How our leaders have turned Kenya into one huge gambling frenzy

Friday March 4 2016

It is not accidental that Kenya is fast

It is not accidental that Kenya is fast becoming a nation of gambling addicts. Following the lead of our politicians, we have become quite adept at playing dice with life, including our own future. ILLUSTRATION| JOHN NYAGAH 

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It is not accidental that Kenya is fast becoming a nation of gambling addicts. Following the lead of our politicians, we have become quite adept at playing dice with life, including our own future.

We now move in hoards like hunting dogs to the next lotto game in town, salivating at an imaginary scent of elusive lucre.

Having taken a gamble and put Jomo Kenyatta at the helm of this nation in the 1960s, we should always expect to be swindled. We are addicted to such gambles, successively putting in power people with similar levels of depravity.

This means only one thing: We can be sure corruption will thrive in the country and probably Karura Forest will soon all be stolen. In the meantime, we’ll be gambling and expecting manna and millions to fall from the heavens of lotteries.

Instead of the promised paradise flooded with freebies from the lotto corporates conducting the ongoing divine circus of greed, we find ourselves in more than Dante’s nine circles of hell.

Here we burn from guilt, scandals, addiction, staged assassination attempts, anger, poverty, gluttony, treachery, fraud, corruption, land grabbing, hunger, tribalism, divorces, kutenga, potential suicides, murder and idiocy.

Although she doesn’t seem to explicitly finger Jomo as the genesis of our steady descent to hell, Joyce Nyairo suggests at the very outset of her [email protected]: Trends, Identities and Politics of Belonging that

there is some connection between the anxieties of nation-building in Kenya with gambling, signs of which we have posted everywhere in our lives, including as matatu names and graffiti. 

She develops the argument more astutely in her discussion of actual lotteries, seeing these games as a “crime without punishment”, in which con-men openly take advantage of vulnerable Kenyans. Major

corporations are not left behind in these unethical practices.

The situation has become worse over time. If Kenya had only a couple of casinos in 1980, today the whole country is one big gambling hall, thanks to mobile technologies most corporations are using to

swindle the public. 

As poverty bites deeper and deeper, cash-strapped Kenyans are taking riskier gambles than before. Recently, the local media reported an incident in which a university graduate sought assistance from

President Uhuru Kenyatta to get a job.

Philemon Awande bypassed the president’s hawk-eyed security to seek the politician’s ear. The reports stopped coming in at the point where Awande landed himself a job interview at the NYS. 

Always eager to flatter the powers that be, the media presented Awande’s case as an example of beneficence of the powerful in government, who are ready to lift up the downtrodden from a region of the

country the government since the times of Jomo is largely seen as indifferent to.

Since he was promised a government job, my dog Sigmund has been disagreeing with me about almost everything. But we both agree that Awande’s case does not yield a rosy narrative of hope and triumph.

It comes off as an act of collective death wish, an expression of the reckless lottery culture gripping Kenya like the hands of Thanatos, the Greek daemon of death.

A man who runs up to a heavily guarded head of state to deliver a plea for a menial job is literally attempting suicide by cop.


Desperation is so widespread and deep-seated in Kenya that many a youth would pull an Awande move if they got a chance. Because they cannot make ends meet, young people now put their meagre

earnings into lottery. 

Others do stupider things. There were reports last week about a Maseno University student who is bound to drop out of school after gambling away his annual tuition fees.

Another young person is said to be facing divorce after losing Sh120,000 in the Sportpesa betting game. In the seedy Eastleigh, a man lost his life at the hands of a mob after he allegedly killed two people. A

gambling game had gone against him. 

I don’t blame the youth for trying their luck. My dog Sigmund (not me) has also played lottery — and he isn’t a jobless young man. Mid last week, Sigmund won himself some Sh75 in My Lotto Kenya

online game, and his name is there on their website among other over 226,101  winners, who probably also played Sh10,000 to get Sh75. Winners, indeed!

Like old Sigmund, I have also played lottery. Looking for money to index a book with the word “sex” in each of its short paragraphs, I bought a few lotto tickets in Chicago several years ago. I didn’t raise

much from my bets, ending up swallowing my Mau Mau pride to apply for a grant to cover the indexing costs.

Sigmund is a lotto addict. When we unofficially accompanied Obama to Nairobi last July, Sigmund (not me) played some Kenya Charity Sweepstakes game called Dosika (get rich).  He still holds a few

winning tickets because the kiosk guys never wanted to cash his winnings; the fellows coerced you to get more tickets from your winners instead.

In US, such tickets come with a hot-line to call for counselling services if you feel like you’re getting addicted to gambling. In Kenya, lottery organisations unscrupulously entice you to play more and more. It’s even hard to opt out of SMS reminders telling

you that your hard-earned money is really sweet and it’s time for you to get scammed (yet again).

Chances of winning lotteries are slim anywhere in the world. The games are a legal way of stealing from people who are emotionally and financially insecure. But in Kenya, chances are almost nil.

After listening to painful howling among his young Facebook friends, my dog Sigmund (not me) decided  to do an experiment last week comparing various Kenyan lotteries and their US equivalents.

He put Sh10,000 in each country. While he won only Sh75 in Kenyan lotteries and got publicly listed as a winner, the dog raked in a cool $8,100 in US lotteries.

Maybe he’s just luckier in one place than the other. But if you and my dog Sigmund still expect fairness and transparency in a country founded on fraud, fake degrees, and a Jomo-like pathological itch to

steal even Karura Forest, then, all I can say to you is:

good luck!