After 52 years of self-rule, it is not yet too late to fight the cancer of corruption

Tuesday June 2 2015

President Uhuru Kenyatta with First Lady Margaret Kenyatta during Madaraka Day Celebrations at Nyayo Stadium on June 1, 2015.  PHOTO | BILLY MUTAI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

President Uhuru Kenyatta with First Lady Margaret Kenyatta during Madaraka Day Celebrations at Nyayo Stadium on June 1, 2015. PHOTO | BILLY MUTAI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Thousands of Kenyans on Monday thronged stadiums around the country to commemorate the 52nd Madaraka Day, which celebrates Kenya’s self-rule from the British colonialists.

Although the country has made significant progress in the past five decades, the pace has been grindingly slow in some critical areas. One such area is the fight against corruption.

As would be expected, corruption featured in the President’s speech as he promised that his government would remain committed to fighting the vice.

Reports of corruption at high levels of government continue to make news headlines. We seem to be hobbling from one mega scandal to another. The list keeps growing longer, yet the architects of these well-documented scams that have cost Kenya billions of shillings have never been brought to account.

Individual Kenyans fuel and fan corruption, willingly taking and giving bribes. While the politicians and technocrats are hatching the next scheme to steal billions of shillings, the traffic police officer is hassling a tout for a bribe, the head teacher is soliciting bribes to admit new students, and the university student is bribing a lecturer to receive a favourable outcome in an examination.

Corruption is endemic in every aspect of our lives and if we are not involved, we have witnessed it. It is a national emergency that must be addressed quickly otherwise it will consume us all.

The fight against corruption requires sincerity, tenacity, and relentless focus. Because of the inevitable fallout that would result, a significant portion of our political leaders, both in the government and in the opposition, lack the credibility to honestly oversee the fight against corruption.

Most of them have either directly or indirectly benefited from corruption and would therefore consider it foolish to dismantle the structures that propagate graft.

Their money, friendships, and interests are deeply intertwined. They live in the same exclusive neighbourhoods and have access to opportunities to amass obscene wealth, which they use to bribe us.

They share a lifestyle that draws them together in mutually reinforcing ways. It is naïve to trust them to bring about he change that would threaten their very existence.

Yet the Kenyan political elite has such a stranglehold on the psyche of Kenyans that we do not see this. Until this stranglehold is broken and Kenyans are set free, prosperity for all will remain a pipe dream.

In the fight against corruption, Kenyans have for long been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Political leadership in the country has come full circle.

Those in government now were once in the opposition and those in the opposition were once in power. Yet, surprisingly, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Mega corruption stalked the country then and still does. Corruption thrived then as it does now.

Kenyans’ efforts to change political leadership has been an exercise in futility and the sooner we wake up to this reality, the better it will be for us and future generations. We must find that elusive round peg for the round hole.

So is there any hope? I submit that there still is, even if it is after five decades. Our redemption must start with a radical and seismic shift in attitude and ideology at the individual level. Change must start from within each and every one of us. That round peg for the round hole is the individual mwananchi.

We can no longer afford to sit idly by and hope that some odd “good” leader will come along and save us because that is not likely to happen any time soon.

We simply do not have the luxury of time. The journey to the restoration of a fair, honest, and equitable society must begin with each and every one of us taking a hard look at ourselves and committing to contribute to the fight against corruption, which essentially is the root cause of most of the tragedies bedevilling our country.

Let us, one and all, start building a more accommodating society, one that respects and seeks to protect the marginalised and creates an environment where the voice of the majority does not drown out that of the minority. A country that we will all be proud of, one that we will not be ashamed to pass on to the next generation.

The writer is a security and terrorism analyst based in Melbourne, Australia. [email protected] @gitaanyasani