To win graft war real culprits must be called by their name

A puzzling conflict characterises ongoing conversations on corruption. If you should be watching the news on TV, you will get confusing optics. Where does reality end and where does fiction take over? You will see people thought to be the grandmasters of sleaze making a lot of din against graft.

You will want to wonder whether they are aware that in the public eye the conversation centres on them.

Is it possible that some people high up there don’t know they are the ones the country is talking about? Do they not know they are considered to be the problem?

History and literature have often told us of individuals who brought massive tragedies to their societies, without knowing. When everyone sought answers, the malefactors innocently sought with them. Often, they led in the effort.

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They knew not that they were the offenders. Could Kenyans be in the throes of the Oedipus paradox?

Sophocles of ancient Greece told us about King Oedipus. He was a gentleman of royal birth. His father was the king of the city-state of Thebes. Oedipus killed his father, married his mother and ascended to the throne.

However, he did not know he had done any of these things. In the story told in Sophocles’ Theban Plays, it is divined at his birth that the boy will live to do the accursed things.

In an effort to avoid the tragedy, his parents give away the infant to a herdsman with instructions to kill him.

However, the herdsman abandons the infant in the mountains, trusting that he will die. Another herdsman from a far away rescues the babe. He ends up with him in some other royal court. The boy grows up as a crown prince, adopted by the childless royal couple. He knows nothing about his true ancestry or the divination. 

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In early adulthood, the energetic prince goes out in search of adventure. Along the way, he has several fights with people from other tribes. He kills quite a number. He ends up in the Theban royal court. Here, he learns that someone has killed the king. He goes out to console the queen and falls in love with her. He marries her and gets a number of children with her. Then disasters begin happening – one after the other – the seven plagues.

Unending disasters

In the end, diviners are asked to establish the cause of all the unending disasters. The divination reveals that the king is the problem. The oracle reports that the man on the throne killed his father and married his mother. “You are the cause of all our problems. For, the bed you sleep in is a cursed bed. You sleep in your father’s bed. The woman you live with is your mother. The children you have sired are your siblings,” he is told. 

The facts slowly fall in place. The great man punishes himself by gorging out his eyes to avoid seeing his children ever again. For, they are also his siblings. His wife-mother kills herself. Oedipus goes into exile in the wilderness.

There is dramatic irony in this story. The audience knows the truth but the people in the drama don’t. Oedipus does not know his history and how he is the source of the plagues in the kingdom. In the Bible, King David did not know that he was the wicked rich man who had “eaten his poor neighbour’s lonely goat” when he could have eaten one from his thousands. Sages shocked both King David and King Oedipus into the truth.

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Conversations on corruption in Kenya tend to tiptoe around the true offenders. In the latest dialogue at the Bomas of Kenya last week, the sages who should have given pointers to what is happening were kept away. Organised under the aegis of the Association of Professional Societies in Eastern Africa (APSEA) the conference notably did not benefit from the Auditor General. Also missing in action was the Controller of Budget. These are the latter-day sages who should tell us about the plague of corruption. 

When you do not have the Auditor-General and the Controller of Budget at a national gathering that claims to address corruption, then the whole exercise is a farce. It only sends good money after bad money. The plague only gets worse. Meanwhile, among those talking loudest are the individuals whom the world sees as the drivers of the scourge. We will get out of this mess only after the real culprits are called by their names and are brought to justice. Maybe they sincerely don’t even know that they are the thieves everyone is talking about. These people sound like mockers.

- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser.

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CorruptionGraft WarJudiciary