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Cut the pretence: Corruption is a way of life here

Saturday February 28 2015

The building that houses the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE

The building that houses the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

LUKOYE ATWOLI
By LUKOYE ATWOLI
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There’s been a lot of talk recently about bringing to book suspects involved in mega corruption scandals, especially after a court in the United Kingdom convicted two businessmen of engaging in corrupt practices with some Kenyan public officials.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission has finally moved to begin investigations, interviewing officials suspected of involvement in the bribery scams. All well and good.

Unfortunately all Kenyans seem to know how this will pan out. The amount of cynicism out there is overwhelming.

Over the past thirty years or so, numerous scams have been reported involving theft of huge amounts of money from government coffers, and most of the perpetrators are well known public figures.

Interestingly, many are able to continue with very public lives, and even run for and win public office.

As a matter of fact, involvement in such scams seems to give people leverage when it comes to elective office, perhaps because of the notoriety gained due to their audacious actions as well as the overwhelming desire among Kenyans for "heroes".

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Equally likely, though, these mega-thieves steal such huge amounts of money that make it easier for them to bribe their way into high office, including bribing the voters themselves.

The question that arises, then, is why it seems so easy for perpetrators of corrupt acts to get away with it in this country. The answer is quite simple.

THIEVERY REWARDED

As a people, we have accepted that one cannot get ahead without greasing palms here and there, or stealing from wherever we work. We have agreed that stealing is only bad when you are caught, but that "badness" can be cured if you steal money in the range of billions of shillings.

This kind of theft entitles you to privileges not available to common citizens. You are allowed to engage in antisocial behaviour at will, you get away with "petty" crimes, and you get to hog media airtime as desired.

During elections you get your free pick on which candidates will win, and if you become a candidate yourself, most opponents mysteriously step down in your favour, of course in exchange for some monetary consideration.

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.

In December last year, while driving from Eldoret to Nairobi, I was stopped by a police officer somewhere near Burnt Forest. I had kept within the speed limit, I had not flouted any traffic rules, and the vehicle was in good condition.

The officer examined the car for a while, found no problem, and then came round to the driver’s side. She asked me to show my driver’s license, which I did. She looked at it and then gave it back to me.

The officer then smiled at me, and told me that everything was in order. She then went straight to the point. “What are you leaving me with?”

She was very surprised when I looked shocked. We spent a bit of time discussing why she thought I should pay her for essentially doing her job.

In the end she let me go reluctantly, suggesting that I was somehow being unfair not to "leave her with something".

That is the sad environment in which we are bringing up our children.

Prof Lukoye Atwoli is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Dean Moi University School of [email protected]

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