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On the War on Corruption

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Matunda Nyanchama

April 24, 2019

Corruption keeps making the news headlines as a matter of routine, an indication that the vice is with us and will be with for a long time to come. I have previously written on the subject (see for example: The War on Corruption: Wanjiku not an Innocent Stander-by; Corruption Needs Change of Attitude & Credible Crusaders; Kenya: Beating Corruption in 2016; Mganga Hajigangi – Thoughts on the “war’ on corruption in Kenya, among others.) However, we cannot tire from addressing this scourge that is a hindrance to national development.

Here we go!

Recently someone circulated a late 1960s newspaper headline on corruption. In the report, then Vice President Daniel Arap Moi affirmed the government’s fight against the ill and vowed to crash the disease. Over the years the affliction has worsened. Few get shocked that there is news of corruption because it is the norm. There are few accolades for those that keep off this beaten path and, indeed, the public expects people in the office to personally benefit from the positions they hold; the looks down upon those that had the opportunity but failed to use it for self-gain.

It is close to 50 years since that proclamation by then Vice-President Moi, which parallels today’s reality where President Uhuru Kenyatta is making similar declarations. Supporters and well-wishers see the president’s declared war against corruption as a defining point in his presidency, a legacy, of perhaps greater impact that the Big Four Agenda than he has been rallying the country behind.

I don’t intend to dampen anyone’s spirits, but the war on corruption may take another fifty (even a hundred) years to keep the vice under control. Simply said, it will take a while.

My position is based on reflections (done over many years) on why we, as a society, tolerate corruption and open blunder to the degree we do. I posit that this is historical, ‘cultural’ and poor transition to the state called Kenya. … Before you condemn what I will say, ponder this:

Point#1 traditionally, when men came of age and they found that they cannot raise enough cattle for dowry, what did they do? They gathered fellow young men and plotted to raid their neighbouring ethnic communities for cattle; it was a taboo to raid one’s own community, something that fetched a curse that could only be undone through cleansing! Successful cattle raid ‘missions’ by these young men were praised and their entire community welcomed the raiders as heroes. They were celebrated and their acts immortalized in song and became part of the community lore, which was passed down generations. For example, during initiation ceremonies, the songs inspired the newly initiated to emulate the community heroes!

In my view, a substantial inclination to looting is rooted in this psyche! Many of the plunderers of national resources are heroes in their communities.  Just hear the pronouncements from ethnic warriors about being targeted! …

Point #2: rewind to the colonial period and the illegitimacy of the colonial state. At every opportunity, oppressed Kenyans resisted the state in many ways, including directly sabotaging it through inaction and plunder when an opportunity arose. These were legitimate acts of resistance to weaken the illegitimate colonial rule!

Now go back to 1963 and the transition to the Kenyan state. Little happened to re-orient our national psyche regarding the newly-won independence and that the state was no longer colonial! Those that led us to independence became the new Mzungu, conducting business exactly like their departed colonialists. We had replaced white skins with black ones.

Truth be told, the relationship between mwananchi and the state really never really changed despite that now we were led by our own. Mwananchi‘s resistance and sabotage continued. Mali ya umma, belonged to no one and hence was fair game! Anyone who got the opportunity to plunder did it with abandon and would retreat to their ethnic enclaves for protection when confronted, just like the days of yore of cattle raids! ….

Point #3: Also on the matter of transition, we retained our ethnic groups intact without necessary re-orientation that we (in independent Kenya) were now one “tribe” called Kenya rather than the 40+ tribes that we were and continue to be. Instead, our psyche, aligned with our ethnic identities, continued (and even so to date) to sabotage the state! (See The Making of Tribal Kenya and Unmaking Tribal Kenya)

Point #4: the Ndegwa Commission of 1969 (?) allowed people working for the government to do business with the government, even in the face of weaknesses in managing conflict of interest. Thus people were drawn into government not because they wanted to serve but largely to find means of plundering state resources!

Logically, then if one is in government and doesn’t make hay while there one is seen as a fool. Service, excellence and adding value are the last considerations! Servant leadership is a vocabulary unknown to the majority in government. Just watch even who we give national honours and the value they hold dear!

In a nutshell, it will be a while before we see the true engagement of mwananchi in the war of corruption. For the majority, corruption is the culture, the norm and those not corrupt are the exception! Social change takes a long while, even generations, to take root! The good thing is that the seeds of that change are being planted today. These need to fall on fertile soil, be watered religiously and tended to yield fruit.

To succeed requires a new form of leadership that will define success in ways that capture values of national well-being. Money, especially from questionable sources, should not be a yardstick of success. Driving nice cars is good, provided you have bought them through your sweat and legitimate earning. Building a large mansion is good, provided it is your money.

We must start rewarding hard work and those that contribute to collective well-being. Think of medical personnel that save lives, security personnel that keep us safe, the social worker that cares for the disadvantaged, the teacher that moulds our children for the future, the evangelist who lives by the words of the Bible, the leaders that work for the people, and many, many more.

Let me thank you for lending me your eyes and brains!

NB: Dr. Matunda Nyanchama consults in ICT, Information Security, and Risk Management, in addition to publishing books. He can be reached at  

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