Genuine public commitment missing link in anti-graft war

 

In the recent past, Kenyans have heard of reports, such as the one about the Controller of Budget sensationally uncovering multiple monetary allocations for some government officials that involved huge amounts and unexplained spending. This was just another appendage to a long list of acts of filching public funds.

Meanwhile, graft has grown to be the outsized ogre that strolls around our institutions, brazenly making away with as much as a third of our annual national budget, as ‘Wanjiku’ reels under the weight of poverty and the ever-ballooning debt burden.

It is arguably the biggest gobbler of Kenya’s national resources (Uhuru Kenyatta told us about a billion shillings being lost daily). It somehow slips through highly weaponised laws and specialised anti-corruption institutions created to arrest it. Always, accusing fingers reflexively point towards the political class.

But does it suffice to react to the theft of public funds by merely whining and cursing nonchalantly, as the Kenyan public is wont to do? Or is there possibly some behavioural change that could help deflate this vice, and hopefully bring it to an end?

Our rhetorical question brings to mind a classic story which illustrates the role of a second party in a seemingly one-sided problem, one about a woman who approached a traditional medicine man over her constant squabbles with her husband. After keenly studying the pattern of the quarrels, the medicine man prescribed a magic drug, which she was required to sip as soon as the husband came home, and to keep it in her mouth for the entire tense period of their interaction.

After following the prescription religiously for a while, she noticed a clear and dramatic reduction in their domestic altercations. On her second visit for review and replenishment of the dose, she narrated the impressive results to the magician, who sheepishly confessed that his wonder drug was merely a water placebo basically meant to prevent her mouth from engaging in any verbal exchanges. Since it takes two to tango, her husband’s provocative discourses soon died out for lack of an antagonist.

In a similar way, the Kenyan public may need to search its own soul for complicity in corruption. For indeed, most of us are known to literally worship super-wealthy individuals even when their affluence is the product of sleaze. Honestly, who among us does not drool - especially during national elections - for free handouts from the fat pockets of these masters as a bribe to vote for them?

This way, the public tacitly okays ascendancy to wealth through disreputable means. In effect, we not only lend credibility to questionable dealings: We actively promote stained leadership, too. This makes nonsense of our loud megaphones demanding hygiene of character at the national helm.

Perhaps our citizenry could do with a dose of the medicine man’s genius patent, shut its mouth and embark on serious introspection. For it is a foregone fact that merely huffing and puffing at the sight of conspicuous consumption and overnight aggrandisement by our elected representatives has not amounted to anything.

For a start, the public should outrightly resist the urge to partake in the proceeds of corruption and heave audibly, retch with revulsion and turn the other way in the face of all offers of tainted freebies. This would deny the corrupt individuals the chance of ‘cleansing’ their wealth by sharing it with the public, and serve as a salutary lesson to all aspirant thieves that the public is aware of, and averse to their mendacious enterprises.

To supplement this, we must also leverage on traditional and religious values to up the ante of social censorship. It is widely known that people - especially politicians - would die for a favourable reputation. Suppose graft suspects were subjected to constant social rebuke and rejection? Suppose they were marked and shamed on every hand? This could put significant pressure on them to desist from such acts and - to hope against hope- ultimately surrender back their ill-gotten public wealth.

When the fellow who betrayed Dedan Kimathi to the colonial government bought a minibus for public transport using the blood money, the community around him did something close to what we are prescribing.

They resolutely refused to board it, and proceeded to deface it with the words ‘KIMATHI’S SHIN’ - a tormenting reminder of the anatomical location where Kimathi was shot. Even when he tried to sell this bus, no one was interested. He died a miserable outcast, watching his investment rust away behind his house. That is how much collective assertiveness and resolve by a community can achieve.

Thirdly the public should exalt integrity and honest dealings by celebrating simple individuals who lead honest lives. This category of honourable souls should also be the ones elected to leadership, as long as they pledge to continue being living examples.

Perhaps by taking this route of strong resolve and discipline, Kenyan citizenry could effectively fight the scourge of corruption. 

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