There is no doubt that theft of public funds ranks among the most important concerns for Kenyans. Corruption takes away resources meant for public services, enriching a few usually well-connected individuals with access to the national till.
Estimates indicate that a third of Kenya’s annual budget is lost to corruption. Essentially, this weakens the country’s ability to fight poverty, terrorism, and disease.
Kenyans are, therefore, justified to be outraged at the slow pace in bringing the perpetrators of grand thievery to justice.
The anger has been so great that some people have even suggested that the law be changed to allow the death penalty for the thieves of public resources. Coming at a time when ordinary Kenyans everywhere are alarmed at the lack of action on grand corruption, this suggestion must not be taken lightly or brushed aside as some sort of joke.
The death penalty, irrespective of the crime involved, is archaic, cruel, inhuman, and degrading. The world is moving towards eliminating the death penalty, with nearly two-thirds of countries having removed it from their statutes.
On Mashujaa Day this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta took the important step of commuting 2,700 death sentences (virtually all who were waiting to die by the hangman) to life in prison. This is a step in the right direction. Countries that execute criminals claim that the death penalty is a way to deter crime, but this has been discredited and there is no evidence that it is any more effective in reducing crime than imprisonment.
The idea behind punishment is to correct, to send a message to others, and to save the majority from the suffering occasioned by crime. I do not believe executing offenders serves any purpose other than to cause pain to the affected families and psychological distress to the executioner. Life in prison without the option of parole is a better option. The prospect of never being allowed to walk free again is dreary.
It is instructive that we have never really exploited all the options available to us to protect public money from thieves, who are often let free due to the loopholes in our criminal justice system. Sometimes they are shielded from punishment by the very people who are supposed to champion justice. We have failed, but only because those who benefit from the proceeds of corruption are the same ones who control the levers of State power and are not keen to do anything about it.
The death sentence, if it were to be effected, could become a victim of corruption, with the main perpetrators being set free while innocent people or those who play minor roles being sentenced to death.
Runaway corruption will not stop if there is no political will to end it. As long as the sponsors of corruption, drug barons, and purveyors of impunity finance election campaigns and pass themselves off as well-heeled business people running the economy, corruption will only get worse.
The President should get serious about fighting corruption. We all know that corruption bleeds the economy, that health care suffers because people steal from the sick, that the current hunger in several parts of the country could have been prevented if stolen money was channelled to irrigation and agricultural innovation. Kenyans who are watching helplessly as their children’s inheritance is stolen with impunity have a right to be angry. These Kenyans have been restlessly waiting for the President to say: “Enough is enough, stop it, you thieves!”
Mr. Nyang’aya is the Country Director of Amnesty International Kenya. You can reach him on email@example.com
This op-ed was first published on The Daily Nation on Wednesday, 9th Novemeber 2016