Two weeks ago I was stopped at a police check point at Mombasa Airport as I dropped off a passenger for a local flight.
From the outset, the officer was gruff, aggressive and obstinate. After asking a series of unnecessary questions, he eventually became more direct and unapologetically demanded, “nipe pesa ya chai”. I became incensed and while confronting him face on noted that he displayed neither number nor name on his uniform.
I informed him that he was under arrest and should enter the car so that I could hand him over at the nearest police station. His demeanour drastically changed and as large blobs of sweat appeared on his blue uniform, he begged for forgiveness. Wearing my other hat, I let him go but not before he got a dressing down that he might not forget in a hurry. You probably have similar experiences on a daily basis. Police harassment and bribery are routine and traffic cops are particularly notorious at extortion that buys chickens for their bosses’ lunch. But what do you do when you are in a similar situation? How many resist, confront and challenge the everyday corruption that we meet on the roads, in public offices and at the village level? What is your experience and response?
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s war on corruption seems not to be heading anywhere. As long as the DCI and ODDP concentrate on recent mega graft and ignore unresolved cases of the past, they face the accusation of targeting out of favour political and ethnic elites.
We debate these matters and rightly so, but what do we as individuals do on a daily basis to fight corruption on our own doorsteps? What about devolved funds or the projects still funded under NG-CDF in your sub location? Are they ghost projects? Have they brought change and have you ever challenged your own CDF management committee about their performance?
My colleagues in Haki Yetu have brought the war on corruption and the challenge of accountability to the village level. In constituencies as diverse as Junda, Malindi and Msambwani together with the local community, they have documented the approved projects for the past five years and detailed the current status report according to the national office. They then erect a simple, inexpensive community board displaying these projects for all to see. These are usually displayed at public markets or bus stages and the local community protects the structures while engaging passersby in debate on the same.
When accountability is localised and communities realise that public toilets, roads and boreholes only exist on paper, that knowledge is powerful and a threat.
Many will lament that things will not change, but let us not forget what Gandhi said to critics of his non violent protests against the British Empire.
He told them he protests not so much as to bring change but to ensure the oppressors do not change him. We all have as a first duty to protect our own integrity, values, soul, call it what you will and we must believe that every truth uttered in public has an impact sooner or later.
It was Global Whistleblowers Day this week and John Githongo and the late David Munyakei were honoured. But remember that prophets old and new are people like you and me. They were weary with trying, tempted to give up but remained steadfast, clinging to the truth. Prophets everywhere disturb the peace because they challenge institutions that resist change. Like Jesus, they comfort the afflicted but afflict the comfortable. The call to be prophetic is not popular even for religious people who prefer rituals and spiritual comfort more than moral maturity and integrity.
There have been many courageous prophets in Kenya, but as Dostoyevsky said many moons ago, ‘People reject their prophets and slay them but they love their martyrs’. Reflect on that. When the troublemaker is silenced and no longer a threat to us from the grave then we can now afford to revere them and celebrate their anniversaries.
Of course grand corruption must be tackled but how many of the public are in a position to express their anger over that? But none of us have any excuse for tolerating graft and abuse of office on our own doorsteps.