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Taming corruption in Kenya is an uphill task

OPINION
By X N Iraki | November 24th 2015

The coming together of foreign envoys to render their support in the war against graft shows the seriousness with which everyone is taking graft or corruption - except us.

I believe travel bans are not effective; it is no longer cool to travel abroad. When did you last see a bus adorned with banana leaves going to the airport? What can you buy abroad that is not available in Kenya?

Media reports are awash with news on graft.  Are we getting more corrupt or are we reporting corruption more? Has corruption become the new political front? Do we risk making corruption a way of life by glorifying it in the media?

To be sincere, the media is freer and bolder and can report on issues we could never have reported in the past. We are, therefore, right in pointing out that corruption is more widely reported. But has it increased?

It is very hard to be objective on matters of corruption. What is not in doubt is that corruption is there; bribing to get tenders, good schools or good jobs.

Maybe we should start by asking how we got there and if there is an exit strategy. When a majority of people think you can get money by sitting around, brokering or just conning others, we are in trouble.

With time, people start asking themselves why they are not in the game of stealing; for that is what corruption is all about. Then they start a race on who can 'eat faster and eat more'.  Working is seen as foolish.

Most Kenyans, as a matter of fact, grew up in deprived families. Could this explain why their access to public funds means corruption? Could that explain why we are slender while growing up and get obese later on?

Religion and family (and empowered teachers) muted our 'animal instincts'. Not any more, without these restraints, individuals worship money and property. These never satiate.

Corruption is a sign of national immaturity. If we were mature enough we could think about the next generation and the threat to security and social fabric spawned by corruption. When honest work is degraded, the economy is degraded.

The key driver of corruption is the public, which does nothing as their leaders squander their money. The public secretly admires corrupt people; they have all the symbols of success, big cars, dine in high places, take trips to exotic places, and probably have more sexual partners.

Given a chance, many of those who complain about corruption would partake in it. That is why we vote some leaders out and find the next lot is not different. Ethnicity and the deeply ingrained belief that corruption is not bad, it is just helping 'our people', make it hard to uproot. What can we do about corruption?

Some have argued that the new Constitution made corruption easier. It assumed that the public will hold its leaders accountable. Instead, leaders have held the voters hostage. Nowadays, more people have access to public money than in the past. That was a long-cherished dream since independence.

CORD's proposed constitutional amendment (Okoa Kenya) wants members of county assemblies (MCAs) to control some funds. With all the money shared out and the public not really getting bothered, it is no wonder that corruption is thriving. Consider also that sharing money is not tied to generating it.

Why would you not squander what you have not earned?

Others have argued persuasively that the grand coalition also catalysed corruption. Those who were in opposition finally realised there is something to be eaten in the Government. Corruption is worse than cancer, because cancer kills the afflicted, but corruption eats into the next generation.

Would punishment including jail terms reduce corruption? Maybe, but why not steal enough to hire lawyers! Punishment must be immediate if it is to be a deterrent. One simple way to reduce corruption is to ensure information is easily available.

Suppose counties and the national government published all the data on what they did with their money and updated it regularly as new money came in and more purchases were made?

Let us be blunt, corruption will only reduce in this country when the public says enough is enough, but as long as they are wiling accomplices, graft will thrive, creating a few rich Kenyans, and impoverishing the majority.

If the economy grew fast enough, corruption would reduce because everyone would have something to eat. Corruption and scarcity go together. That is why developed economies are less corrupt.   Paradoxically, we need less corruption to grow and reduce corruption...

Finally, there is a popular narrative that the President is doing nothing on corruption. Didn't we ensure he had no power in the new Constitution?

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