By Alexander Opicho
Recently, over fifty officers working with the Kenya Revenue authority (KRA) were arrested for engaging in doing corruption, including receiving bribes to falsify tax records so. That incident brought to mind Shakespeare’s words in the Measure for Measure: ‘The tempter or the tempted, who sins most?’
I read the Measure for Measure when I was sixteen – this is about three decades ago. But when the media, in May 2019, reported fifty plus young men and women between the ages of twenty and forty five, earning a decent and middle-income monthly salary, living above want and poverty, who have degenerated into perpetrating mass corruption, receiving bribes and looting the tax payer’s money and hence rendering the government fettered in its duty to execute welfare services to the citizens, the morally obliging words of Shakespeare came to my mind, particularly because, afterwards, someone said to me, ‘the devil had tempted the youth in Kenya to commit corruption.’
The news about mass corruption among youth in the Kenya’s public service coincided with the international conference on digital economy in Rwanda. The ‘Transform Africa Summit’ had attracted young people from all over the world to showcase and exhibit their innovations and projects in information technology. Dispiritingly, only one Kenyan girl attended the conference – her project was not among the top ICT innovations at the Summit.
Contrastingly, a lot of young people came from Congo, Senegal, Japan, India and North African countries, armed with very trendy ideas and innovations in digital economy, entrepreneurship, corporate leadership and governance. The point to note is this: the most enviable ICT project at the summit was presented by a self-employed young lady from the war-torn Congo. The opposite was the case for the youths from the peaceful Swahili speaking nations of Kenya and Tanzania. The sorriest of all are the Kenyan youths who were significantly absent at the Summit but who are now evidently overtaken by the public spirit of ‘dirty property syndrome’. Our youth have been accultured into a deep rooted sense of private property above the sense of ethics and respect for public resources; this is a substructure upon which is based the dying intellectual culture and the highly thriving property culture in the contemporary Kenyan society.
I am somewhat apprehensive to this type of primitive hunger for private property as evidenced by the uncontrollable temptation into corruption among the youths in Kenya because of the technical fact that being young is a resource. Young people have a moral duty to change the destiny of the world, but not to leave their youthful energy to get diluted away by the sludge they earn from involvement in social and economic immorality.
Let us chose to work genuinely so that we can be dignified in our hard-earned professions.
The age bracket between twenty and forty five is the most productive one. This is the age bracket within which the history of correctness and good decision making has been always made. For example, Tom Mboya served Kenya within this age bracket, Fanon wrote The Wretched of the Earth at the age of twenty-five, Albert Camus won the Literature Nobel Prize for his book The Plaque at the 44, Steve Wozniak registered the patent for inventing the Macintosh computer at 30, Einstein demystified radioactivity at 35, Karl Marx wrote his famous poem Ode to Satan at 25, Doctor Sifunjo Kisaka and Godwin Siundu (both at the University of Nairobi) earned their Doctorates in Econometrics and Literature at 30, Okot P’ Bitek wrote The Song of Lawino in his twenties, Thomas Isidore Sankare redeemed the Burkinabe from the political mire of failed governance when in his early thirties, prophet Mohamed got married at 25 then settled in business and received the revelation of the Quran in his late twenties, and Jesus accomplished his mission aged 32.
The above-cited success stories did not happen out of divine miracle and intervention, but out of substantial self-discipline, tolerance, integrity and duty to care for humanity. If I were a Kenyan youth today, I would chose to learn from history that good life does not start with primitive accumulation of riches through corruption and wheeler-dealing, but with intellectual nourishment, spiritual cleanliness, self-contentment and respect for others through care and duty.
Social scientists everywhere must wonder why the youth working in a such high powered institution choose to be corrupt yet they are not poor – by any estimation. Social psychologists in the likes of Alderfer Clayton, David McClelland, Abraham Maslow as well as the scholars of Game theory will readily explain that corruption is expected in any corner of the society if at all political corruption among the high political offices is not publicly punished and condemned. Other social-psychological forces that can possibly account for corruption among the youths in Kenya are negative tribalism, politics of self-identity, commercial democracy, impunity among those that own and concurrent disrespect for those that know, the social vices of nepotism, sex for jobs, money for jobs, absence of technical qualification among job-holder, class bigotry and as well as persistent failure of the local market economy to distribute national resources equitably to all the members of society. However, this is no justification for corruption. It is only an explanation of the failing breed of a certain capitalist culture that strongly relies on the un-tethered spirit for private gain without collecting social upholding for an equivalent compensating level of the genuine entrepreneurial spirit.
Personally, I accuse poverty of ideology in the political class and poverty of a reading culture among the educated class to be the two invisible hands among others that are monkey-wrenching Kenya’s social fibre. I assume that good national ideology and a mass-reading culture would have led the Kenyan youths to the mass knowledge of Marx’s concept of ‘Fetishes of Commodities’, in which Marx informs his reader that money is a commodity as any other made by man. That the labour which produced money can produce any other commodity, thus money is not a morphological mystery. But why man holds money in fetish respect, as a god to be worshipped is simply an act of deliberate irrationality. Man is the maker of money. He should not worship money the item; it ought to be the other way round!
Let us chose to work genuinely so that we can be dignified in our hard-earned professions by upholding the moral requirements for our delicate societies; this is the only essence of being young.