It's corruption that is stealing millions of young people's jobs

A photo of gloves indicating fight against corruption. [Patrick Vidija, Standard]

Unemployment in Kenya is a persistent issue, and it is disheartening to note that much of it has been artificially generated and sustained over the years. Corruption plays a significant role in this, diverting resources that could otherwise be used to create jobs and improve the lives of many Kenyans. The amount of money lost to corruption is mind-boggling when broken down into actual value. For instance, with the current civil service workforce at about 700,000, this number could be tripled without any borrowing if we resolutely stopped adoring ill-gotten wealth.

Let's begin with a basic example. Teacher interns in Kenya are paid a gross salary of about Sh30,000. With Sh1 billion stolen by an individual, we could pay approximately 33,333 teacher interns for one month. Over a year, this would support about 2,778 interns. Demonstrating the worth of Sh1 billion further, consider employees earning a gross salary of Sh50,000 per month. With Sh1 billion, we could pay 20,000 employees for one month. Over a year, this could support 1,667 employees. For employees earning a gross salary of Sh200,000, stolen Sh1 billion could pay 5,000 employees for one month. Over a year, this could support approximately 417 employees.

Each dispensary uses Sh300,000 per month to treat an average of 100 patients. With Sh1 billion lost to corruption, approximately 3,333 dispensaries would be deprived of funds for a month. This translates to 333,300 patients losing access to treatment. Annually, this amount could support about 278 dispensaries, providing treatment for 27,800 patients per month. A corrupt individual stealing Sh1 million could deny 333 children the opportunity to study for a year, assuming each child's school fee is Sh3,000 per year. If Sh1 billion meant for education is lost to corruption, this could affect 333,333 children.

These calculations present some basic realities on the way we pretend to support young people when in fact we are not.

First, we have normalised the absurdity of billions of Kenya shillings lost to corruption. Former President Uhuru Kenyatta highlighted that we lose Sh2 billion daily to corruption. Even if we were to assume it is Sh1 billion daily, it still exposes the beastly nature of humanity, as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes would describe. Second, if we manage to save Sh100 billion a year from corruption, we could employ 3,333,333 youths at a gross salary of Sh30,000 for one month.

Alternatively, we could employ 2,000,000 youth at Sh50,000 for one month or 500,000 youth at Sh200,000 for one month. Additionally, we could educate 10 million children per year or treat 333,333 patients across the country if each dispensary received Sh300,000 per month.

Third, systemic corruption is often considered victimless because no direct face is attached to it. The belief that "government money is nobody's money" perpetuates this misconception. The statement "kwani hii pesa ni ya mama yako?" (is this your mother’s money?) encapsulates this flawed mentality. Lastly, there is financial evidence showing we cannot employ more civil servants due to corruption. In contrast, evidence indicates that we can employ more civil servants at no additional cost. Jobs are plentiful, with learning institutions understaffed, agriculture capable of improving tenfold, and security needing a stronger workforce. Failing to stop mega corruption is failing to secure the present and future of young people.

Why should we focus on corruption? Anyone who believes in God knows that to do right is a call. It is a spiritual obligation. Secondly, God has given us the conscience to differentiate wrong from right. As it is written, God has written the law in our hearts. We cannot pretend not to know what is right. Third, the consequences of mega corruption that neither the government nor ourselves, citizens, are struggling to stop are dire for future generations. Living in bad faith, in other words, burying our heads in the sand hoping that the culture of corruption will end is postponing a cancer in a public body.

Dr Mokua is the Executive Director, the Loyola Centre for Media and Communication.