A view of a typical landscape in Makunei County. Photo by TripHappy.

One of the biggest problems in Kenya, as in many other countries including the United States, is corruption. It is so pervasive in Kenya that it seems almost unstoppable. Estimates range from 25 percent to 50 percent of government funds are either stolen or misused. Almost daily the media reports the newest scandal, but in the end little seems to result from exposure of the looting. Then a case arises illustrating that corruption can be contained and the amazing results that can be obtained when there is no corruption.

Makueni County is southeast of Nairobi and is mostly semi-arid to arid in the southeastern part next to Tsavo National Park. It has roughly a million inhabitants and is below average in income of the forty-seven counties in Kenya.

New mothers with their newborns at the Mother and Child Hospital. Photo from Hivisasa.

Makueni County just recently opened its Mother and Child Hospital. It is the third largest maternity hospital in Kenya with a capacity of 120 mothers and 80 infants. It is labeled as “ultra modern.” For example, it has the first “aqua birth” unit in Kenya. (From the internet: Benefits of aqua birthing: Warm water is soothing, comforting, relaxing. … Buoyancy promotes more efficient uterine contractions and improved blood circulation resulting in better oxygenation of the uterine muscles, less pain for the mother, and more oxygen for the baby.)

The newly opened ultra-modern Makueni Mother and Child Hospital in Makueni County. Photo Standard Digital

And it was built including all the equipment for only 135 million shillings or $1.35 million. Amazing! How was this done? The Governor of Makueni County, Kivutha Kibwana refused to participant in the usual corruption. The internet in Kenya is always quite lively and so there was a tongue in cheek online “trial” about the hospital as he is accused of “failing to inflate the cost of the project and failing to ask for a kickback.” Here are some of the postings:

  • “He shamelessly forgot it’s his time to loot.”
  • “Guilty as charged! How dare he deliver on his promises? Damn! He is a disgrace to the Looting Brigade!”
  • THE TRIAL OF KIVUTHA KIBWANA
    You, KK, are guilty of violating the code of conduct for cartels.
    You built hospital, but the contractor was not your friend or relative.
    2. You forgot to inflate cost by 400%.
    3. You forgot to ask contractor to deposit 20% in your kids’ accounts
  • “The original sin was ACTUALLY building a hospital.”
  • “How dare he launch such a hospital while others are still issuing statements?! Pure PR he should know people!”
  • “In fact, he’s guilty of promising and delivering. How can he be unfair to fellow politicians?”

Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana. Photo from Mwakalishi.com

This anti-corruption crusade came after tremendous struggle. Kivutha Kibwana was elected Governor of Makueni County in the 2012 election. A county has a legislative branch with “Members of the County Assembly” or MCAs for short. From the get-go Kibwana refused to participate in the usual corruption with the MCAs who wanted expensive perks, under-the-table contracts for family members, foreign junkets, and so on. On September 23, 2014 he survived an assassination attempt in which four other people were wounded. On October 2014, 35 out of 47 MCAs voted to impeach him. He and his Deputy Governor, Adeline Mwau, then toured the county explaining that the MCAs just wanted to loot the government. They circulated a petition to suspend the government for a new election. They quickly received 150,000 signatures on the petition and the MCAs backed down when they realized that they would have to again face the voters and lose their seats.

In the 2017 election Kibwana and Mwau received 87.8% of the votes and 34 out of the 35 MCAs who had tried to impeach Kibwana lost re-election.

Since the Makueni County Government did not waste funds on corruption, mismanagement, unnecessary expenses, and so on, it was able to use those funds for the benefits of the people of Makueni County. Over 30 percent of the county income is spent on medical care including a subsidized system where poor families pay only 500/- ($5) for complete medical coverage. During a three year period the number of health workers increased from 977 to 1462 and the number of hospital admissions from 298,760 to 515,321.

With use of the internet, Governor Kibwana has also introduced an open contracting system to transform public procurement. This “involves public disclosure of information at all stages of the procurement process, from planning, tendering, awarding, contracting, and implementation to oversight.” Governor Kibwana commented, “Thanks to this new approach, anyone can see what the County government is buying and who got the contract. This means real transparency in fighting corruption.’’

Although clearly fraught with significant difficulties, this example illustrates that successfully tackling corruption is possible. I suggest that readers of this report circulate this story to their friends and begin demanding the type of governance Kivutha Kibwana exemplifies. If politicians don’t respond positively, send them packing like those 34 Makueni MCAs who wanted to loot rather than faithfully serve the constituents who elected them.

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David Zarembka

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