As a child I always looked forward to school holidays because I would travel upcountry to spend time with my grandparents. The singing of the birds would herald each new day. The chickens coming home to roost, cattle coming home and the monotonous chirping of the crickets were the unyielding harbingers of the end of a day.
I have many memories of my formative days, most of them with deep nostalgia. But I recall one conversation with my grandfather. Grandpa said to me, “never take what is not yours; greed is poison to the soul.” His words, spoken nearly thirty years ago, are eternally etched in my mind. Like in words of Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler, in my grandpa’s words I found an ace that I could keep.
There are many ways to describe our society. But integrity is not one of them. 70% of Kenyans reported paying a bribe in 2011, compared to 45% in 2010. According to the Global Corruption Barometer released by Transparency International on July 9 2013 Kenya was ranked the 4th most corrupt country in the world. The top three countries were Sierra Leone, Liberia and Yemen.
Corruption in Kenya ranges from high-level graft on the scale of millions of dollars to low-level bribes to police officers or customs officials. While high-level graft imposes the largest direct financial cost on a country, petty bribes have a corrosive effect on the integrity of public institutions and undermine trust in the government. A majority of Kenyans pay bribes to access public services that should have been freely available and in a timely manner. The prevalence of corruption also warps the political process. Experts argue that African politicians tend to cling to power because endurance in political office proffers unbridled access to state coffers and confers immunity from investigation, prosecution or conviction.
Since independence Kenya’s body politic has been characterized by a culture of personal enrichment and corruption. In the mid 1970s the Kenyan government and the now bankrupt American N-REN Corporation entered an agreement to set up Ken-Ren Fertilizer Factory. By 2015, Kenyan will have paid Ksh.5.1 billion in respect of an original guarantee of only Ksh. 50 million on account of the phantom Ken-Ren Fertilizer project. By some accounts, the factory could have provided hundreds jobs lowered the cost of food production, contributing immensely to national food security. The location, near Kenya’s coastal oil refinery was ideal and the use of refinery by-products to manufacture fertilizer was absolutely sensible.
In the early 1990s the Kenyan government paid export subsidies to Goldenberg International and other companies for gold that was supposedly slated for export. The Goldenberg funds minted many new billionaires, denying Kenyans our children life saving vaccines and books and teachers. More recently, another staggering pilfering of state coffers came with the Anglo-Leasing, where a legion of crooked and slimy transactions were used to line private pockets on your account.
Kenyans look to their government to help create jobs. And I think this is not an unfair expectation. However, in the 2011 Afrobarometer survey revealed that demands for bribes was one of the major obstacles to finding a job. The Kenya Economic Update published in 2012 the World Bank estimates that if the private sector could redirect the money it now spends on corruption to creating jobs, it could create 250,000 jobs, hiring 31% of the youth entering the job market annually. According to the World Bank report Kenya’s endemic corruption acts as a chokehold on the private sector.
The scale of corruption in Kenya is revolting. In 2010, the Kenyan government admitted that it could be losing nearly one-third of the national budget to corruption. Finance ministry officials told a parliamentary committee that the losses were circa Ksh. 332 billion ($4 billion) a year. Let me break this down for you. With Ksh.332 billion we could build 10 Thika superhighways and keep some change. Ksh. 332 billion was double our education budget in 2010. With Ksh. 332 billion we could put enough well paid teachers in our schools, get agriculture working and employ enough policemen to keep us safe on the streets and in our homes.