By LUKOYE ATWOLI
Sunday Nation 22 March 2009 Page 25
The American ambassador has this past week announced that the United States Government has banned an unnamed Kenyan Cabinet minister and his family from travelling to the US.
This is not the first time the US is taking such a step and, indeed, many Western powers took similar steps against several ministers in the Narc administration over corruption allegations.
The latest ban may be met with varying reactions, with some people claiming that the US is interfering with our sovereignty and others insisting that many more deserve similar treatment in order to strike a blow against impunity in this country.
Others will not even notice the event, and will go on with their lives in blissful ignorance.
It may, however, be instructive to pause a while and ponder the implications of these moves meant to “nudge the government to take action against corruption”, in the words of the American Ambassador, Mr Michael Ranneberger.
It must be stated in no uncertain terms that this is a government that does not need any more “nudges” to fight corruption or impunity, given the seismic jolts we have received as a nation in the recent past.
A sensible government would be hard at war, and anyone involved in corruption and other crimes against the state would be declared an enemy and dealt with accordingly.
However, no one in their right minds would accuse this government of being coherent, let alone sensible.
The envoy, while announcing the ban, declined to name the Cabinet minister involved, indicating, instead, that the man would be informed of the ban, and that his family would also be blocked from travelling to the United States.
This is a move that is guaranteed to have almost nil effect, and this cynicism is informed by the effect the previous visa bans had on the then government’s way of doing things.
Despite having about six ministers banned from travelling to the US and even the United Kingdom, the government continued with business as usual after a few token resignations, symbolic whitewashing and rapid reinstatement of the concerned ministers.
To this day, the rot continues to permeate perniciously through all echelons of power in this country.
Traditionally, people were literally pilloried in order not only to learn a lesson themselves and repent of the evil they had committed, but also to serve as a lesson to others with similar intentions.
The pillorying was a very public affair, and the individual concerned would be left exposed for all and sundry to express their disgust with him.
The modern justice system is a humane approximation of this medieval punishment, and it is, therefore, ridiculous to the extreme for someone to claim to be subjecting someone to the pillory while at the same time purporting to conceal the person’s identity for some obscure reason!
If, indeed, these Western governments are interested in ‘‘nudging’’ these poor corrupt countries like Kenya in the direction of greater transparency and responsibility in government, they must publicly identify individuals about whom adverse information is known in order for the ordinary citizen to see them for what they really are.
The tragedy of concealing their identity lies in the fact that they can continue to strut their stuff locally without fear of humiliation as long as they do not venture to the prohibited territories.
They can continue looting our coffers dry as they hypocritically exhort the citizen to keep to the straight and narrow.
They retain the freedom to harangue us about democracy and good governance, hastening to pompously pontificate about community interests and tribal spokesmen as insurance against local action against them.
Some may even gather the nerve to vie for the highest office in the land, safe in the knowledge that they cannot be stopped from representing the country at international fora like UN and AU meetings.
People banned from travelling to Western countries on account of corruption and impunity, including involvement in the post-election violence, must not be hidden under the cover of confidentiality and such arrant nonsense. We must be told who they are, so that even if we keep re-electing them to represent us at various levels, we do so with our eyes wide open.
Unless the Americans and other governments are ready to reveal the identities of these individuals against whom they claim to have incontrovertible evidence of wrong-doing, they should spare us the hot air they spew forth every time they make announcements about visa bans and similar punitive measures.
It is better to continue in ignorance and conjecture than to know that there are individuals who, though proved corrupt and complicit in crimes against our nation, continue to sit at the pinnacle of executive power and decide government policy.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine; Lukoye@gmail.com