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Anti-corruption war winning Kenya friends

Wambugu Mathangani

There was a time, not so long ago, that it seemed few leaders  wanted to be identified with our president. Following the post-election violence of 2007/8, international figures were guarded in their relations with Kenya. Those who visited made it clear their  agenda was to help in putting Kenya back together, rather than an engagement of equals.

This remained so during the 2013 election,  when many in the international community maintained distance from candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto, due to their ICC case.

In fact, some claimed an Uhuru victory would lead to international isolation. A US diplomat warned that his country would maintain only “essential contact” with Kenya.

This uncertainty coincided with a wave of terror in our country, during which we suffered three huge terror attacks, in Westgate, Mpeketoni and Garissa.

During this period, when foreign leaders visited Kenya, they came to assist us to bolster anti-terror efforts, a welcome relief, but hardly a sign of true partnership.

There is an additional factor that has been preventing international leaders from genuinely engaging with Kenya — corruption. With an estimated one-third of our national budget lost to graft, and successive governments apparently unwilling or unable to do anything about it, no self-respecting global leader wanted to be closely associated with our leadership.

Only when considering this inglorious history can we truly understand the enormity of what has occurred in recent days. In just two short weeks, President Uhuru travelled to Washington to meet President Trump, hosted British Prime Minister Theresa May and visited Beijing for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit and a meeting with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping.

This followed a visit to Kenya by former US President Barack Obama in mid-July. It is worth pausing to consider just how significant this is. President Uhuru has met the leaders of three of the five biggest economies in the world in an incredibly short space of time. Kenya has become a global player.

This also reveals how under Uhuru, Kenya has been elevated to the top tier of African countries in the eyes of the international community, alongside Nigeria and South Africa. Trump has hosted just two African leaders for bilateral summits – Mohamadu Buhari of Nigeria and Uhuru.

May visited just three African countries — South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya — in her recent trip, while Obama visited just two — Kenya and South Africa. Despite being the ninth biggest economy in Africa, Kenya has become an undisputed member of the African Big Three.

I strongly believe that the main reason for this is the vigorous anti-graft drive Uhuru has pursued in his second term.

For many in the West, Africa has become synonymous with corruption, and it is the number one reason they are hesitant to invest. A commitment to fight  graft has, therefore, become a prerequisite for any African leader to be accepted internationally.

Just look at how president’s Paul Kagame (Rwanda), John Magufuli (Tanzania) and Buhari have been feted in the West for their efforts in fighting graft, despite questionable human rights records.

Having made peace with opposition leader Raila Odinga, and bringing the divisive election period to a close, Uhuru’s crusade against corruption is a clear signal to the international community that things are changing.

The arrested of big fish alongside new anti-corruption practices and organisational restructuring has reassured the world that Uhuru means business, breaking down the final barrier towards a full engagement of equals between Kenya and the family of nations.

There will always be critics and sceptics. There will always be those who don’t believe that change can really happen. And considering Kenya’s chequered history with graft, I don’t blame them.

But if the last few weeks teaches us anything, its that  May, Trump, Obama and Xi Jinping are not among the sceptics.

The leaders of the world’s biggest economies believe in Uhuru’s anti-corruption drive and the benefits in the form of increased investment, jobs and prosperity, will be felt by us all. —The writer comments on topical issues