Why do people steal? What is it that drives a man or woman to confidently cart away that which they clearly know is not theirs and yet feel absolutely no sense of regret or remorse? Why would a steward, entrusted with the resources of another, turn around and with total alacrity, pilfer that which they are supposed to guard?
These and many such questions have captivated my mind since the onset of the concerted fight against corruption. This blight appears to be so pervasive that it covers almost every sector of Government. It is as if every Government project or programme, big or small, has been and is the target of looters.
The diversity of the people is equally vast. There are police officers who brave the elements of weather to receive a miserly fifty bob from suspected traffic offenders, and there are the more sophisticated defalcators who siphon billions of shillings from state coffers from the comfort of their polished office desks. What actually drives this vast array of people to steal – is it need, greed, or simple moral depravity?
Studies indicate that many people steal out of need. Majority in this category are usually petty thieves who steal basic necessities or little money to pay for food, drink, clothes or shelter -- basic needs. Most of such people however remain conscious of the evil they commit. They are often weighed down with a serious sense of guilt from their actions.
But, not every thief or robber is always driven by a desperate need that must be urgently met. There are people who steal due to feelings of deprivation, peer pressure, a compulsive disorder known as kleptomania, and – believe it or not – for a pure rush of adrenaline.
Those who are driven by a sense of depravity often steal from those they believe to have denied them opportunity to prosper or who they consider to have taken that which belongs to them.
In this category are family members who steal from or rob one another in the belief that the better endowed became so by depriving them of resources or opportunity.
Inter-clan and inter-tribal raids are often equally driven by similar beliefs of deprivation. On the other hand, peer pressure, is equally known to drive people into evil. In early years, young people will get into drugs, simply to be “accepted” by peers.
In later life, peer pressure forces grownups into extravagant lifestyles so as to be “respected” by competing peers.
For both youth and adults, resources are often required to maintain these addictive behaviours. If not readily available, the teenager will steal to buy alcohol or drugs.
The adult will steal or rob in order to buy a big car, house, property or maintain a flashy lifestyle. Such addictive conduct similarly defines kleptomaniacs and the psychopaths who are simply pushed by adrenaline.
These men and women often steal simply for the kick they get. They derive great joy from planning and executing a successful heist. Stealing becomes the drug that gives them the momentary high.
A total bondage
In the Kenyan context, it would appear that theft in the public sector falls into the latter three categories: the inordinate pursuit of status, kleptomania, and the drive of adrenaline – all addictive in nature.
This may explain why theft of public resources has become a total bondage that many find hard to break. For a fact, there is no human need that requires billions of shillings to satisfy – as is the case in big theft; or anyone who requires a daily supply of hard cash – as is the case of officers on the roads. Only pathological addiction will drive anybody to such behaviour.
Otherwise, men and women who grow riches through hard work are often so detached from their riches that they derive greater satisfaction in giving it away than in robbing or hoarding.
It appears therefore that, if we are going to win the war against corruption, there is need for education, rehabilitation and retribution.
Education to instill correct values in society and especially among our youth; rehabilitation to wean wealth-addicts from the pursuit of riches; and just retribution for criminals that plunder our resources.
According to Socrates, no one knowingly commits an evil action, but first psychologically turns it into good. Sheila Kohler of Princeton University argues that this is why people find it easier to steal from large institutions and the Government.
In their minds they simply “take” and not steal from the said institutions or governments. This delusion cannot be rid of simply by jails. We must also embark on the transformation of our national culture.
- The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]