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Kenya: Do Pandora allegations affect Kenyatta’s ability to pressure Ruto?

By Jeff Otieno
Posted on Thursday, 21 October 2021 11:32

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta in Paris, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP, File)

President Uhuru Kenyatta's moral standing as Kenya’s top anti-corruption tsar has taken a major hit following revelations that his family owns offshore accounts worth millions of dollars. Will the Pandora Papers affect his fight against the vice?

Two years ago, at a national anti-corruption conference, Kenyatta said it would not be just a talking shop.

“Today we shall turn the tide in the war against corruption, creating the platform for victory against a vice that has impeded our economic and social development as a nation,” he said.

The president announced that the government would engage its international partners in mutual legal-aid actions, increased repatriation of proceeds of crime held outside the country, extradition of suspects and receipt of key evidence to support cases in Kenya and abroad.

“[…] no matter which corner of the globe one hides funds [that have been] stolen from Kenya, […] illicit wealth is no longer beyond the reach of the government[…],” he said.

‘Our wealth is known to the public’

In 2018, Kenyatta told the BBC that “what we own is open to the public. As a public servant, I’m supposed to make my wealth known and we declare [it] every year.”

“If there is an instance where somebody can say that what we have done or obtained has not been legitimate, say so – we are ready to face any court,” he said, insisting that his legacy would be one of transparency.

Following the recent revelation that his family owns offshore investments, including a company with stocks and bonds worth $30m, Kenyatta welcomed the leak, saying it would “go a long way in enhancing the financial transparency and openness that we require in Kenya and around the globe.”

Owning an account in a foreign country is not illegal in Kenya, but public servants must first seek clearance from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC). Once approval is issued, the public servant is required to submit an annual bank statement to the commission not later than January 31 of each succeeding year.

‘Questions on war against corruption’

Though the Pandora Papers did not find any wrongdoing on the part of the Kenyan president, there are questions as to how his family acquired the wealth and why they chose to store their wealth in tax havens.

“President Kenyatta has constantly [said] that people should declare their wealth. He has been […] saying he wants to fight corruption. Though it is not illegal to own offshore accounts, it is immoral […],” says Gladys Boss, the female representative for Uasin Gishu County, and an ally of William Ruto, the deputy president.

The president will really struggle to explain to Kenyans how he will be able to lobby investors to come and invest in this country when he himself has no confidence in this country.”

“You cannot be leading a country that is suffering economically and you are taking your wealth out of the country especially when a lot of the wealth was made in this country. The immorality of it all is really significant. Parliament must urgently discuss this issue because that is how countries have collapsed,” she says.

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, who is also close to the deputy president, concurs with Boss. “Why should accounts be secret? The source must have a problem. If the source is proper you do not need to put money in a secret account,” he says.

Gachagua argues that the marketing campaigns for Kenya as an investment destination will take a hit following the leak.

“The president will really struggle to explain to Kenyans how he will be able to lobby investors to come and invest in this country when he himself has no confidence in this country,” he says.

Members of the civil society also say the head of state has lost face in the fight against corruption as well as the bid to promote transparency and accountability.

“We need to know where the entire amount of money came from, how the family acquired it. However, the bottom line is that the president’s reputation and credibility is gone,” Ndung’u Wainainah, a human rights activist, told KTN.

John Githongo, CEO of Inuka Kenya, does not expect any changes despite the leak and the president’s ‘positive’ response. “The best predictor of future behavior is […] past behavior. Previous statements about transparency have not helped much so I think confidence is low that the leak will be treated differently,” he told KTN.

Richard Onyonka, deputy party leader of Ford Kenya, however cautions Kenyans against politicising the leak. “All these rich people hide their money out there. Kenya’s problem is not about the KSh3bn revealed by the Pandora Papers. Kenya’s problem is that we borrowed KSh1.2trn ($10.8bn) and half of it was used well, while the other half was siphoned out of the country.”

‘Preaching water and drinking wine’

Just weeks before the Pandora Papers leak, Kenyatta’s allies had demanded that Ruto declare his source of his wealth. Fred Matiangi, the interior cabinet secretary, had appeared before a parliamentary committee in September and said the deputy president owns over 18,000 acres of real-estate properties, two high-end hotels, five helicopters and a chicken farm.

Subsequently, Raphael Tuju, the secretary general of the Kenyatta-led Jubilee party, said Ruto had previously declared that he was worth KSh100m ($900,900), but seven years after becoming the deputy president, he had acquired assets like choppers, hotels and land worth billions of shillings.

“As a Christian, he should give Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” said Tuju, in reference to revenues that the deputy president reportedly earns from his business empire.

However, the tables have now turned and Ruto’s allies are scoring partisan points as they accuse the president of preaching water and drinking wine.

‘Stringent financial laws’

According to Francis Kairu, a policy officer at Tax Justice Network Africa, there is a need for African countries to tighten their financial laws to prevent transfer of funds to foreign countries.

“If you look at the countries that money is moving away from, [they are the ones] that need this money the most. If you look at the people involved in moving this money out, it is those who are well connected, those who hold certain political clout. […] some of the money that goes out is illicitly obtained, from proceeds of corruption, trafficking of ivory among other dirty dealings,” says Kairu.

“If profits are made in a developing country then let that money be left in that economy. That is the only way we can grow our economies, but if we are shifting them to tax havens, to countries that are well developed then there is a big problem,” he says.

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