In response to the article titled â€œHow Kenyas Top Investors Make Billions at NSEâ€, someone on the site Mwakilishi made the following comment:
â€œEveryone is guilty in Kenya especially the prominent and who is in Kamiti? Raila, Biwot (sic), Moi, Kibaki, Ruto, Kamlesh. We all know nobody goes to jail for stealing lots of money. We should give them amnesty so they reinvest back.â€
The comment was prompted by the feel-good story some Kenyans tell themselves that the countryâ€™s top â€œinvestorâ€ (my quotes) Chris Kirubi made his fortune through astute investment and business acuity. I would argue that most fair-minded Kenyans would beg to differ and question, indeed doubt the probity of how Mr. Kirubi and most prominent Kenyans made their money.
Another commenter then offered a very Kenyanesque response to those questioning the source/origin of Mr. Kirubiâ€™s wealth:
â€œDo you know many Kenyans depend on Kirubi investments -- (sic). He is spreading the wealth unlike you behind the screenâ€!
According to this commenter, the fact that â€œmany Kenyans depend on Kirubiâ€™s investmentsâ€ absolves him from any wrong-doing he may have committed while acquiring said wealth. Put another way, so long as these â€œMasters of Ill-Gotten Gainsâ€ -- the converse of Mutahi Ngunyiâ€™s â€œMasters of Povertyâ€ or â€œLords of Povertyâ€ -- are â€œjob creatorsâ€, then itâ€™s all good i.e. they should not be called to explain how they acquired their wealth and can â€œtenderpreneurâ€ all they want!
** A â€œtenderpreneurâ€ is a portmanteau of "tender" and "entrepreneur" and is a person who uses their political power, influence and connections to secure government tenders and contracts. For a tutorial on tenderpreneurship, read about the scandal oozing out of Ann Waigurus ministry.
While I agree that DJ Chris has indeed transformed his â€œhumbleâ€ beginnings into successful investments, a forensics of how he acquired his â€œseed capitalâ€ reveals a level of malfeasance that would have landed him in jail in most countries except Kenya. At a minimum, Christopher Kirubiâ€™s past dealings would have tainted his reputation and made him a persona non grata in business circles.
Living and working in Silicon Valley for the past twenty years has given me a perspective on wealth and wealth generation that is decidedly different than anything I could have imagined growing up in Kenya. I have had a front row seat to the process of wealth-creation that is singularly dependent on oneâ€™s creativity, hard work and determination. And while most can make a compelling case that (corporate) Silicon Valley is cliquish, indeed sexist and racist, I can also attest that entry into the cliques is more a function of the qualities or attributes one brings to the table: Think Pichai Sundararajan, an American of Tamil descent whose brilliance propelled him to the helm of the worldâ€™s premier search engine Google.
Simply put, the Valley has given me an appreciation AND absolute respect for the process of creating wealth through honest and hard work, the former a relative construct but one that even Robert Mugabe believes does not exist in Kenya! The corollary of my decades-long experience in the Bay Area is absolute eschewment and abhorrence of wealth-creation predicated on blatant patronage and outright theft of public resources: The modus operandi in Kenya as illustrated by information readily available in the public domain. A Google word search on â€œKenyaâ€ and â€œCorruptionâ€ yielded 25,300,000 hits in 0.48secs with the top result being the New York Times piece title â€œAn Anticorruption Plea in Kenya: Please, Just Steal a Little.â€
As alluded to in my book â€œWUODHA: My Journey from Kenya to these United Statesâ€, it is one thing to employee the service of a lobbyist to push through a favorable agenda in the legislature. This is frequently done by the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, HP, Apple and Google etc. However, these companies and others like them were not started using seed money obtained from fleecing a parastatal, grabbing a parcel of land set aside for a school or land arrogated from departing foreigners. No, Zuckerberg, Gates, Packard, Jobs and Brin started their respective companies in their respective dorm rooms, garage or basement.
They did so with money from friends, family and venture capitalists.
Maybe itâ€™s my Diaspora-tainted perch but the correlation between wealth and political connection in Kenya is now total and the notion that the likes of Chris Kirubi are â€œentrepreneurs and industrialistsâ€ is not supported by the facts available in the public domain. The same applies to virtually the â€œWhoâ€™s Whoâ€ in Kenya: Kenyattas, Mois, Kibakis, Odingas and frankly most wealthy Kenyans -- a very sad commentary on the countryâ€™s history. This is the very point the comment at the beginning of this post alludes to:
That most â€œrichâ€ Kenyans are guilty of corruption and malfeasance yet none has ever been imprisoned (in Kamiti Prison).
It is also this depressing reality that makes it absolutely impossible for any of Kenyaâ€™s current corps of leaders -- scions or protÃ©gÃ©s of the afore-mentioned whoâ€™s who -- to make a credible and sustained war against corruption and impunity because â€œmany Kenyans depend on â€˜theirâ€™ investmentsâ€; ostensibly to survive.
Given the ease and impunity with which Kenyans are now stealing from one another, I think it is time the government gave serious consideration to offering amnesty to those who have been implicated or mentioned in gaining wealth through nefarious means. Obviously the legalities of the amnesty (process) would have to be worked out and vetted, by external non-Kenyan observers I would argue, but there is absolutely no way the country will contain, let alone rid itself of the scourge if it does not draw the line on corruption and ill-gotten wealth THEN exact swift and punitive measures on any offender thereafter.
By Washington Osiro | firstname.lastname@example.org