‘Health Files’ a distraction from ‘Boni’s Files’?

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By Joyce Nyairo

A new corruption scandal has erupted. As always, my first question is: “What are we being distracted from, this time?” Please don’t get me wrong. I am not diminishing the importance of fresh revelations of corruption. I am actually trying to grasp the scale of our problems — from the economic to the socio-cultural and, above all, the political.

Corruption at the Ministry of Health is not new. In 1974, Deputy Secretary Michael Shimechero was jailed for two-and-a-half years for taking bribes to influence supplies at the Central Medical Stores. That conviction did not stem the tide of sketchy players and dodgy contracts in the ministry.

News that some people might have found ways of diverting funds, obtaining double payments and corrupting the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) is not surprising. Not in this country where we have perfected the poetry of innocence with classic lines like “let every one carry their own cross”, “I will not resign. I would rather die than resign” followed by a reluctant “stepping aside”. We invoke God and we curse our enemies.

We lure faith-abiding Kenyans to sympathise with our persecution even when we know there is truth in the allegations flooding the media.

It is important that those who thrive on scrutinising financial data go ahead and crunch the numbers for us, quantify what has been lost, and document the mechanics of this “latest” scam. Meanwhile, those who specialise in reading plots and political behaviour must find answers to that nagging question: “What are we being distracted from, this time?”

There are two steps to solving the puzzle. First, whenever you hear the words “leaked report”, you must ask “why now? Why not last month?” In war, timing is everything. The ancient Chinese general, Sun Tzu, talked of “stupid haste” but I prefer to say that Dr Nicholas Muraguri, the Health Principal Secretary, has bad timing. Conversely, those behind the leaking of the internal audit report are masters of synchrony.

The story broke on Wednesday morning. What story had dominated our (social) media in the days before that? Which story has now moved from the front pages to the no pages; from a trending Twitter handle to a nuisance alert on your phone?

Our fury has been redirected. The masters of synchrony have realigned political temperatures with the precision of a Swiss watch and the impact of Muhammad Ali’s famous left hook. Boom! Suddenly, every talking outlet from — Television to WhatsApp — was pulsating with the outrage “five times bigger than NYS …”

In the second step to unlocking the puzzle, break the equation of the Jubilee Government in half. Essentially, it is a mseto arrangement. As with all coalitions there is perennial horse-trading and occasional backstabbing. Don’t be fooled by the camaraderie and bromance between the principals. Keeping that house on an even keel is a game of sealing gaskets and releasing valves. So which half of the government has been dented the most by this new revelation? What is at stake at this moment and who is being sacrificed?

Is this story really driven by a new commitment to netting big fish? Investigations must be launched but the journey from leaked reports to conviction stalls somewhere between the nervous energy of the Director of Public Prosecutions and a Judiciary that seems incapable of devising smart new ways of working.

If we can’t fix these mechanical parts, when will we succeed with the intellectual labour of designing social re-engineering programmes to shift our moral attitudes to graft? I won’t give you my answer to the puzzle because freedom of information has given the majority of Kenyans remarkable access and creativity. But our media literacy is incomplete until we garner suitable skills to analyse and evaluate the language, images and sounds that assail us.

As long as we are unable to decipher the codes and rituals of our politics, we will not succeed in choosing the right representatives. The right ones are those who will not taunt us with change; those with the capacity to dismantle old rites of manipulation and to enforce rules. So let civic education before the next General Election focus on grassroots media literacy programmes.

Dr Nyairo is a cultural analyst

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