To root out corruption, address it at source

Corruption; both big and small should be called to account — but we must also seek to address its source. [iStockphoto]

On March 8th, this year, thousands of jobless youth turned up to try their luck to fill 1,900 slots advertised by the Kenya Forest Service.

As they thronged stadiums to be considered, what many may not know is that the “rightful candidates” may have been chosen long ago and what happened was just a formality.

If your ears are on the ground, you know police recruitment is ongoing. I don’t know what you have heard. But if you have people on the ground; ask about the talk in bars, villages and market. Women are struggling to get Sh350,000 for their sons to join the police force.  

To make it worse, you will hear more poor people selling their pieces of land, cattle and borrowing to raise the money. Sh350,000 is a fortune to many. There are many things you could buy for this price including land, education, healthcare etc.  But for many this is the cost of a job in the police force. 

As a country, we lost our golden opportunity to fight corruption. That was in 2002, the year of the Rainbow Coalition when Mwai Kibaki was elected President. I remember the feeling that corruption was gone and that there was a new day.

I remember the day I was in a matatu and police stopped it for a bribe. The passengers, including me, stepped out and arrested the police officer and drove him to the nearest police station.

The feeling was overwhelming. It was a dawn of a new day. Sadly, politics took over when Raila Odinga and Kibaki differed and life continued as normal until today. Will we get there again? You tell me.

Every so often, a bigwig meets the day when they are asked to answer for their source of wealth. Where the anti-corruption investigators come calling.

Estimates suggest that over 20 per cent of Kenya’s GDP is lost yearly to corruption.  Imagine what this money could do. It can repay debts saddling future generations. Invest in climate-resilient technologies. Provide more cost-effective health care and education. We absolutely should address this grand-scale corruption: especially as we are asked to pay more in taxes.

However, today let’s talk about micro-corruptions not even seen and recognised as such because they are accepted; ingrained in the Kenyan way of life.

We have become accustomed to paying for what should be our rights. Traffic stop, for no reason? Hand over Sh1,000. Faster service at a government office, “pay a guy.” But even more stunning, buy a job. Buy a spot in the police force. 

Are you sure that police man or woman will fight corruption? Don’t blame them when they ask for bribes because they bought that job. They have not paid their debts yet. Their parents sold land for them to get the job. Of course not all police officers got their jobs through bribes. 

This has cost the life of many young police men. They have committed suicide as they get phone calls from the village reminding them of the debt. And yet they earn less.

As always they say the money is going to mkubwa. Soon we will find those wakubwa. Many people have also been conned after paying the money. You can’t report the mess as you were corrupted too.

That said, President Ruto is on the right track to funnel National Youth Service (NYS) as a training ground for the police, army and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers. 

This will create a foundation of service; a pathway to jobs and will stop this practice but we need to do more. We need to create jobs for our youth so that they are not bought and sold.

We need to hold the police accountable for corruption. We need to expand the NYS as a training ground for the police, but also for a national community health-worker force. This is an area of so much potential and one where I know myself and others would be eager to support.

As we look at our nation, we must ask why are people going to such lengths, and what impact does that have on us, the people?

Corruption; both big and small should be called to account - but we must also seek to address its source.

-The writer is founder of Shofco and a member of USAid Advisory Board. @KennedyOdede