Kenya: Corruption Needs Change of Attitude and Credible Crusaders

Published on 15th February 2010

Corruption: A battle of issues-not personalities
Corruption in Kenya has become endemic. We are not likely to make much progress in the current circumstances, with the current leadership and current thinking where abuse of public office is routine; a rule. Moreover, Kenyans are tolerant of corruption and don’t treat the vice as repugnant. Indeed, people accept (even applaud) those that enrich themselves illegally through their public offices. Today, if a faithful public servant retired from a position where s/he arbitrated money, fellow Kenyans would ask thus: what does s/he have to show for it?

A few months back, the issue of corruption came up in a discussion with friends, teachers and farmers in my rural Nyamira. People talked of the looting of Constituency Development Funds (CDF) moneys for private gain. One person estimated that only about 30% (or less) of the money allocated for projects really goes into projects. The rest is "eaten" via the chain of handling from committees down to contractors. At this rate, the people I was with decried, development would not happen, saying that any party that has a chance to go for the money see it as fair game!


Then one person talked about tea farming and how schemers profit from farmers’ backs. It is said that corrupt clerks would scheme kilos from farmers and sell them to those willing to pay. Some people I talked to alleged that a lot of individuals had enriched themselves through this method, even when they had not stepped in any farm to plant, care for and/or pick tea leaves!


I agreed with those present that corruption is immoral; it is hindrance to development and exploits the weak in society, be they farmers, students of common mwananchi in a constituency. And I agreed that we need ways to fight the vice and ensure it doesn't choke needed development. I added that it is upon us all to fight the vice. For instance, if all Kenyans refused to give bribes then it would become a norm; a new normal. However, today Kenyans offer bribes even when they have not been asked to do so!


It is the custom, some would say! On this angle, I asked those present this question: suppose the said clerk from the tea buying centre approached you and asked to "sell" you kilos of tea s/he had schemed, what would you do? Would you say no? The silence in the room was palpable! One could hear a pin drop! Not one person said NO!


The Kenyan mwananchi is as culpable as those that short-change them! Yet to win the war against corruption mwananchi must wake up and play his/her part.


Given the degree of corruption in the country, it is hard to get a credible champion to fight the vice. Look at the Free Primary Education (FPE) funds scandal, where (in well-functioning societies) accounting officers (in this case the Minister and PS) should have stepped aside to facilitate investigations. They have stuck to their guns. When the Prime Minister waded into the debate, the matter became even more muddied! A group of MPs pointed to the PM’s double standards in handling corruption, citing the maize scandal that hit Kenyans some time back. Then, the PM hadn’t called for any resignations. Hence, the MPs, contend, if two Professors (Sam Ongeri and Karega Mutahi) at Ministry of Education should resign then the PM should resign as well.


My personal take is that two wrongs do not make a right! The maize scandal hit Kenyans right in the belly. A few well-connected people took advantage of the intention to avail affordable unga to the people impending famine to enrich themselves. These should be punished as much as others that are culpable in the maize and other corruption scandals.   


So let’s NOT cloud and obscure the fact that hundreds of thousands of Kenyan children were disadvantaged by the looting in the Ministry of Education. We need justice for these children who are really the nation’s future. We also need justice for the Kenyan hungry that were exploited by the well-connected political business busybodies in the maize scandal.  


Some group of MPs protest that the PM is NOT a credible crusader against the vice of corruption. As much as his calls for resignation are right, he lacks the moral authority to make the call. It is like Jesus said to those condemning the harlot: he who is without sin should cast the first stone! The MPs are right to point to the double standards of the PM. Unfortunately, they are also implying that “no one should cast the first stone”; and hence since all have sinned then none should rise up and say there is sin! It is kind of twisted logic which suggests that we continue down the path we are: of looting and plundering public resource because “it is the norm.”


Wrong message! Looking for he who is without sin among Kenyan leadership, is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. If most of this leadership were to tell Kenyans the truth, they would say thus: we “bought our elective offices; we are now recouping and replenishing the next elections.”


My message to fellow Kenyans is simple: it is unrealistic to expect those in power today to get to the bottom of the endemic, debilitating effects of corruption. Mganga Hajigangi!


So what is the way forward? As a country, we need to come to grips with the devastating cost of corruption and its contribution to our underdevelopment. We need to start associating this vice with real life situations. For example, how many children would have had an education (or a better education) were the FPE funds spent as intended? What would happen to these children and their future? For instance, how much lost potential is there in these children that will NOT have the education that they deserved? And what does that count for the nation?


How about CDF? How many rural clinics, school classrooms, bridges, bursaries, etc that would NOT happen because of theft from the CDF coffers? Or how many tea farmers are not able to send their children to school because the clerk at the local buying centre stole from them for personal gain?


This reality should be a wake up call for all Kenyans. Then perhaps we can playing our role in fighting the vice because doing otherwise would be a prescription for doom into the future.


There is more!  None of this will happen without leadership. And here is where the challenge falls on all patriotic Kenyans: stand up a lead against this endemic disease. Perhaps then, leadership would emerge; leadership that is untainted; and leadership that is “without sin to cast the first stone.”


By Matunda Nyanchama.


Matunda Nyanchama is an information security professional based in Canada; he is also past and founding president of the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA). He can be reached at [email protected]


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