Five years ago, I was part of a conversation about our values as a society. There was consensus in the group that corruption and ethnic mobilization in politics would push Kenya off the cliff.
A young man rose up to contribute to the discussion. Joe was 21 years old then. He said that among his generation, what we call corruption was normal and that was the Kenya he knew. The group was stunned.
A study of East African youth by the East African Institute of the Aga Khan University revealed that 30 percent of Kenyan youth believe corruption is profitable, 50 percent believe it doesn’t matter how one makes, 35 percent of the youth would readily take or give a bribe and 40 percent would only vote for the person who bribed them. Only 40 percent of our youth think it is important to pay taxes.
You probably know about the 400,000 uncollected national identity cards. Just 17 months before the next elections, you can bet this is politically significant. One of the 400,000 IDs belongs to someone I know.
Early last week a friend went to the County Commission office in Westlands to collect her ID. Having guessed the purpose of her early morning visit, the man across the window declared that her ID was not in the large tray containing thousands of IDs bundled and stacked in alphabetical order. With naïve innocence, she asked how the man would be certain that her ID was not in the stack without knowing her name. The public official asked, with authoritative impatience, for my friend’s name. Her last name starts with letter “H”.
The officer picked up the large tray and went into the back office. He returned with the large tray but without the IDs in the letter “H” section. With solemn finality he reaffirmed that my friend’s ID was not in the stack. My friend recounted this incident to her taxi driver who said she passed an invitation to give a bribe to collect her ID. This is an incredible and shameful story. But such are the everyday experiences of Kenyans.
Early this year Chief Justice Willy Mutunga said Kenyan citizens were at war with mafia-style cartels run by political bosses and corrupt businesspeople. A couple of weeks ago President Kenyatta gave a shocking eyewitness account of two police officers collecting bribes from motorists in Mombasa. Parents bribe school heads to secure admission for their children. Doctors receive bribes to make referrals. Motorists bribe security guards to get parking slots. Pastors take money to say special prayers. And now, the $2 million bribery allegation against Justice Tunoi threatens to bring down the Supreme Court. In November last year Mr. Kenyatta requested Pope Francis to pray for him as he leads the war against corruption.
This is the society in which Joe and millions young Kenyans, who constitute about 80 percent of our population, are being raised. Corruption is no longer regarded as some moral or ethical aberration. Corruption is just “Chai” or “Kitu Kidogo”. Corruption is culturally acceptable in our society.
Somehow, we idolatrize corrupt individuals: they hold high office; we think of them as successful we elect them to lead; they are charitable; they sit in the front row in religious house, and our faith leaders say special prayers for them; they are role models for the youth. Corruption does not only beget more corruption, it breeds a culture of corruption. Ours is a veritable culture of corruption, transmitted across generations.
Corruption in Kenya is not about a few vulgar individuals. Ours is a culture that honors and privileges the corrupt. It is therefore improbable that a presidential decree backed up by papal intercession or an empowered EACC backed up by a legion of donors can even begin to undermine the allure or powerful appeal of corruption in our society.
A significant proportion of our youth believe corruption is profitable. This presents a worrying intergenerational crisis of integrity. Corruption is simply theft, immoral pillage of public resources. Corruption is an evil, one no less than tyranny.