Demonetisation a serious boost in war against graft

Old note
Old note. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Cash is a man’s best friend. Coins and notes have been around for a long time, with notes especially having an important impact on the economic development of humanity.

Separating value from the physical weight of the precious metals the coins were made of, the notes allowed for high-volume trade across the Alps, between France and Italy, to develop. The seeds of modern capitalism were falling on fertile ground.

Since then, of course, the system of cash has developed tremendously. Cash-money has become a globalised commodity, accepted and used by virtually every culture around the globe.

This success is not surprising – it is much easier to buy food at the market with cash than it is with shells or stones. The objective value, assured by the authority of the state, makes it comfortable to use for the buyer and the seller – and the market, as a whole.

Yet, there is something more to cash than just its face-value, that can be used to buy groceries. Many, especially in our day and age, see cash as a form of freedom.


In contrast to virtual money like M-Pesa or credit cards, cash can’t be traced by anyone, neither the government nor some algorithm.

Nobody can ever know what you do with that cash, where you got it from and what you use it for. In this age of enforced transparency, where we are tracked continuously by our mobile phones, social media apps and credit cards, cash provides us with the option to veil ourselves in a layer of opaqueness.

However, dark forces are attracted to darkness. Unfortunately, while most people use that “freedom of cash” for completely legal purposes, criminals exploit the system for their illicit dealings. Whether drugs or graft, cash is their method of choice. And then they come up with the most elaborate schemes to launder this money and enjoy the rotten fruits of their criminal activities.

It is in precisely this light that we should see President Kenyatta’s decision to swiftly demonetise all of the 1000-shilling bills. Honest citizens have nothing to fear: They just need to use the old tender at the market or bring it to their bank before the end of this month, and receive the new bills.

Criminals, on the other hand, who have been hoarding millions of shillings in warehouses, have a problem. They either have to declare their source of income and pay taxes, or lose the entire value of the money.

This replacement of old tender is nothing extraordinary or unique. It seems like with this move, Uhuru, who possesses excellent ties with leaders around the world, took inspiration from his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi ordered a similar demonetisation in 2016 in order to fight the black market and terrorist activity. After his reform, tax revenues jumped.

Therefore, like throwing out bait with a fishing rod, Uhuru just has to wait for the bad fish to bite: The police and anti-graft authorities are closely monitoring who is bringing in how much money, and where they got it from. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a wave of arrests soon.

Thus, this is further proof that the President could be serious in his fight against graft, the sickness plaguing all of Kenya for too long. His assertive actions leave little doubt with regards to his motivation. Once and again, he has proved that he will use all the tools available to uproot corruption, sparing neither friend nor foe.

His strategy seems well thought out and effective. First, he puts all of the players in place. Like a general before a battle, he put his most trusted and effective soldiers in the most important positions: Noordin Haji as Director of Public Prosecution and Dr Fred Matiang’i in charge of the Ministry of the Interior.

While they start working, he slowly but surely pulls the loop tighter and tighter around the criminals’ necks by passing one reform after another. Once they feel the pressure, they start acting irrationally and make mistakes. This is the time for the authorities to act and arrest them.

Sometimes, it is important to see the bigger picture, understand why a certain policy is put in place, and support it wholeheartedly. I, for one, am looking forward to bidding the old 1000 shilling bills farewell!

Michael Mugwang'a is a communications consultant based in Nairobi. [email protected] Twitter: @Mikeysoul