Powerful Kenyan minister’s resignation means nearly a third of Kenyatta Cabinet out in the cold

Devolution secretary Anne Waiguru’s exit says relentless allegations of graft have taken toll on her health.

KENYAN Devolution and Planning Secretary Anne Waiguru resigned Saturday, saying allegations of corruption and attacks on her character had taken a toll on her health.

Two months ago, Kenya’s state prosecutor asked Waiguru to record a statement in a case that began after she requested an investigation into the suspected theft of 791 million shillings ($7.7 million) from the state-run National Youth Service.

“From the time I made public the attempted theft of public funds at the NYS, there has been frenzied but unsupported allegations of corruption,” Waiguru said Saturday in a statement.

“Even where facts point to culpability by other parties and my absolute non-involvement, the attacks have continued unabated….shifting the fight from the real purveyors of graft.

“In view of the impact these events have had on my health, I have been advised by my doctor to take time off to recover,” she said, urging investigative authorities to expose those actually responsible.

The presidency had previously defended her, but as criticism rose, the political cost of doing so appears to have become too high.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose administration is under scrutiny for corruption, placed five ministers from his 19- member cabinet on forced leave earlier this year after they were accused of graft.

The opposition leader, Raila Odinga, had criticised Kenyatta for not asking Waiguru to step aside while her office is probed, as he did the ministers for housing, labour, energy, transport and agriculture.

Two high-ranking officials in her ministry were this week indicted in relation to the NYS scandal. She becomes the second woman minister to step down after lands minister Charity Ngilu vacated her post on March 29.

The others ministers who have been forced aside are Felix Koskei, Michael Kamau, Davis Chirchir and Kazungu Kambi.

Ngilu’s departure came three days after Kenyatta asked officials cited in an anti-corruption watchdog’s report dubbed a “list of shame” to step aside pending investigations.

‘Drawing line’
A raft of top ranking officials—both in government and top state corporations, also stepped aside to allow investigations in what the presidency said was Kenyatta “drawing the line on corruption”.

Like his predecessor Mwai Kibaki, Kenyatta made the fight against graft a priority on taking office in 2013 and has termed in a “moral fight for the very soul of our nation”, promising there would be no sacred cows.

But he has been stridently criticised for failing to get a grip on a rampant vice, and Waiguru’s departure could further deepen the sense of a leadership crisis in east Africa’s biggest economy.

The country in 2014 ranked 145th on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, beating only 13 other African countries—the majority of them embroiled in internal strife.

In July, US president Barack Obama during a visit to Nairobi highlighted the challenge to Kenya’s growth that corruption presented.

“Corruption is tolerated because that’s how things have always been done”, Obama said.

Kenyatta, like Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, appears to have his work cut out for him.