Corruption: Kenya Must Shun 'Painkiller' Approach

Published on 23rd February 2010

Corruption and a failed car radiator have a lot in common; if you do not fix the radiator, you will keep replacing engine parts until you hit “engine knock!” I have had the misfortune of fixing all sorts of parts in my engine until it occurred to me that a radiator failure was messing up the car cooling system.

After doing all that long distance drivers do; check oil, pressure, fuel, brakes and battery among others, I set off for a 600 kilometer drive. At 200 kilometers, my car started overheating; I could see jets of hot steam oozing from my bonnet. As usual, magical mechanics appeared from nowhere and offered all sorts of prescriptions. My target was to drive on, so I relented.

I bought cylinder head gasket and other paraphernalia, had them fixed, and I was ready to go. After doing another 40 kilometers, the same problem of heating and steaming jets recurred. Another bunch of “angel mechanics” showed up, and prescribed something else. After buying and fixing, the car engine came to life and off I started. It was now getting dark. After doing another fifty kilometers in darkness, I noticed steam jets again. This time I was close to an urban center and got what you might call the real “experts.” Since it was dark and all spares shops were closed, they gave me an interesting solution: “Buy 50 liters of water, and pour in the radiator after every 3 kilometers and drive slowly!”

If you have never encountered a rebellious car, develop a radiator problem and fail to detect the cause of your woes. Whatever you fix will never stop the car from heating up. Drivers will tell you that a car that overheats is planning to consign your engine to the grave. A dead engine is equal to a dead car…in other words; you can never hit your 600 kilometer target. 

A casual perusal of media analysis following suspension of cabinet ministers on corruption grounds reveals that Kenyans are unwilling to discuss the real cause of corruption in the country. Newspapers adopted positions depending on which political parties they support. Tribesmen rose up to defend their sons. Others were keen to use the corruption debate to nail their political enemies. Corruption became a mere framing of issues. For the international press, Kenya’s predicament helped justify the erroneous belief that Africans are “genetically corrupt.”

Since independence, corruption challenges have been given treatment similar to that offered by “angel mechanics” to my car. The Kenya government has opted to carry huge tanks of water to keep pouring in the radiator whenever the engine overheats. The role of the country’s anti corruption unit is simply to help cool the engine to enable government (the car) push on a little longer. Replacing gaskets and seals is what the two principals in the coalition appear to invest in – just suspend officials and recall them after the “engine cools.”

It cost me a lot of money on the highway. The journey that would have taken only 5 hours lasted 3 days. I had to keep stopping to fill my 50 liters of water in order to keep going. It is when I called an automotive engineer to seek advice on what was messing up my car that it occurred to me, that the solution I had was still going to get my car experience an engine knock! When gaskets are leaking, it means water was getting into the engine lubricating system. It was a matter of time and pistons would seize! The real experts discovered that the car radiator had leakages. No amount of engine fixing, water, and oil change was going to get the car back to its original operating levels. Solution – fix a new radiator; my car is as good as new.

Governments serve a similar purpose to that of the cooling system in cars because interpersonal and business relations do generate heat. Governments give order to ensure all other systems works smoothly. Corruption in Kenya and Africa is all about faulty radiators; it is a pointer to the fact that Kenyans and by extension Africans do not own their governments. Africans must seek to replace government systems that have sustained them on economic inefficiency and road to serfdom. 

By James Shikwati

James Shikwati is Director, Inter Region Economic Network.

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