Corruption is theft. Plain and simple. Although government audits conceal this in unclear terms like “misappropriation”, corruption and graft mean theft, and corrupt people are simply thieves.
In case you don’t know, it is because corrupt people steal from us that we are poor, live in slums, our industries are dead, our youths are unemployed, our agriculture is profitless and dying, our roads are a torture, IDPs are languishing in camps, millions are landless and hungry, and our hospitals are frightening death camps.
Let us be more frank.
Unless the war against corruption is led by the country’s top leadership, namely the President, as its commander-in-chief, pitting maximum authority against it, it will not be won at the lower levels of police constables and chiefs or at the middle levels of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, Parliament, courts, police commissioners, Attorney General, media, or Transparency International.
The war against corruption had an impact only in countries where presidents led it and failed in all countries where the top leaders were corrupt and fought graft with empty words only.
Examples of presidents who fought corruption are Murtala Mohammed of Nigeria, who inspired people to abandon cars on roadsides rather than be late for work and Fidel Castro of Cuba, who executed his general and former comrade for drug trafficking.
On the contrary, in Kenya President Kenyatta appeared to encourage corruption: “My bird hide. If you get caught, you are not mine,” he would say. Another president would ask his Cabinet: “Who among you will cast the first stone?”
Corruption thrives best where presidents cannot cast the first stone and it is king where the masses protect their ethnic elites, who are robbing them blind.
To be able to fight corruption effectively, the first qualification for a president, governor, MP, or senator should be incorruptible integrity, courage and commitment to battle graft. But the masses sell leadership to the highest bidder, literally inviting thieves to steal their money back once in government.
Corruption does not mean loss to everybody. Its beneficiaries regard it as a friend and ally, and the victims are their enemy. It is, therefore, a pipe dream to expect the beneficiaries to fight graft. Only empowered victims can successfully overthrow it.
Corruption is particularly hard to fight because of the general belief that a thief who has managed to escape capture deserves his loot.
Worse, we have become a nation of chichidodos, the Ghanaian mythical bird that hates excrement yet only eats maggots. We claim to loath corruption, but love its benefits in the form of 4WDs, bungalows and helicopters.
We even rationalise corruption as a necessary economic evil that helps thieving entrepreneurs to accumulate individual wealth for the country’s development.
But corruption’s worst crime is the moral values we lose to it, making us defenceless against it. In a moral society, thieves hide in shame. In Kenya, they look us in the face, demand that we elect them as our leaders, and we cheerfully do exactly that.
For its own preservation, the first people that the vice corrupts and co-opts are those who are employed to fight it. Once the anti-corruption army is its captive, its war is won and the country lost.
Tragically, the future of corruption is guaranteed through our children, who see us rob one another, practise our creed of thieving in schools, and graduate as ready disciples of corruption.
There is no good corruption to be spared and bad corruption to be eradicated. Nor should graft be fought selectively to settle political scores. All corrupt people, in the public and private sectors should be fired, banned from employment, jailed and their loot confiscated.
While public officers must bear political responsibility for the wrongdoing of those under them, the ultimate responsibility for the corrupt stops at the authority that appointed them. When ministers found to have been involved in corruption resign, their appointing authority should be right there beside them, doing the same. It is the only way to fight graft effectively.
Koigi wa Wamwere, chair of Chama cha Mwananchi. [email protected]