Gambling, graft are two sides of same opportunistic coin

Silvana Kaparo is a banker. [Photo: Courtesy]

There is nothing wrong with pursuing financial wealth. The fact is that Kenyans’ ambitions are what keep our economy thriving, with growth rates of 5.7 per cent projected for 2019, according to the World Bank economic update on Kenya, and Real Gross Domestic Product projected at 5.9 per cent for 2020.

This economic activity lays the foundations for important social justice policies that help the sick and the poor, enabling Universal Health Coverage, an affordable housing programme, projects aimed at enhancing food security and real jobs and infrastructure. All these in turn are also enabling further growth.

That cycle of life is threatened, first and foremost, by corruption. We are taught that “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24 ). Nothing better represents our moral erosion than when money is put above everything else. 

In recent years, the phenomenon of graft lies heavily on the hearts and minds of hardworking Kenyans. All those seeking shortcuts in a criminal way, those abusing the trust they were granted in order to steal our resources, are the enemies of the people.

Misuse money

Along with graft, our society is degraded by another, more quiet, menace: greed. Greed means acting selfishly, forgetting about your family who rely on you and invest in you, and caring instead only for yourself. 

One of the worst epidemics of greed in our time is gambling. Kenyan millennials spend as much as Sh5,000 a month on sports betting. They take the money that their family expects them to save and spend it wisely, and misuse it senselessly.

They forget how betting is exposed time and time again as rigged, from slot machines in Las Vegas that are designed in a way you can never win, to match fixing scandals in Europe. Instead of working hard to produce, grow and manufacture, they ignore the basic principles of probability, which defy any chances of making any real gains from betting.

A GeoPoll survey shows Kenya is leading on gambling in Africa, with 18 gambling facilities, 128 table games and 908 video poker machines. If that sounds like a lot, just think that 96 per cent of sports bets in Kenya are made on mobile phones! Considering what good causes can be served instead by this money, we should all renounce this senseless game.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote of the golden rules that to determine if an act is morally permissible or not. The first is that to consider whether a rule is good or bad, we should universalise it.

Paying taxes, for example, is a moral act, since universalising it makes perfect sense: if we all pay our share, we can enjoy a thriving society that reflects the will of the people. Respecting your elders, planting trees, donating to charity - can be similarly formulated as a general maxim.  

Graft and gambling, on the other hand, can never inform a general rule. If everyone universally adopts a rule such as “take what belongs to others whenever you want”, our notions of property and ownership will disintegrate. Equally, if everybody follows the rule: “bet your family’s money away”, we would lose faith in the entire institution of family and community life.

Graft is part of a “Get rich quick mentality” that is ruining Kenya, as Uhuru framed it. Speaking in Muranga County, Uhuru warned that “high appetite for quick riches” is undermining the progress of our nation. There can be no building of roads and hospitals or creation of jobs when public resources are plundered.

- The writer is a banker