To ‘slay the dragon’ of corruption, treat vice like any other business

Wednesday December 04 2019

In the old days before Vasco da Gama and the rest of those European explorers, when the world was very poorly mapped and a lot of the land mass unexplored and unknown (to the European explorers, naturally), cartographers needed filler material for their maps.


A favourite filler was to state “hic sunt dracones" (“here be dragons”). That simply meant that, due to a lack of knowledge about the unknown land, the cartographer had simply decided to err on the side of abundant caution and, drawing on his immense imagination, invented mythical creatures.

That ended when these areas were explored by the various adventurers and the maps corrected. Today, almost all of the land mass on earth has been mapped and explored. I say “almost” because the residents of the Andaman Islands, off the coast of India, remain decidedly hostile to all attempts at contacting them and have developed a rather annoying habit of murdering any visitor.

I suspect they know what happens to native people when they make contact with more technologically superior outsiders. And they would be right.



Back to the dragons. It would be in order for cartographers to indicate “here be dragons” on the Kenyan map. One of Kenya’s most fervent aspirations is to one day “slay the dragon”. Wherever you go, you will inevitably see small groups of Kenyans huddled together, engaged in rather passionate discussions on how best to capture this dragon, render it inert and otherwise ineffective.

You might also hear ideas on how to ensure that it is properly disposed of so that it never resurrects. A first-time visitor to Kenya might wonder where this dragon is, and I expect we would make a nice forex bundle selling tours to see the dragon!

The Kenyan dragon appears in the form of corruption. Thanks to cartoonists, it has been visualised as a dragon but also variously rendered as a seven-headed serpent, crocodile, shark, pig and, my favourite, some sort of feline in dark glasses.


This is all very dramatic but, maybe, to fight corruption we need to visualise it as nothing more than a business that is subject to the same forces, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and reasoning that informs the others. For instance, all businesses need talented staff; so do criminal syndicates.

But while legitimate businesses can advertise their openings and even compete for employees, it is harder for criminal organisations, which cannot advertise openings though they continue losing staff to arrests, imprisonment or death. Further, businesses can recruit from colleges where business skills are taught; but crime schools don’t yet exist.

A strategy of decimating the workforce of identified criminal organisations, specifically critical staff, can irreparably damage such outfits.

All businesses need access to financial services such as banks to enable the transfer of funds to vendors, pay salaries to employees and share out profits to owners and so on. Criminal organisations need to do this as well. Without the ability to move money, no criminal organisation would exist, let alone function.


By attacking their ability to access or use financial services, through effective counter-threat finance tactics and strategies, anti-corruption authorities can cause maximum damage to the criminals without expending a lot of effort or resources.

Also, legitimate businesses need to advertise their goods or services; so do corrupt people need to broadcast their corruptibility. However, they face the problem of having to do that while avoiding detection by law enforcement. They cannot advertise or broadcast their vice publicly but surreptitiously.

Anti-corruption efforts can make it harder for public officers to signal their corruptibility by eliminating contact between decision makers and, say, tender bidders during evaluation.


Finally, like every business, a crime rings needs a supply chain to move goods, people or information from source to destination in furtherance of its scheme. Monitoring, disrupting and sabotaging criminal supply chains is also a tool in the box.

Corruption is a business. Understanding it as such, rather than as a mythical seven-headed hydra, is necessary to develop effective strategies to fight it.

Mr Kuria is an anti-financial crime specialist. [email protected]