By Nadrat Mazrui
After reading Rasna Warah’s UNsilenced on corruption in the UN – it was reviewed by Dr Tom Odhiambo in the November edition – I couldn’t help wondering: if the most eminent organisation in the world can be that compromised and corrupt, where exactly we are as Kenyans? Do we have anywhere to turn? Put differently, we always are complaining about the inherent corruption in our politicians but have we ever asked ourselves, why we are corrupt?
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Before you answer that, what really is corruption? When someone steals two cents that’s a robbery; when the thief has a publicly known name and the cents are stolen, it then is corruption. I believe thieves are thieves but that is neither here nor there. I asked a colleague if he was angry that politicians were stealing public money. Suffice it to say the answer wasn’t quite what I was expecting. He replied, and I quote, “Honestly, if I was in their position I would probably do the same thing.”
I prodded him to tell me why he thought so, and his response was quite interesting. He said it all stemmed from the fact that politicians steal because they have the power to do so and that if tables were to turn, the normal citizens who are now complaining would do the same thing. If politicians were to be asked, he continued, they would say they steal out of pressure – to cater to the electorate’s demands, etc. But that is mere speculation, because no one has bothered to ask them why they steal; everyone simply yearns to know if they did.
From the NYS scandal down to the latest catastrophe in Afya House, everyone seems to be on the rampage. During my musings, I came to the conclusion that a person cannot be corrupt unless there is a chance for him/her to do so. Corruption, from where I stand, is technically a wheel and the only way for the spinning to stop is for someone to break the wheel.
It is sad to note that the lullaby on corruption has long been in existence but it is sung, it appears, in extinct languages. No one is listening anymore. It’s a sort of classic, something you are required to be talking about even if you won’t follow it up yourself. If Trump can claim that the American electoral system can be manipulated, woe unto Wanjiku; she stands no chance.
We all thought the passing of the Leadership and integrity Act would stop corrupt officials in their tracks, but it has become a mythical creature that has no real grip; something known to exist but lacking tangible proof.
Admittedly, there is no silver bullet for fighting corruption. Kenya has made “significant” progress in curbing corruption –where we seem to have taken a preventive rather than punitive approach. However, Kenyans are always on the lookout for solutions and evidence of impact. Sadly, we missed our ticket to the corruption free affair by a long shot.
Successful enforcement of any mechanism requires a strong legal framework, law enforcement branches and an independent and effective court system. We can confidently claim as a nation to have a strong legal framework, but that is about as far as I can go.
The joke is on us when it comes to enforcement. With the commencement of the new Constitution, an independent Judiciary was all but guaranteed. Whether this beauty lies only in theory remains to be seen. Perhaps we let our Chief Justice settle in first before making him aware of the many skeletons we hide in Kenya’s closet.
When all these are coherent, not a second before, then can impunity end. In my opinion, if reform were to start in the private sector, corruption would be faster to curb than in the public sector. Perhaps it is time we tackled the monster from a different angle. The private sector combined has a bigger impact on Kenyans economic and political scene than any other. Reforms focusing on improvement of private agencies have in many countries achieved a greater impact than those in public sector.
Objective media always puts public officials at pins ends. This is because of the power that media has over its audience and the masses. A standing tradition of media openness and transparency increases the responsiveness of government bodies, while stimulating public participation in a country.
Whenever the media blow the whistle on any scandal, the masses react with protests and demonstrations. This is them practicing their civic duty and taking an active part in public participation. This, in turn, strengthens citizens’ demands for action and empowers them to hold government accountable. It also acts as a sustainable approach that helps build mutual trust between citizens and government itself.
As a bystander, I sound quite emotional, ad frankly I am. But then again, who in Kenya isn’t?