Early 2003, upon election of Mwai Kibaki as president, unarmed citizens stood up to police corruption, especially in traffic department, and made arrests.
It was an awakening. A period of renewal. It was a time for ‘yote yawezekana’ – a slogan of hope and breaking barriers. Notably, there was no new anti-corruption law enacted by the new government.
It was purely a patriotic call to duty – to reclaim a state collapsing under the weight of plunder and impunity.
“Corruption will now cease to be a way of life in Kenya. And, ladies and gentlemen, by the way you have voted in the last elections, I am calling upon all of you to come out and fight corruption, and agree to support the Government in fighting corruption as our first priority,” Mwai Kibaki, during his inauguration on 30/12/2002.
History, sadly, has a cunning way of repeating itself. But we are not seeing citizen arrests. We are not seeing a renewal. We are not seeing a rebirth. There is not much hope from the citizenry. We are at a historical tipping-point – pre 2002 – of unprecedented plunder; it’s a windfall for merchants of thievery.
Yet, as a people, we are perhaps one of the most legislation-rich countries matters anti-corruption. We have perhaps the highest number of anti-corruption banners per capita in the world. Fighting corruption is our national slogan – even when our hands are stuck in the public cookie jar.
This raises important questions of law and morality; is corruption more of a legal or moral issue? Where should our efforts be more skewed? Are we creating a fair balance of the two – effort and resource-wise? If, for example, it’s more a moral than legal issue, can over-legislation cure this malaise?
Because we have a comprehensive legal framework on the same, let’s interrogate our moral and social fabric(s).
In an examination hall in Nairobi, a university student is passing on a ‘mwakenya’ to fellow students in order to cheat in an exam. He’d been admitted as a medical student on the strength of a leaked exam bought by his rich mother working in a pensions department – which holds billions for pensioners unable to access them due to bureaucracy.
His sister, luckily, too graduated from law school and has recently been employed as a magistrate in a border post. Buoyed by the mother’s affluence, and social admiration she commands from her peers, mom is the perfect role model. Kids must be like mom. Nope, they must be better.
Elsewhere, the heavy evening traffic is disrupted by the sirens of a newly elected flamboyant mayor. He stole from his former employer and was acquitted by the magistrate – the daughter of his mistress; she is also a mistress to the previous mayor.
She has politically financed them both. And the kids know it, too. And as a great benefactor of the local church, the front row mahogany pew – which she helped buy during the last fundraiser – is reserved for such pedigree worshippers. She is greatly admired, and often asked to ‘greet’ the congregation.
Her son’s graduation as a medical doctor will be celebrated here in coming weeks – the bishop, a chaplain to the mayor, has agreed to preside; the mayor, as a return for financial and appetitive nourishment, paid his last semester fees from the municipal bursary fund.
The above is just an imaginary reflection of the entrenched rot within our society. It’s an expression of the inter-connectedness of crime and the network of beneficiaries from proceeds of crime.
It’s a dramatization of how the society has normalized corruption and idolized it. It’s an indictment of how we have socialized our kids, and one generation at a time, into the evil ways of short-cuts and quick successes. And, unfortunately, it’s this root of a ‘socialized vice’ that is the consequence of our collective moral decay.
The new normal is one where its ‘forgivable’ to jump the hospital and banking queues, to award bursary to our siblings and those of our friends even when they don’t deserve, to ‘forget’ and carry the pen in a banking hall, to pick one extra sausage on the food line even when those behind may not get the minimum, to jump the red lights because no one is watching, to accept ‘donations’ even when we know it’s blood money.
It’s no longer socially stigmatizing to ‘help’ my sister construct the village polytechnic though my pseudo companies, to ‘tip’ the army general sneaking my daughter to the armed forces. It’s one area where social and cultural barriers are breached effortlessly – the quick shilling is the great motivator. It’s the new normal.
To fight corruption, fellow citizens, and sustain it, we must begin in our houses. We must stigmatize graft and its beneficiaries. We must not just refuse to give bribes, but to receive and benefit from un-procedural and unearned privileges. We must stop voting for thieves; and in the process sanitize corruption.
Elections, especially in Kenya, can no longer be the laundering yards of social and ethical miscreants.
As a people, we can longer afford to look the other way, pass the buck, or even pretend about the magnitude of our contribution and role in fueling and fighting corruption.
We can’t afford to be complacent. We must stigmatize and show disgust to these purveyors of evil and reject their dirty money. It’s our duty. It begins with me.