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Corruption in Kenya has become a virtue

By Tania Ngima | July 12th 2016
Tania Ngima

Seventy-three per cent of Kenyan youth are afraid to stand up for what is right due to fear of retribution. This statistic was revealed by a study on Kenyan youth conducted by the Aga Khan University’s East African Institute earlier this year.

And like a self-fulfilling prophesy, the spate of extra-judicial killings has increased, with the most recent incident in the limelight getting a lot of attention from the local and international community.

To compound this dilemma is the fact that most whistleblowers who have been in the heart of the country’s scandals meet a mysterious death shortly after they become known to the public.

The institutions that are meant to protect them as a valuable resource makes no effort to keep them out of harm’s way, passing a clear message that if you decide to go against the grain, your days are numbered.

This being an election period, there is another worrying statistic that has been cited by various sources. Over 60 per cent of youth are susceptible to electoral bribery, with 40 percent declaring they would only vote for a candidate who bribes them.

This says a lot about the kind of leaders we can expect to have in power, we are consciously choosing corruption over performance not realizing the long term impact that we will be condoning.

Alongside glamorising corruption, especially amongst our political class, the youth have been cited to deem fraudulently acquired wealth as a badge of honour instead of something to be penalized.

All these statistics reflect the values of the society that we are currently living in and the attitudes that we have towards who we consider as our role models.

But in a conversation I had a few days ago in a forum where we were discussing modern-day aberrations, there were two schools of thought.
The first blamed the media for glamorising wealth and the more material, superficial measures of success, regardless of how ill-gotten they were.

The other claimed we did not have enough role models being cited as the people to look up to and whose actions to emulate.
I do not agree with the latter school of thought, though.

I think that we have quite a number of role models in different spheres of society, but they do not always get the mainstream media attention and therefore are not in the limelight as much as they should be.

And in as much as it is easy to blame the media for not focusing enough on real leaders to the exception of local celebrities and politicians, in this case the failings lie with us.

Our inability to apply critical thinking and take everything that is fed to us at face value is going to be our biggest undoing as we head to the polls.

It is not enough to just listen to whoever has the most compelling argument or the most charisma and airtime in front of the cameras.

The fundamental difference between politicians and leaders is whether they do what they say or whether their words remain just that, words. They need to vote with their actions more than with just their words.

We need to understand that role models are not made by the limelight or the media, they exist much longer before and after public broadcasting.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where we believe what we see on television and read in newspapers to the exclusion of everything else, instead of contextualising it in the light of the conversation.

The conversation around a lack of role models and local leaders who Kenyans can aspire to be like is worrying as it mirrors exactly the situation we are going to replicate at the polls.

Why, as a nation, are we so reluctant to look beyond the face value or the words that are spoken by those we choose to represent us?

Given that we are all frustrated by the level of malfeasance and corruption around us, it is ludicrous that we would condemn it less when we are participatory parties.

It is these double standards though, that will be our undoing. From a value perspective, what we are pronouncing is that a course of action is only wrong when we are not involved, and as soon as we are, we can justify it.

If we are indeed the leaders of tomorrow, then it seems that touting ourselves as more superior leaders is just paying lip service to an otherwise important docket.

How different are we from the politicians who stand in front of us and declare allegiance to whichever side of an argument they see giving their individual interests the most mileage?

And most importantly, how do we change this narrative, both for upcoming elections and in a bid to redeem the quickly eroding values of our nation?

How do we redeem the highly corruptible existence that we seem hell bent on embracing, regardless of the fact that we can envision the consequences of this course of action? Or are we saying that this is the only thing the next few generations will have to look forward to?

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