Desperate times: The corrupt are eating nations to the bone

Thursday July 11 2019

corruption

Kenyans take part in an anti-corruption protest in Nairobi on May 31, 2018. Corruption is linked to most of the social ills in society today. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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Corruption levels in Kenya have become so bad, and politicians on the hog seem to have run amok, the country seems to so desperate, many people are willing to try anything to deal with the crisis.

MOST DANGEROUS

At least that is the impression one gets from politician and former National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) board chairman John Mututho, who, the Daily Nation reported, “urged the government to hire deaf graduates in the procurement departments. He said with more such people in the critical department, the country will tackle runaway corruption since they are difficult to compromise”.

Of course, he is wrong. Corruption is not down to hearing someone offering you a bribe or a share in a crooked deal. In Kenya, like other places where graft has become entrenched, it is structural.

In fact, if you are hearing-impaired, the last thing you want to do is be a procurement officer. In our environment, less-abled people are often at a disadvantage because institutions that offer protection are simply not equipped to manage their cases. Imagine showing up at a police station and using sign language to tell the desk officer that some thugs sent by a corrupt ‘tenderpreneur’ are after you.

Procurement is one of the most lucrative jobs in Kenya. But it is also the most dangerous. Depending on where you work, as a procurement officer you could be more at risk than a Kenya Defence Forces soldier in Amisom guarding a position in Kismayo against Al Shabaab.

One of the most precious procurement departments in Nairobi is at a multilateral agency that shall remain unnamed as they spoke off the record about their crisis.

A while back after an interview with the head, in the unrecorded part of our conversation, he told me they had just flown the last Kenyan procurement head and his family out of the country, into the equivalent of a witness protection programme.

BAREFOOT PEASANT

In about 10 years, four procurement officers had either been savagely attacked or killed. It had decided to no longer employ Kenyans, for their safety, to head the role. And the foreign procurement head had more protection than the organisation’s chief!

Across the city to the east, another multilateral agency, over the same period, had seven of the Kenyans in its procurement department attacked or killed, he said.

Over coffee with a sharp accountant recently, we wondered how Kenya, and Africa, could roll back corruption. We seemed to converge around the idea that the only answer was political — elect leaders who will push for transparent government and reform the electoral field so it doesn’t confer an edge to the moneyed.

But the accountant soon changed his mind. He took a decidedly anti-democratic turn. He started saying things like, as long as everybody had one vote, the majority of elected politicians will be the “bad” ones. As long as the cynical illiterate voter looking for a pack of cigarettes and T-shirt from a candidate during election campaigns has the same vote with what he called an “educated sophisticated” voter, only the bad apples will come to power.

However, that, too, is doubtful. At the ballot box, as evidenced in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria ... name it, tells us, the fellow with two PhDs is no different to the barefoot peasant really. We have had ministers with several degrees make an ass of themselves — kneeling before presidents, claiming the President was anointed by God and only He can challenge or remove him, and, of course, being some of the most corrupt people.

FIRING SQUAD

We saw in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe was president for nearly 40 years, how much damage he did. There are few people who have walked this African earth who are as educated as Mugabe. The fellow had seven degrees. Yet he made a royal mess of it and he and his shopaholic wife Grace ate that once-great country to the bone before he was bundled out by his soldiers two years ago.

Still, there is no alternative but politics to our corruption. The actions and policies to create prosperity and remove the extreme deprivations that the corrupt exploit, the mandate that generates reforms which strengthen governance and rule of law institutions, can only come from political action.

What is likely though, is that, in many countries, soon it will be past this point because, at the rate we are going, anything up to 12 countries could collapse under the weight of corruption in the next 10 years.

The forces that will emerge to correct things could be populist and authoritarian. They could believe, like Jerry Rawlings’ Ghana in the 1980s, that the only way to deal with the corrupt is to purge them and tie a few to barrels and kill them by firing squad. We know how that looks like. We don’t want to go there.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. @cobbo3

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