Corruption, poverty and development. These are some of Mburu’s focuses
Dr. Joseph Mburu teaches political science at the University of Regina, specializing in international, comparative, and third-world politics, and is preparing to run for the Kenyan presidency in 2017. See our full article reporting on his bid for presidency here. Our staff writer John Kapp had a chance to sit down and speak to Mburu.
JK: Why run for the Kenyan presidency?
JM: I have always wanted to join politics. And, not just politics for purposes of politics, but for purposes of transforming people’s lives. When I was in grade nine, the whole issue of running for office came into my mind. I’ve always looked at the programs that were around my home area and I was wondering why the government was not fixing them. Over the years, I came to understand there is a deeper problem of corruption, a lack of focus by the government and leadership, and I thought, “Well, things are becoming worse, I think it is high time I thought of getting to the presidency.” That is the central office that can change things in largely-developing countries.
JK: You mention corruption as being a big problem. Kenya is ranked 136 of 177 nations measured on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. What would you do to affect change on this matter?
JM: Corruption, from the latest data cost Kenya over 253,000 jobs. Private companies are forced to pay bribes amounting to 69 billion Kenyan shillings ($873,081,343.35 CAD) and that is from data released two weeks ago by a private company. That is huge. Beyond that, over 337 billion Kenyan shillings cannot be properly accounted for, according to the latest Auditor General’s Report. That is been the trend for many years. I will retain current institutions that are there, specifically the Kenyan Corruption Commission, but in addition to that, I will deploy several other mechanisms. There is what I am calling “low on time.” It will create a situation in which public officers are required to execute their mandate within a specific period of time. The more you delay, the more you are creating opportunities for corruption. If we are able to say, as a government, you have to deal with this issue within 24 hours, beyond 24 hours you will have to pay for it. Then, you will not even have time to demand bribes. If we catch a few people and punish them, the rest will be scared and we can end corruption that way. Above all, I have requested that anyone who wants to stand in the political party that I will be standing in will sign documents committing themselves to not be involved in any corruption. Anyone who has been involved in corruption before will not be eligible for our nomination. The production of auditors’ reports are at the moment about two to three years behind; we are going to ensure the auditor’s reports are out within at most three to four months after the end of each financial year. Those are to be scrutinized immediately and anyone found to misuse government funds or be involved in corruption will be done away with. The Public Accounts Committee is littered with reports that show so-and-so was involved in corruption, but nothing can be done.
JK: There is an international trial surrounding President Kenyatta’s perceived role in violence following the 2007-2008 elections in which up to 1000 people were killed and 600,000 displaced. What can be done to restore faith in the Kenyan executive?
JM: I think first of all, the 2007-2008 problem was very unfortunate for the Kenyan people. I followed the whole issue while I was in England at the time and it was bad. We also must admit this was not the first time this kind of situation has emerged. From 1991-1997, there were similar skirmishes all over the country. A similar number of people were killed during that time; many people whom I personally knew were hacked to death. The executive showed a bit of half-heartedness. There had been no prosecution in the 1990s. The international community tried to address that problem by withholding aid to force the government to take some action, they could not provide aid while people were being massacred. They tried to force a diplomatic trial through foreign aid and through other diplomatic channels. In 2007-2008, the same attempt was made. The ICC gave Kenya nearly a year to bring those who committed those crimes to justice, but they did not. As far as expecting the Kenyan executive to do anything, it’s a bit hard.
What I intend to do, personally to restore faith to the executive is one, ensure a clear rule is in place so that when something like that happens, then it doesn’t matter whom will be mentioned – president, minister, or anybody, they must carry the burden. We should not look at the 2007-2008 violence in isolation. Similar violence is ongoing today. This year alone, hundreds have been killed in the northeastern regions of Kenya. In the northern Rift Valley regions, there is a strong hand in the politics of those counties. Hundreds of homes have been burned as late as this year. And, that problem is still going on in regions like Mandera County, where we are having new internally-displaced persons everywhere.
Ethnic violence has come as a result of a concentration of political power in two regions of Kenya. We need to generate a system that will be able to enable Kenyans of different regions and ethnic groups the possibility of being elected to those two high offices. Of the four presidents Kenya has had, three have come from Central Province and one from Rift Valley – the one from Rift Valley ruled for 24 years (Daniel arap Moi), if I may use the old administrative divisions of the country. The six other provinces feel there is too much domination by these two regions, and yet the difference as far as electoral victories are concerned has been very small. Other than that, it will be very hard.
JK: Kenya’s economy is one of the strongest in its region, but its Human Development ranks 145 of 186 with 40 per cent living in poverty. What can be done to develop the economy beyond this point?
JM: If we are able to create a system and confidence that there will no ethnic fighting or political turmoil, as in the past, we will create confidence in investors. We have in Kenya what is called the ‘Economic Export Processing Zones’ – free trade zones. We have many of them and they are given a ten-year tax holiday along with other incentives. But when asked recently as to whether they are fine with that, they said they do not consider these tax holidays as any better. Now, the surprising thing is that Uganda and Tanzania, our two neighbours, do not give much of those financial and economic incentives to foreign companies.
We must ensure there is sufficient supply of electricity. So, there will be a major focus and heavy investment in the electricity supply. Kenya’s supply of electricity is concentrated in very few regions, so we must diversify our energy sources with a particular focus on green energy. That will mean geothermal power, which there is a great potential supply of in Kenya. At the same time, solar energy and wind energy. Once those are installed, they will not only allow a continuous supply of energy, but it will also be cheaper. That means the cost of bills will go down and our factories and business installations will perform better. Kenya has only been able to construct 12,000 km of road in fifty-two years. That is about nineteen kilometres per month and about five hundred metres a day. It’s very slow. The more you delay, the more the cost escalation goes up, the more your cut is. I look forward to constructing as much as 10,000 km in a very short period of time.
I have what is called the “One Thousand Teams Program,” which is a concept or framework I intend to introduce. We would have a number of people coming together, establishing a company and they will get funding from the government on a grant basis. It could be a group or individual with a very good vision in establishing business, but has no capital; there are people with very good ideas, but they do not have capital, so we may find ways of assisting them. There is what I am calling the Poverty-Elimination Bank, one of its own kind, which will focus on people with great ideas but little capital. Again, within the concept of One Thousand Teams, there will be a group of economic gurus, people committed to the economic transformation of the country. They will be able to provide professional advice to these teams which will be emerging. My intention is, within our generation, to have Kenya produce several multinational corporations, between one and four.
Within the One Thousand Teams, we shall map national, regional, and international markets. We want to know what is missing out there. In Kenya, one can do agricultural work year-round. That is a comparative advantage I want the country to take on. For example, in the agricultural sector, which I will give a lot of weight, much of what Kenya produces is organic. We shall tie that to what I am calling contract farming. What happens today in Kenya, people produce and do not know where to sell. More than 50 per cent of what is produced goes to waste today. There is that problem of assymetric information: the farmers produce but do not know where to sell. We shall link farmers to markets and establish an infrastructure that runs all the way from farming to markets, wherever they are.
JK: What political party are you seeking the nomination for?
JM: I do not have a party, but am creating one at the moment. What I have done is organize a few people and ask them to register a political party. Which is called in Swahili, Chama Cha Maslahi Ya Wakenya, which means Kenya Peoples Welfare Party. Maslahi basically means “a party that is concerned with the issues of the people.” But, the government has refused to approve it. So we are going to find a way. Either we are going to court or we will use public pressure. The program we have is not held by any existing party. They will not accept to reduce their salary. They won’t accept some of the stringent measures we are putting across, because it is a whole new dynamic we are introducing to the country. We submitted a few months back and they told us they will not register it. They sent a four-line letter citing the Kenyan Constitution under the Political Parties Act, which I read before I penned my signature and I knew that the party meets those requirements. What those clauses say is that the party should not reflect gender bias, economic class, tribal or regional affiliation, or religion. It must be neutral and pluralist. What we are asking is, “how do we not meet that?”
JK: How do you feel the Kenya Peoples Welfare Party will perform if allowed to participate in elections?
JM: Now, in my calculation, I expect an overwhelming, landslide victory. If we can reach the people, I am expecting a landslide victory in those elections. This is because our policies touch on areas that no other political party has ever ventured. The target is actually to hit 80 per cent. What we are telling the Kenyan people is, “unless we have a mandate, it will be very hard to navigate through the parliament, the senate and regional assemblies.” If we do not have that mandate, we will not be able to pass these laws. We are talking of changing the way elections are conducted in Kenya, so that at least every region will have an opportunity to have one of their own being president or vice-president.
Some regions in Kenya, such as Coast Province, though violent and informal, are attempting to secede and form their own country. Because they have lost hope that they will ever be able to benefit from the current system. There has been a claim that some of them have no qualifications. One of the provisions I have developed in the manifesto is that within a very short period of time every ethnic group in Kenya will have at least 1000 people holding a masters degree. So that there will be no reason in the future to say, “we don’t have anyone from that group because they don’t have qualifications.” And unless the government takes that measure, no one else will do that. So if we have our message go out to the entire country, I am expecting our worst performance will be 65 per cent in the 2017 election.