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Kenya; we’re prisoners of our own culture of stealing

By Tom Mboya | Nov 8th 2015 | 4 min read
By Tom Mboya | November 8th 2015

NAIROBI: No matter how you look at it, something is amiss in Kenya. Corruption appears on a resurgence of epic proportions. We hop from one corruption scandal to the next, none of which ever proceed to any judicial conclusion. In recent weeks, debate on whereabouts of the Eurobond billions and the effect (or lack thereof) on the economy, has reached fever pitch.

The Controller of Budget, on her part, revealed that the monies were deposited in an off-shore account over which she had no power; nor did she approve the use of Sh53.2 billion for a loan repayment. At the same time, the economy appears to have experienced a dramatic downturn: the cost of living remains oppressively high for the average Kenyan, forex rates have plummeted with the dollar exchanging at Sh107 at its lowest point, while interest rates have continued to rise.

Beyond the mystery of the Eurobond billions, we encounter corruption and impunity at almost every turn. Recently, it emerged that KCSE papers and questions were leaked and sold in advance of national examinations on an unprecedented scale.

What boggles the mind is the extent to which much of the “leakage“ takes place openly, with dedicated Facebook pages set up to transact this business, and papers shared through WhatsApp and other social media platforms. As a result of this scandal, 16 people were arrested for being in possession of leaked materials in Kilifi County alone (including 2 police officers); while in a separate incident five teachers were arrested for sharing Biology and Chemistry papers in advance.

Our own tolerance of corruption, and the use of shortcuts to arrive at a desired goal are demonstrated by the curious case of one Julius Njogu, who crossed the line in second place at the Standard Chartered Marathon and was set to win Sh650,000 for his “efforts“. It later emerged that Njogu entered the race at a later stage, as he was nowhere to be seen in CCTV footage of the race leaders in earlier stages. His demeanour attracted the attention of many, as at the finish line he had barely broken a sweat, while all other race leaders were at the medical tent seeking treatment following the gruelling 42-kilometre event. Bizarre!

These instances point to a societal acceptance of corruption: of a now established culture whereby it is acceptable to use any means necessary to achieve a certain end, whether by lying, cheating, or even outright thuggery. As the country continues to grapple with these challenges, it is often all too easy to issue a blanket condemnation of government or political leadership as being greedy, incompetent, and insensitive or indeed oblivious to the needs and aspirations of the majority of Kenyans. While these accusations are not without merit, they fail to take into account the wider ramifications of the entrenchment of a culture of corruption developed and nurtured over time, with clear indications of a deeper societal malaise as illustrated by the KCSE scandal and the case of Mr Njogu.

There comes a point when as a nation, we must take responsibility and begin to question our own culpability in the decline of our national value system. The country‘s leadership who engage in nefarious activities are opportunistic, taking their cue from the state of society at large. They amass enormous wealth, often from public coffers and at the expense of ordinary Kenyans comfortable in the knowledge that respect for the rule of law has long been in decline. From the senior-most politician to the newspaper vendor or mama mboga, we have developed a society where adherence to the rule of law is the exception, rather than the rule: for it is easier to bribe a policeman when we are guilty of flouting the law, or grease the palms of a public official to look the other way when we are about to.

In my view, we will not tame the monster of corruption in our midst merely by making laws. More importantly, I am no longer convinced that we can leave the serious business of eradicating corruption to the current or any future leadership. For as long as we remain a society that condones corrupt practices as a means of “getting things done“, then corruption shall be the order of the day.

A top-down approach to fighting corruption has proven as ineffective as it is unlikely. Therefore, it is up to the citizenry to dictate terms to our leadership and public officials. This can only be done by conducting a cold, frank examination of our national value system, and how we choose to conduct ourselves as Kenyans.

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