The other day I watched as the sacked Nigerian Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sasuni, tried to explain, on a television interview, how up to 50 billion US dollars from the country’s oil revenues had vanished from the Exchequer.
President Goodluck Jonathan had singled him out as a suspect in the money scam, but Sasuni pointed a finger directly at the élite in a country where a measly one percent of the population enjoys nine-tenth of all the total oil export earnings of 50 billion US dollars.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer – 2.2 million barrels a day – yet abject poverty weighs down on a huge population of its people including those living in and around the oil wells of the Niger Delta region.
The content of the Sasuni interview on Al Jazeera got me thinking about our own situation in Kenya where millions of shillings seems to be disappearing from public coffers at every blink of an eye.
When I hear the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya claim that 480 billion shillings or 30 percent of the 2013/2014 budget would not be accounted for at the year-end; when I hear Raila Odinga ask the government to account for 6 billion shillings meant for youth and women, hinting it had possibly vanished into thin air; when I read about the millions that are disappearing into briefcases of our County Governors; when I listen to John Mututho lament that 400 million shillings collected by the anti-drug organization NACADA in the month of December 2013 alone were stolen by some officials, I get very concerned about the future of my beloved country.
In Kenya, like in Nigeria, and in many other African countries, the élite are at the forefront of gobbling everything that belongs to the people. Elite cartels destroy our natural resources through illegal logging and destructive explorations. They poison our youth by importing illegal drugs; they engage in money laundering and human trafficking; and they grab every tender that comes out of the government.
They shamelessly steal money meant for the disabled and the elderly, and spare not donor funds meant for our health and education sectors. This is not to mention the billions lost in past mega scandals and the 1.6 billion shillings that we are now required to pay as penalties and awards resulting from Anglo Leasing law suits.
Recently, our media were awash with reports of the so-called super-rich – 26 of the richest Kenyans who control half of the country’s wealth. I don’t know if I should be proud that my country has a conducive atmosphere for people to make money, or disgusted that a small minority is living in such opulence while millions of Kenyans are struggling to survive.
Almost all those mentioned in the survey by a London-based New World Wealth Group are well-known citizens who have distinguished themselves in business and attained monumental successes over the years. I have no evidence to suspect they acquired their riches dubiously.
However, there is a growing number of upper middle-class Kenyans whose fortunes may not be so easy to verify – people who pay cash for prestigious real estate acquisitions and people who flaunt their wealth in public places. I shudder when I see politicians holding bundles of cash and casually dishing it out to street people. I worry when I see all those choppers flying about like kites hired at great cost by the political élite. Not even the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission or the Kenya Revenue Authority bother to find out where such inordinate amounts of money come from.
Is this part of the so-called underground economy? If it is, then it must be running into billions of shillings.
I am worried these underground cartels may undermine our nation’s stability if not immediately and firmly checked.
Some of these cartels are operating in plain sight right under the noses of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. Both leaders have warned that corrupt elements exist even within the Office of the President.
We hear cartel members are powerful people who also served in past regimes. They know how to manipulate the system and intimidate potential whistle-blowers.
The question is: if these cartels are as powerful and influential as we believe they are, how are the authorities going to root them out without destabilising the country?
This is a question only the security and intelligence agencies can answer.
And that is my say.