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Westgate attack happened because we tolerate corruption

COMMENTARY
By - RUTH LUBEMBE | October 2nd 2013

By RUTH LUBEMBE

Life is very slowly but surely going back to normal. Sure, the vivid pictures and, for those who were actually caught up in the Westgate attack, the memories are still a source of jarring, haunting shock. But, as always happens, ‘normal’ patterns are resuming.

And that is a sad thing because after what happened on September 21, life for us should never be the same again. The terrorist attack on Westgate Mall should serve as a turning point for this country. Otherwise we should just sit back and wait for the next attack, and the one after that….

At the height of the rescue efforts, part of a song was played repeatedly on TV, accompanying images of what had happened at Westgate. I was to discover this week the name and composer of the song — Utawala by Juliani, a young, popular gospel artist.

When I had opportunity to listen to the whole song, I almost stood up and saluted.

My heart cried, “That’s it! That should be the personal anthem of everyone who has ever said Najivunia kuwa Mkenya!’”  The last line of the refrain especially stood out — “…niko tayari kulipa gharama; sitasimama maovu yakitawala (I am ready to pay the price; I will not stand by (and watch) while evil reigns).”

September 21 did not just happen. It wasn’t as if a bunch of young men (and a woman if that part of the story is true) just woke up that morning and happened to have some guns lying around that they could play with; or that their mothers were negligent in their upbringing.

No, the attack on Westgate shoppers and shop owners was the deadly culmination of careful planning and taking full advantage of any and every loophole they could find — in our security system, in our immigration system, even in our general insatiable hunger for a quick buck or a shortcut.

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In all thriller ‘bad guy, good guy’ movies, victory lies in looking — sometimes very patiently — for loopholes. God knows we have enough of those in our country. Collectively, all these loopholes have a name: Corruption.

I don’t mean the grand corruption scams that make for sensational headlines from time to time.  It is the result of a growing mountain of petty corruption.

How have we been corrupt?

Let us count the ways… Remember that time you bribed the traffic cop who caught you talking on your mobile phone while driving? Or the kanjo lady who threatened to clamp your car unless you parted with “soda”?

What about that trading licence that you didn’t pay the correct amount for? And the fake degree that you proudly display at job interviews. Or even that deal you have with the Asian shop attendant who smuggles goods from the store for you at a lower price; or your imported cars dealer, who fiddles with the mileage button so you can get a higher price for an older car.

All this is small, petty stuff that everyone does, so it’s okay, right?

I mean, we’re not talking tax evasion or non-existent gold mining deals or multi-million shilling tender kickbacks, so we’re fine, right? Wrong!

That traffic police soon ‘graduates’ to seeing no evil as long as the driver of a truck carrying contraband oils his palm the right way; the “Photocopy & Printing” outfit that forged university degrees on the side realises there is a lot more money to be made manufacturing fake ID cards.

And who can blame the poor immigration officer posted to some god-forsaken dot of a town on the Kenyan map where there’s no network? How is he supposed to make ends meet on his poor government pay? Why, by allowing “strangers” to cross the border without proper documentation, of course!

Corruption — it’s everywhere and the reason it is so rampant is because there are so many takers.  Somebody somewhere, going by the investigative reports streaming in, had enough information to prevent Westgate attack from ever happening. But they didn’t. And only after the fact is everyone and their cousin speaking up.

How about we learn, as a society of right-thinking, development-minded Kenyans, to speak up BEFORE the fact?

Before the collective sense of outrage completely dies down and the trauma starts to heal; before the passage of time takes the sharp edge off the horror that confronted us a week ago, perhaps this is the best time to confront ourselves; ask ourselves how we each contributed to the events of Saturday September 21, 2013. Because this is — or should be — a turning point for us.

Writer is a Revise Editor at The Standard.

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