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Leakey saved the elephants. Now the public purse?

In a bold move to halt Kenya's long slide into economic ruin, President Daniel arap Moi last month put one of his former opponents, Richard Leakey, in charge of the civil service to root out the corruption at the core of Kenya's ills.

As the no-nonsense director of Kenya Wildlife Services, the world-famous paleontologist reduced the poaching of Kenya's elephants. The hope is that he will now reduce the poaching of the public purse.

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Mr. Leakey will be assisted by a new team of permanent secretaries brought in from outside the civil service to head key ministries. The team consists of Kenya's most talented technocrats, including several Kenyan staff members of the World Bank and its affiliates. The cost of their participation is being borne by the bank. Mr. Moi himself negotiated the deal with bank president James Wolfensohn.

Moi's motive for this arrangement is clear. The president hopes Leakey's sterling international reputation in a government housecleaning effort will lure the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the rest of the donor community back to Kenya. These lenders suspended $500 million in aid in 1997 because of Kenya's corruption.

Without renewed lending and an upturn in the economy, Moi's government is under increasing pressure to resign.

Notwithstanding the collective brainpower of Leakey's team, the challenge it faces is daunting - to strike at the heart of the Moi regime. Although the president and his party won only a third of the vote in the 1992 and 1997 elections, he has stayed in office by dividing and buying off opponents. His most effective tool has been old-style patronage, especially the appointment of loyalists to public office.

Longtime members of Moi's cabinet have allegedly benefited the most from these opportunities. In the Goldenberg scandal, Vice President George Satoiti and others have been implicated by the Kenyan press in the theft of $350 million in public subsidies for a phony export scheme. Kenya's banking system has been threatened as ministers have obtained unsecured loans for dubious projects. Civil servants have benefited from what economists call rent seeking, the ability to extract bribes in return for the carrying out of normal duties or, alternatively, the nonenforcement of government regulations. From top to bottom, the rot has turned a once proud and efficient government into a "kleptocracy."

In this context, any attempt to root out corruption turns not on identifying and charging the culprits, but vigorously prosecuting them. Leakey's team will probably succeed in the first of these tasks, and may also succeed in cleaning up the lower and middle echelons of the civil service by dismissing officials who have engaged in petty or modest scams.

But what happens when they shine the light on senior cabinet members and other presidential cronies? Seven years after Goldenberg, the courts have yet to render a decision on any of the cases against the accused. Kenya's judiciary is widely regarded as corrupt. Those who have blown the whistle too loudly in the past have been threatened, and even physically harmed.

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The lessons for the international community are clear.

The main challenge of rooting out corruption and putting the country back on the road to prosperity, is not technical but political. Moi's appointment of Leakey is therefore unlikely to end the problem of grand corruption. Only a negotiated deal between Moi and his opponents will achieve this. At a minimum, such a deal will require Moi to step down at the end of his term in 2002, and his cronies to refrain from further corruption in return for amnesty for past misdeeds. It will also require Moi to appoint a commission to write a new constitution. In short, it will require the end of the Moi regime in its present form.

Given this reality - a reality confirmed by Moi's continued refusal to appoint the constitutional commission - neither the World Bank nor the IMF should resume lending to cover Kenya's balance of payments deficits until there is a political deal. Both need to recognize that ending corruption, macroeconomic reform, and political reform are inextricably linked.

Leakey and his team need help from other players beyond the World Bank. The US should continue its sensible policy of restraining lenders from returning to Kenya too soon. The US and other donors should refuse to write a blank check. They should encourage Moi to recognize that the time for a negotiated exit is at hand.

*Joel D. Barkan is a professor of political science at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. An authority on African governance, he consults frequently with USAID, the World Bank, and other donor agencies.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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