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Kenya: Beating Corruption in 2016

By Matunda Nyanchama

Happy New Year friends, colleagues, foes and all. May 2016 bring you the achievements you have dreamt of in the past. Let it raise your blessings to greater heights than before.

As we start the New Year, let’s pray that, as a nation, we may find greater unity of purpose. Let’s pray that we may realize that we have common destiny and for that reason we need to cooperate, collaborate and work together for the common good.

In that respect, let our hearts be gentler than they have been in the past so that we may bootstrap those of our fellow citizens in unfortunate circumstances. Whether born to the rich or poor, no child chooses where s/he is born. Let not an accident of birth be one’s destiny.

Corruption made headlines 2015 and continues to do so today. We have a long way to solve this menace. And indeed, its persistence and resilience underlines the fact that it pays for perpetrators who continue to find corruption lucrative despite associated risks.

It is obvious that deterrent measures are not working as they should. As a result, this scourge continues to divert resources from legitimate collective use for personal gain. We must rethink strategies of fighting this vice for, as they say, it is insane to continue doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.

My view is that until we understand the key root causes and enablers of corruption and its perpetuation, we cannot effectively tackle it. Further, until we have effective deterrent measures, corruption will be here to stay despite all our collective concerns and rhetoric.

In this article I underline some (there are more) aspects that form the mainstay of corruption and hence form impediments to the war on corruption.

Societal Attitudes

A while back, a professional in a private company was accused of embezzling money from the company. It was a sizable chunk of “change” considering the times. The alleged thief was duly arraigned in court and pleaded not guilty.

Once out on bail, as the case awaited full hearing, the man conjured up a tale. It went something like his troubles were as a result of his planned run for political office. He alleged that the whole matter was planned and executed by his political opponents, including the then sitting Member of Parliament. His “opponents” were wary of his enhanced means; now that he was better resourced, he would be a harder nut to crack in the next elections!

And know what? The electorate seemed to buy it! His popularity rose with the chorus being: the man has fought hard. He has gotten loot that he will bring to the community. The opponents, some in the electorate felt, were sour losers! And in any case, some would openly ask, what is wrong with acquiring wealth?

To cut a long story short, the man’s political star rose over time. Years later, he was elected to parliament and served for many more years! And this is the man who was alleged to have stolen!

There is similar story (not sure of its origins) of a bank manager whose tenure at the bank was deemed one of the most successful. At his funeral, many years after retirement, some were heard sneering at the man’s modest holdings, arguing that he watched all the money flow and never caught any for himself, unlike his predecessors and successors that had made hay while at the bank!

Shunned was a man who had lead a honest life!

Leaders’ Attitudes

Back in 2006 at the annual conference of the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA) I spoke about the runaway effects of corruption. I argued then that those in opposition were as corrupt as those in power at the time. Indeed, I argued that the only reason the opposition made noise about corruption was because they felt excluded from the “eating table” and that they did not have any meaningful resolve to deal with corruption should they get power.

After my presentation, I sat with an MP who was in attendance. He nudged me and asked why I was opposed to people acquiring wealth when all others were doing the same! I responded that there was nothing wrong with acquiring wealth per se. However, doing so illegally was the issue!

We did get a coalition government following the post-election violence of 2007/2008. The record of the coalition government on corruption bears my position! Those that were crying foul about corruption in opposition stand accused of perpetrating the same when in power.

There is usually more to the drums of war against corruption than meets the eye!

Getting away with it

When human beings engage in illegal activities as corruption, they take calculated risks. For instance, what is the chance that they would be caught? What are the chances of prosecution and conviction? Clearly, as reported recently in the press, the record of convictions is dismal! So people know they are likely to get away with it!

There is story told of law enforcement officers going after a suspected embezzler who kept dishing some of the proceeds of embezzlement to the investigators. And as long as he kept giving, those sharing the loot with him could tamper with the evidence and finally the case never saw the light of day in court.

There are many stories of matters that are brought to court with no sufficient evidence to assure conviction.

We should be wary of the extent corruption of those entrusted with fighting corruption!

Protecting “our own”

The tradition of dowry is well established with my people of Gusii. In the old days, a man had to raise as many as fifteen head of cattle to assure he would get a wife. Woe unto he who had no such herd! Inevitably, he had to plan and execute plans to get the needed dowry if he ever dreamt of marrying and raising a family!

A typical plan would be to gather fellow young men. They would then make calculated incursions into the neighbouring ethnic group for it was taboo to steal from your own! Cattle raids were a common source of conflict between many ethnic groups.

A “successful” raid where many heads of cattle were driven home by a triumphant group of young men was welcomed home with jubilation! There would be song and dance by euphoric crowds with praises of the young people! And traditional brew would flow and the warriors would be targets for competition by young women (potential brides) and their families!

These raids were not seen as stealing for they ensured net gain for the community that executed  “successful” raids!

We watch routinely how individuals accused of stealing turn to their communities for protection. They cry loudly that their communities are being targeted and these communities, with absolutely nothing to do with the stealing, come to the defense of their own!

We need to define “our own” more broadly beyond ethnicity. In the true sense, “our own” should be all the Kenyan people! And since it is taboo to steal from one’s own, we should not then be stealing from fellow Kenyans!

***

This is by no means exhaustive of the war against corruption. But it offers some thoughts on why this scourge remains a stubborn endurance!

****

Dr. Matunda Nyanchama is an ICT Consultant and Book Publisher; he can be reached at mnyanchama@aganoconsulting.com