results, according to the nongovernmental organization Transparency International.Mr. Sonko, who was elected in 2017, is serving his first term as governor. He was a member of Parliament for the Madaraka constituency in Nairobi starting in 2010, and was elected as a senator of Nairobi County in 2013.Nairobi, a city of about 3.5 million people, is both the capital of Kenya and the seat of Nairobi County. Besides being a financial hub for regional and global companies, it hosts dozens of embassies and consulates.
While Mr. Sonko has invited scrutiny for his showy lifestyle and colorful fashion, he has also drawn criticism for his management style. In November, lawmakers from Nairobi County said a “tragedy of untold proportions” was unfolding in the city, with poor public services and unpaid workers and suppliers. The leaders also criticized the governor for failing to appoint a new deputy after the previous one resigned in January 2018.
Mr. Sonko, who has taken to publicly sneering at his perceived detractors and critics, insists that he inherited an already dysfunctional city and that he would only pay legitimate suppliers upon verification of services offered.
As senator and now governor, Mr. Sonko has ingratiated himself with the public, and especially the city’s poor, by doling out cash at rallies and paying the school fees for needy students. He also established the Sonko Rescue Team, a group of youngsters who respond to emergencies, sweep streets and take clean water to poor areas.
On Thursday, the day before his arrest, Mr. Sonko received an award sponsored by the Kenya Red Cross and United Nations Volunteers for encouraging volunteering.
*Photo of Governor of Nairobi, Mike Sonko.