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February 21, 2019

We love a good corruption story

ACCUSED: Budalangi MP Ababu Namwamba. PHOTO/FILE.
ACCUSED: Budalangi MP Ababu Namwamba. PHOTO/FILE.

The Ababu Namwamba and Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) saga has captured our attention for the past two weeks. Sadly it will be forgotten in no time and those behind whatever scam and shame we are currently scandalised by will be feted, celebrated and will soon be chief guests and guests of honour, at numerous functions some of them even involving our children.

Yes – we start telling our children corruption is good at a very early age. We talk about the “thieves in our living-rooms and our cars, assuming children are deaf and then in the same breath go ahead and invite said corrupt individual to officiate at a school function, a church gathering etc.

We are Kenyans – we love a good corruption story, especially the ones (and we all know one) where the end of the story says “and he lived fabulously, comfortably, honourably ever-after with the proceeds of his corrupt deeds”. Corruption in its current state in Kenya isn’t just a way of life; it’s something to aspire to.

In case you missed this bold statement from Lukoye Atwoli a few weeks ago, let me give it to you once again: “We have created an environment where honest labour is punished, and thievery is rewarded. We may not like this reality, but it is the truth”.

Why am I even spending my time to pen this article? Because I must go on record now, so that in future should you try and call me out for not tearing into some corrupt so-and-so, I can turn around and ask your where is your stand on the issue. I’m writing this, because you and I have no intention of fighting corruption even as we ask the government to do so. I still don’t get, how we don’t get that government is you and I. Sawa tuu.

Strangely though, we seem to be blind to the fact that corruption is a major threat facing us all. Corruption destroys lives and communities, and undermines countries and institutions. It generates popular anger that threatens to further destabilise societies and exacerbate violent conflicts.

Corruption translates into human suffering, with poor families being extorted for bribes to see doctors or to get access to basic services. It derails the building of essential infrastructure, as corrupt leaders skim funds. Corruption amounts to a dirty tax, and the poor and most vulnerable are its primary victims. Corruption stinks and we don’t care, in fact we love the smell of it. We like to see who will come out richer, bolder, and more brazen from their corrupt dealings. In fact we tend to find a new level of respect for people who are corrupt. We consider them daring, ballsy.

Of course, many of us simply roll our eyes and say “hiyo si shida yangu”. We think that corruption is a personal sin. Something the person accused needs to deal with himself. My fellow Kenyans - Corruption is a personal act that has social consequences. It is theft – fuelled by greed for wealth and power. It can lead to murder when the corrupt try to silence those who try to denounce them or in order to perpetuate themselves in power.

Corruption is not only a personal act – a personal sin – it’s a social sin. The minute we try to hold a corrupt individual to account, he or she instantly points fingers at everyone else, entangles as many people in this sin of theft, so much so that in the end the watching public walk away saying “si yeye peke yake. Why pick on him?”

“Everybody is doing it. I might as well do it.” This has become our justification. Corruption has become a way of life – something considered normal. How you noticed how the church doesn’t comment on corruption anymore? It would be awkward. Knowingly or unknowingly, some members of the clergy and religious class have become beneficiaries through donations coming from those engaged in corruption.

But this I know to be true – it is a grave matter, a big sin and the punishment is awful. The corrupt however are careful not to let you see how terribly they pay for their ill-gotten gains. I live in the hope that one day, in my lifetime, I will see someone go to jail and do time for corruption. It hasn’t happened and it must happen. There must task us to write a new ending to the story of corruption. Currently, all our corruption stories end with the line: “and he lived, fabulously, comfortably, honourably, ever after”.

I want to see the day it ends with – “he served 20 years in jail for his corruption.’

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