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February 18, 2019

With Everything Up For Purchase, Kenya Is Open For Business

ROWDY : Nairobi Aviation College students protesting on Monday
ROWDY : Nairobi Aviation College students protesting on Monday

The past few days have been gold on the internet: first, all the snark for the Nairobi Aviation College after the exposé of degree purchases, then Robert Mugabe’s fall – I am not sure if anyone in Kenya got any work done between laugh-snorting their drinks over their computers, photoshopping things and the ridiculous heat at the moment (a bikini is acceptable work wear as long as I don’t have any meetings, right?)

Still, I was a bit surprised by the ruckus about Aviation College. I wasn’t aware of the details, but come on – degrees available for purchase and you look surprised? Tell me, what is not for purchase?

In a Facebook group that I moderate, the outcry was massive, too. Yet, I regularly remove posts from people looking for academic writers or good research writers or ‘help’ with a dissertation or PhD proposal. How is that different? You pay someone for your degree and don’t do the work.

Those MPs who, thanks to new regulations requiring them to have a degree, rock up with internet degrees that require no more effort than googling and getting out your credit card?

I’m always impressed when one of those digital things is actually not accepted by the authorities. Do you really think those elected honourables are really doing their research work? If you are Grace Mugabe (and presumably have her disposable income), you can even complete your PhD research (by which I mean purchase) in a few months. Sometimes the transactions are smaller and not always financial: a bit of transactional sex – that’s a technical term! – in return for a better grade?

Still on education, sometimes you even need to pay for free things: free primary education isn’t really free (nor, I sometimes think, is it really education). Your child won’t get very far if you don’t pay the ‘desk fee’, ‘motivation fee’ and whatever other fees people think up.

A Focus Group member (aka Facebook friend) just posted about the driving school instructor offering her the driving licence for a couple of thousand shillings. Apparently, he was taken aback when she actually insisted on taking the driving classes because she wanted to learn how to drive (and he had to work). On any average day in traffic, I feel like the vast majority have taken that short cut.

It’s difficult to get a police officer to a crime scene unless you offer at least transport – and possibly also chai. Even better, if you invest properly, you can get officers well equipped with dogs and tear gas to protect your grabbed land from children. Now I am admittedly distrustful of small children, but that takes the cake.

Drunkenly killed someone while driving? Yes, that’s going to cost you – but your freedom can be bought (regrettably, the life of the dead person cannot be bought back. There are limits to this).

And where there’s a buyer, there should be a sales strategy: The traffic police have turnover targets, too. That overloaded truck at the weighbridge? The overloaded, homicidal matatu?

Pay, pay, pay up already. Or take yourself to parliament (or any of the county assemblies): it’s not exactly a secret that MPs will oblige with saying something, or nothing, if the price is right. Politics is a cash game: Don’t expect to win an election on the basis of good ideas, development plans, institution building. You need to spend, which means you need money. So, unless you’re independently fantastically rich, then you will be purchased by your donors, and will repay later. Hold a rally? Pay the supporters. Also, pay security, by which I mean a bunch of young guys you need to pay to prevent your opponent’s paid up people from attacking you. And you pay your own guys so that they work for you, not against you.

It’s all really quite pragmatic, and typically negotiable to some extent, because it’s so well established – except when you don’t have money: then, of course, you have a problem.

I know that corruption exists everywhere in the world, so Kenya is hardly unique in that respect – but some countries manage to provide basic services without requiring kickbacks. And a lot of the stories I’ve heard over the past few months made me wonder if Kenya hasn’t become, say, more mercantilist.

Kenya is surely open for business!


The writer is an independent country risk analyst.

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