Decoding the African’s kind of corruption

Decoding the African’s kind of corruption

By Yasin ArkAN

What is corruption? Is it the young girl in Machakos praying that the Officer in-Charge of Station will finally deploy her brother, a Police Constable, to a route sufficiently rich in extortion to fund her second semester at the University of Nairobi? She has already lost one year. Is corruption the kickbacks the State employee extracts from suppliers to supplement his income which has been stretched to breaking point by a clan of dependants? What about paying extra to bump your loved one up a public hospital surgery waiting list?

Or is corruption the transfer of taxes in to private use through the public funding of a multi-million shilling cancer treatment trip abroad for the comprador elite who already have listed amongst their private assets, shareholding in strategic resources that are supposed to be public property over and above tax-payer funded premium healthcare insurance schemes? Or is corruption the transfer to private hands of strategic resources like oil blocks, titanium/limestone/gold mines, or vital public services like Nairobi Water & Sewerage System?

What makes legalised transfer of value from the public domain by the elites – NOT corruption, but equivalent behaviour that benefits the masses – corruption?

Is it scale? Like they say, “kill a single man they call you a murderer, kill a million they call you a conqueror”? Analogically, conspiracy between a state officer to take Sh50 from a taxi to ply a certain route is corruption, but collusion  by state officers to incur GDP scale public debt is macro-economics?

What makes transfer of government trustee land to a foreign private developer “Foreign Direct Investment” rather than “Foreign Direct Imperialism”, while the same transaction by a native  is termed a “Land grab” i.e. corruption, rather than “land distribution”? Is it FDI when the private hands are foreign and the scale is 100,000 hectares, that we may get foreign passports to get our native land distributed to us for free?

Or is it power? Is it the passport indicating imperial power, thus signalling to the comprador of client-states that this IS the master’s son, for them to voluntarily surrender the precious land than be violently expropriated through occupation?

Why is it legitimate investment for Western firms to purchase strategic resources and vital facilities in the East but wholly unacceptable for the “legitimate investment” to go the other way like Dubai Ports World and Lakshmi Mittal learnt?

Where is the dial? What is the criteria? Who decides? Who should decide?

Let us begin by endeavouring to find out it’s definition, then see what categories arise therefrom.


First some background on the linguistics. Corruption is, archaically, defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a state of decay or putrefaction”. Simply. But it now falls within a small category of terms that have been redefined and used with contexts, that give words completely different meaning. For instance, terrorism, fundamentalism, extremism, , compromise, human rights, black, white, etcetera.

These have now become a new vocabulary upon themselves, used primarily in their conceptual rather than linguistic form. Establishing this understanding is important, , for, as Dr Antoinette Kankindi, lecturer in Philosophy at Strathmore University Nairobi, in a conversation with this writer explained, “the essence and intent of the meaning of the term in it’s adoption for different purpose remains trapped in the original archaic definition. Failure to have knowledge of the original meaning of the term cripples the ability of the user, in our case the African, to understand its intrinsic and undeclared meaning and intent…”

So, what is corruption, in it’s politically loaded sense?

Yasmin Dawood in her classic paper Classifying Corruption captures it in the first paragraph of chapter 1: “…Scholars have categorised various kinds of corruption. Thomas Burke has distinguished three kinds of corruption: quid pro quo, monetary influence, and distortion. Zephyr Teachout has identified five categories: criminal bribery, inequality, drowned voices, a dispirited public, and a lack of integrity. Deborah Hellman has described three principal kinds of corruption: corruption as the deformation of judgement, corruption as the distortion of influence, and corruption as the sale of favours.”

But all these definitions are upended by a single line in The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 2005 Pg. 20, where Jakob Svensson, after defining Corruption as “the misuse of public office for private gain” in the opening of the next paragraph states, “Corruption is an outcome…”

When it comes to our Machakos Police Constable, we can agree that this is definitely a case of “corruption that is an outcome.” We must reject the terming of this behaviour that is compelled by systemic coercion as “corruption”. As for when Firaun enacts a foeticidal law compelling the death of every boy born, we would question your parental instincts if you attended pre-natal clinics or failed to act to compromise the Registrar of Persons.

And it is for this reason, we would presume Yasmin Dawood begins her paper by asking the sacrilegious question “Why is corruption wrong?”

Now, given the wide spread nature of corruption, given it has no definitive social characteristic differentiators like class, income group, education level, geographical district, the possible causes are either internal, intrinsic – related to the nature of man, or systemic – attributable to  the prevailing socio-political and economic environment.

The intrinsic can be explained in a general sense by man’s deeply instinctive proclivity to possess. That explains that. But looking at all the scholar’s definitions, what we witness in Africa defies any of those classifications completely.

Sani Abacha did not benignly “misuse public office for private gain”; he swept the treasury coffers clean. He decimated the public office. Ex-President Moi and his coterie of ministers (the original meaning in Latin is “servant”) did not “quid pro quo, influence or distort”; they ingested entire institutions. Ex-President Mwai Kibaki, ex-Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s voracious troops of army ants have left no tree standing, literally. No tree in the forest was considered too sacred to spare. Their appetite is unlimited. Nothing was/is too big or too small – not the Strategic Grain Reserve, not the sports kitties (one of the few remaining routes out of poverty), not the Youth Fund or Kazi kwa Vijana, or NYS.

None of this IS corruption, not by a mile. It is institutional cannibalism. Given it is us, our own, our best and brightest, sons and daughters cannibalising our own institutions, it is a socio-pathological condition – autosarcophagy.

This makes this a question of sociological condition. Why have we failed to evolve from a primitive agrarian society? It is obvious from observation that the trappings of civilisation were pasted upon us and this is why irrespective of our level of education we cannot perceive institution. “Institutions” are features of civilisation.

A native administrator perceives the institutional reserves through a primitive instinctive lens rather than an evolved intellectual lens. Given the focal point is instinctive, the reaction becomes an irresistible urge to consume or possess this honeycomb, as instincts cannot perceive a discarnate boundary such as that of institution and/or system. So, as these officers sit across from the institutions treasury, in the same way they sit across from the seasons grain harvest in the granary on their farm, they cannot help but raid it.

Primitive accumulation

Granted, there is scholarly consensus Homo Economicus, the latest and arguably the most wicked of all the evolutionary stages of man, is a sociopath, aptly captured by Jonathan Swift in his 1729 satirical article suggesting that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. The existence of this disorder in the West is no consolation – at least Western Homo Economicus commits his genocide and fetal cannibalism in the villages of the people of the East. African Homo Economicus commits filial cannibalism. How else would we term indenturing our own children as chattel by taking out high interest loans and sovereign bonds on their futures and then diverting those funds in to private accounts, or accepting payments to dump nuclear and toxic waste in our backyards?

The problem of institutional cannibalism is clearly one of failure to civilise. It is a question of culturing. The question of culturing raises the question of civilisation. How do we civilise as a people? Here is where to begin solving this problem.

As for the second systemic cause: Capitalism. The unstoppable march toward absolute implementation of this pernicious socio-political and economic order, portends nothing but misery for humanity. Unbridled systemic application of it’s core doctrinal pillar “individual freedom of ownership” can only be achieved by the method Marx termed as “primitive accumulation” more recently translated by Professor David Harvey as “accumulation by dispossession”. Manifesting itself to us on the receiving end, as continuous transfer of collective (public) wealth in to the hands of the capitalist; through privatisation of public resources like water, energy, minerals and the associated infrastructure like healthcare and utilities; and continuous transfer of individual private wealth in to the same hands through usury, taxes and inflation.

Essentially sealing-off for the masses all access to the means of survival. Creating a society where the only way one can get bread and water to feed their child is by taking the bread and water of another parent’s child. This may be the reason there is little investment in root cause analysis of the problem of corruption, as it would reveal the witch’s cloven hoof. It is the nature of the beast, Capitalism.

And as the population increases and the walls around the public’s resources continue to be erected and extended, and the masses’ incomes and wealth continue to be systematically harvested (through quantitative easing (printing fiat), bonds (usury) and taxes), consolidated and transferred to the top (the Global Financial System), it results in a fight at the bottom that grows ever more vicious, manifesting itself in perpetual war, slavery, dehumanizing poverty and misery.

The only way to halt this accelerating bottomless spiral downward is to reject man as sovereign, end capitalism and establish a system that will nurture the man (collective) using  divine provision (natural resources), protect private property and wealth creation from expropriation by use of taxation, usury and inflation.

Simply, change the system.

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