I’ve been cautiously following the recent conversation on the theft of public money that has grown into a blame game between leaders, their defenders and citizens. It is particularly interesting to hear arguments that elected leaders who have been accused of stealing public money are doing so because of pressure from the electorate.
This misleading argument totally sidelines the fact that Kenya’s elected leaders are some of the highest paid in the world. Their continued plunder of the economy is a key cause of socio-political and economic injustice. Additionally, the existence of broken public systems, nepotic distribution of resources, raging unemployment and excessive corruption help in degenerating the situation.
As if that’s not enough, Kenya is a pressure cooker state with constant financial pressure upon citizens whose access to liveable income is rapidly decreasing. Furthermore, the majority of Kenyans earn an income that cannot match the rising cost of living but still manage to work hard enough to support their dependants without stealing. Why then are leaders who are already well paid engaged in theft?
Theft isn’t just about the act of taking without permission but more so about mentality.
Most elected leaders aren’t plainly stealing due to mere pressure but they’re doing so because they believe they can, there are no tangible consequences for stealing and lastly, public office is perceived as a get-rich-quick shop. It is, of course, true the electorate asks for money and that Kenyan leaders have continued to use incentives to shape the political culture. Everyone has a role to play in this case but the leader’s role, which is my main focus, is to demonstrate leadership especially when it is most challenging and needed like now.
There’s no easy way of changing culture but it is possible. However, what we can’t pretend to do is use the electorate asking for money as a reason for stealing when it is an obvious result of incentivised politics and broken systems. Therein lies the issue that as long as leaders play the money game when seeking election and not fixing systems, they keep sinking deeper in the pit of giving money while in office.
In short, leaders must just stop stealing and if that’s not possible they should at least not use Kenyans as an excuse for their theft. The persistent gas-lighting — a form of psychological manipulation that plants doubt and makes one question their own memory, perception, and sanity — should stop.
If it was true that anyone who felt financial pressure was automatically compelled to steal then almost all Kenyans would be thieves — but they aren’t. The pressure that Kenyans are under is too much if you understand how hard it is to make a genuine a shilling in a country with so many odds against its people.
The writer is a policy analyst; [email protected]