A survey by the East African Institute of the Aga Khan University on values, attitudes, aspirations of East African youth yielded findings that were both troubling and encouraging.
Encouraging because youth are willing to be part of the solution to the problems they face. For example, about 50 per cent of them would start their own business. The majority of young people would invest in building their communities through charitable giving and creating employment opportunities for other youth.
The findings are troubling because youth condone corruption, would participate in political fraud and engage in tax evasion. About 50 per cent of Kenyan youth believe it doesn’t matter how one makes money as long as one does not end up in jail. Another 30 per cent believe corruption is profitable and 35 per cent would readily give or take a bribe.
Only 40 per cent of youth believed it was important to pay taxes on earned income. Moreover, 40 per cent of the youth believe that a bribe from an individual vying for political office would influence their vote. About 30 per cent of the youth believed Kenya would be poorer in ethics and values, and experience more substance abuse.
The attitudes and values of Kenyan youth are not surprising. Kenya is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. In 2016, we ranked 145th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index. During a state visit to Israel in 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta revealed that Kenyans are “experienced in stealing and perpetuating other crimes”. In his “Inequality and the Moral Crisis of the Elite” paper, former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga demonstrates that corruption is now the fourth arm of government — easily the most powerful and the one that controls the executive, the judiciary and the legislature.
Corruption is flourishing in Kenya’s public and private sectors. Schools and religious institutions have not been spared. Greed and flagrant violation of the law is prevalent and is seldom frowned upon. Consistently, the police, the judiciary and the Ministry of Lands have been named the most corrupt institutions in the public sector. Kenya’s private sector is teeming with corrupt individuals and businesses that are enabled by the political elite to perpetrate corruption.
You wonder why Kenyan youth think corruption is profitable, admire corrupt individuals, and would evade paying taxes? Dishonesty and rule violation are prevalent in our society. Values and morals tend to co-evolve with institutions. Studies have shown that weak institutions enable rule violations and impair individual intrinsic honesty.
A study published in the journal Nature — “Intrinsic honesty and the prevalence of rule violations (PRV) across societies” — shows that participants from countries with a high prevalence of rule violations, including Guatemala, Kenya and Tanzania, displayed higher levels of dishonesty compared to participants from countries with low PRV such as Sweden.
It is unlikely that good apples abound in a rotten barrel. Kenyan youth have been shaped by societal norms that have normalised dishonesty and corruption. It will be difficult to eradicate corruption. But we must not give up.