Despite some improvement over the past decade, corruption in Kenya remains rampant: Kenya is ranked 128 among 180 nations in 2021 in terms of perceived corruption, after climbing from position 124 in 2020. Democratic elections are also meant to help keep malpractice and fraud under check. Regrettably, a number of those seeking elective seats in the coming elections have tainted integrity.
Most of them are in breach of the leadership and integrity tenets as enshrined in Chapter 6 of the Constitution of Kenya of 2010, others have been named adversely by statutory agencies or prosecuted for corruption, economic crimes and abuse of office or other criminal offences.
As such, the electorate in Kenya is at risk of electing to public office individuals who are likely to transform the seeds of corruption into trunks of impunity, those who can’t be held accountable, and will not be transparent in the delivery of public services. The cost of electing such leaders will be borne by citizens through broken promises to provide effective public services, as witnessed recently when the country experienced a surge in the cost of living due to rising food and fuel prices. Even worse, Kenya is losing a third of its budget annually to corruption and caving under a high level of public debt.
The genesis of the fight for leadership with integrity in Kenya
The promulgation of the Kenyan Constitution in 2010 was heralded as the start of far-reaching changes in Kenya’s governance structure, giving emphasis to integrity, ethics, and sound leadership. Chapter 6 of the Constitution provides for the principles of leadership and integrity. Further, the Constitution established the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) in Article 79 as the national dedicated and premier anti-corruption agency.
Moreover, Article 180 (2), Article 99(1)(b), and Article 193 (1)(b) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, and the Elections Act, No. 4 of 2011, set out the bare-minimum moral and ethical standards for those seeking to vie for Presidential, Gubernatorial positions, Members of Parliament, and Members of County Assembly. Further, the Leadership and Integrity Act, 2012 necessitates candidates seeking to be cleared to contest for elective seats to make and deposit a self-declaration form that entails among others answering moral and ethical questions. Article 232 also states the values of public services including high standards of professional ethics.
Chapter 6 is clearly predicated upon the assumption that state officers are the nerve centre of the Republic and carry the highest level of responsibility in the management of state affairs and, therefore, their conduct should be beyond reproach. Under the Constitution, Kenyans decreed that those whose conduct does not bring honour, public confidence and integrity have no place in the management of public affairs.
The current state of affairs in ensuring ‘clean leadership’
Despite these existing policies and legislative and institutional frameworks to ensure that the country has leaders of integrity, little has been achieved and there is still nothing to smile about.
Just before the official campaign period commenced, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) exercised its mandate and conducted integrity verification of 21,863 aspirants who were seeking to vie for elective offices, identifying 241 individuals (i.e. about 1% of all those whose profile was examined) who had fallen short of the moral and ethical standards for election to public office, and subsequently forwarding the names to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The EACC’s 241 list lent credence to the RedCardCampaign2022 by The National Integrity Alliance, which backlisted 25 individuals who are not fit to serve in any appointive or elective public office for breach of leadership and Integrity tenets as enshrined in Chapter 6 of the constitution, since some of the individuals RedCarded were also blacklisted by EACC, reinforcing the need to stop them from ascending to public office.
Unfortunately, from the list of 241 blacklisted individuals, only 1 was barred from contesting, all hail to the Supreme Court of Kenya’s ruling that was delivered at an opportune time upholding his impeachment from the office of governor of Nairobi County – the seat of Kenya’s capital. In the ruling, the Supreme Court ascertained that Chapter Six of the Constitution was not enacted in vain or for cosmetic reasons; that the authority assigned to a state officer is a public trust to be exercised in a manner that demonstrates respect for the people; brings honour to the nation and dignity to the office; and promotes public confidence in the integrity of the office.
The Court ruling not only set a precedent but also affirmed that there is no grey area in the Constitution when it comes to ensuring that leaders with questionable integrity have no place in the management of public affairs.
However, blocking 1 candidate from a list of 241 is akin to baby steps towards the journey of leadership with integrity in the country because some of these corrupt and unethical political aspirants, the 240, sieved through the electoral vetting institutions charged with the implementation of Chapter 6 of the constitution on leadership and integrity.
Specifically, IEBC while clearing some of the blacklisted individuals based its decision on Articles 99(3) and 193(3) which state that an individual is not disqualified from an election until they have exhausted all levels of appeal, and read this in isolation, oblivious to other provisions such as in Articles 99(1)(b) and 193(1)(b) of the Constitution, that require the enforcement of mandatory moral and ethical threshold in considering individuals for public office.
Saving Kenya from unethical leadership
The electoral vetting institutions, abdicating their mandate, thus presented to Kenyans unsieved leaders to choose from at the ballot. This necessitates the need for a joint vetting framework to seal the porous sieve in vetting candidates for public office. The framework should include an analysis of the aspirants’ financial integrity, their criminal record, professional conduct, and verifying authenticity of their education qualifications.
As a proactive remedy, Kenyan citizens being the last line of defence must now act more proactively by rejecting at the ballot individuals seeking public office that have been convicted or have pending corruption and economic crimes cases, and those who have acted in breach of the leadership and integrity tenets as enshrined in the Constitution.
On 9th August 2022, when Kenyans wake up to cast their votes, they must invoke Article 1 of the Constitution of Kenya of 2010 and exercise their sovereignty through strict actions that can change the fate of this country. Kenyans should be aware that if unethical and corrupt individuals are not prevented from ascending to public office, then citizens’ desires for leadership that will provide solutions will remain a pipe dream.