Kenya allows candidates convicted for corruption to contest polls

Kenya allows candidates convicted for corruption to contest polls

Picture this: a member of parliament fined $7m for corruption and handed a 67-year jail term; a top civil servant with an asset seizure order against her; lawmakers convicted of bribery, economic crimes and impersonating corruption investigators.

They are all standing for office in Kenya’s August 9 presidential and parliamentary elections, fuelling voter frustration over endemic corruption in a country long regarded as one of East Africa’s most vibrant democracies.

The government’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), recommended that 241 candidates be disqualified from running, but only five were.

The election board declined to comment on individual cases but said the constitution only allows it to reject candidates on the basis of convictions if they have exhausted all avenues of appeal.

“The politicians who crafted the constitution ensured they had a backdoor,” said Phillip Kagucia, the EACC’s deputy director. “That backdoor leaves us vulnerable to unethical leadership.”

Behind him, printouts of Bible verses about good governance decorate the wall.

The EACC’s list of candidates who should be disqualified, shared with Reuters news agency, included 55 people charged with criminal offences, three with convictions and 11 under investigation. Others were accused of forging education certificates or not resigning from public office, a requirement to run.

The leading presidential candidates, Deputy President William Ruto and veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, have promised to crack down on corruption. But their promises ring hollow to many disillusioned Kenyans.

“Corruption is a big issue,” said Daniel Musau, a motorbike taxi driver in Nairobi. “It makes people not vote … We see so many who don’t have vote cards because of this issue of corruption.”

Voter registration drives failed to get even half of the six million citizens targeted, one of the lowest levels since the advent of multiparty democracy in 1992.

Convicted candidates

Among those allowed to stand is John Waluke, member of parliament for the rural western constituency of Sirisia. He is on bail pending an appeal against a 2020 conviction for forging documents relating to a government contract to buy maize, for which he was sentenced to 67 years in jail and fined $7m.

Waluke said he expected a ruling by October from the Anti-Corruption Court; if that goes against him, he plans to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

“I was sentenced politically,” he said.

Lilian Muthoni Omollo is standing for governor in Kenya’s central Embu county despite facing charges relating to her time as principal secretary at the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs. Prosecutors say nearly $4.7m was lost or stolen under her watch.

In April 2020, a court ordered her to surrender $105,000 and 2.2 million Kenyan shillings ($18,500) in accounts associated with her. She told the court she made the money selling vegetables. The trial is ongoing.

Omollo and a spokesman for her Jubilee party did not return messages seeking comment.

Other candidates for national and county legislatures have been convicted of soliciting bribes and impersonating EACC investigators or face charges of forgery, employing relatives, embezzlement and seizing government land.

The election board barred six people on the watchdog’s list from standing: two governors and a senator who were impeached; two would-be governors who did not have the necessary academic qualifications, and a county assembly member convicted of bribery. A court overturned the decision to bar the senator.

The board said anyone who had not resigned from public office would also be rejected but did not publish figures.

Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko – known for his flamboyant dress sense, chunky gold jewellery and impromptu rap videos – was among those prevented from running because he had been impeached. He also faces criminal charges, including conflict of interest, abuse of office, money laundering and conspiracy, which he denies.

Sonko’s lawyer George Khaminwa said they had lodged an application with the Supreme Court against his disbarment and would show his human rights were violated by not permitting him to stand.

The election is seen as a key test for stability for East Africa’s biggest economy – two of its three last elections were marred by violence amid disputes over alleged rigging.

And once again presidential candidates are levelling corruption allegations at each other.

Odinga has promised to seize land he alleges Ruto stole. Ruto’s spokesman dismissed the accusations, saying no charges were brought against the deputy president. He does not appear on the EACC list, and a police spokesman said there was no active investigation into the allegations.