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'Country of Bribes'
World Press Review Correspondent
Feb. 15, 2002
In August 2001, 27-year-old musician Kenyan musician Eric Wainaina sang his popular
Swahili hit, "Nchi
ya Kitu Kidogo" (A Country of Bribes), to an audience
including Vice President George Saitoti and a host of other
government officials. As he began singing the second stanza
of the song, the microphone went dead. Wainaina, whose acid
lyrics decrying corruption in the Kenyan government had propelled
him to stardom, left the stage humiliated, but not quite as
humiliated as the politicians listening in the audience.
opposition supporters protest corruption in Nairobi, Aug.
14, 2001 (Photo: AFP).
Months later, Wainaina seems to have been vindicated. On Jan.
18, Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International released
a survey ranking three government departments the most corrupt
institutions in Kenya. David Ndii, who authored the study, found
that Kenya's police topped the bribery league, followed by the
Ministry of Public Works and the Immigration Department. Moreover,
the study concluded, if leaks in Kenya's economy caused by corruption
could be plugged, Kenyans' salaries would increase by 30 percent.
Among other worrisome facts, the report revealed that adults
Kenyan cities pay an average of 2,670 Kenyan shillings (US$35)
monthly as a "bribery tax" to the police.
Any Kenyan could rattle off a list of corrupt dealings in government
offices daily. The complaints, as continually reported in the
Kenyan press, are manifold: Precious few parents can have their
children admitted to public schools without greasing palms,
freedom is on sale in the courts, people have died in hospitals
because they didn't know the right people, for a few hundred
Kenyan shillings, drivers go scot-free after committing the
worst traffic offences, underpaid civil servants remain aloof
until they hear the crinkling of a 1,000 Kenyan shilling (US$12)
note, elected officials skim from the treasury, tons of food
imported from relief organizations disappear from government
offices without any explanation.
Sound Shocking? That's just the beginning: Forged university
degrees from the country's most prestigious university are openly
sold on the floor below that of the offices of the permanent
secretary at the Ministry of Education, foreigners buy Kenyan
passports over-the-counter at the Immigration Ministry, business
licenses are sold to the highest bidders, CEOs of public corporations
employ all the able-bodied men from their rural villages regardless
of their qualifications, forests are destroyed to clear land
dubiously grabbed by highly-placed government officials…. The
list goes on. A task force from the Kenyan treasury looking
into the 1997 general elections found that district commissioners
diverted more than 1 billion Kenyan shillings (US$12.8 million)
meant for Kenya's second multiparty elections into their own
|Here you can get documents
to prove that your father died 10 years ago, wake up the
following day, and get your father a passport.
A cross-section of observers concur that the latest report goes
a long way toward corroborating the rumor, now bandied on many
Kenyan streets, that the country is slowly replacing Nigeria
as a metonym for corruption in Africa.
"Here you can get documents to prove that your father died
10 years ago, wake up the following day, and get your father
a passport," says Kevin Omindo, a 35-year-old Nairobi-resident
who confesses to have bribed the police on several occasions
to avoid harassment. He hasn't read the report, but he wouldn't
be surprised if it understated the extent of corruption in Kenya.
Police spokesman Peter Kimanthi admits the police force is corrupt,
but says that it is no more so than any other Kenyan institution.
On Jan. 21, Kimanthi told Nairobi's independent Daily Nation,
"I do accept that corruption exists in the [police] force,
just like in other sectors. But the few rotten apples engaged
in the vice have been nabbed and charged." When asked about
the Transparency International report, he told reporters from
the Daily Nation, "The report should have indicted
the bribe givers as well, who are equally guilty." According
to the same Daily Nation report, even Joe Aketch, deputy
mayor of Nairobi, concedes that the Nairobi City Council is
"one of the most corrupt" institutions in the country.
Others tarred by Transparency International's report dispute
its claims. "As damning as it is, the report does not present
the true picture. There are many false charges leveled against
us," avers Patrick Birgen, the public relations officer
at the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), which Transparency
International faulted for high-profile cases of corruption in
the hiring and promotion of civil servants.
Other agencies singled out by the report have been quick to
issue statements in their defense. But many Kenyans, including
the clergy, shrug off such denials as pro-forma. "Kenya
is undoubtedly a den of large-scale corruption and the present
government has to take flak for presiding over a debauched system,"
says Catholic Archbishop Ndingi Mwana A' Nzeki, who has long
been a thorn in the side of the Kenyan government.
While A' Nzeki approves of the Kenyan government's promises
to fight graft, he says that the broad promises must be followed
by specific strategies: "The government has said many a
time that it is fighting corruption," he says, "but
the fruits are yet to be seen by the Kenyan public."
Solomon Owoche, a lecturer of political science at Nairobi's
Catholic University of Eastern Africa, blames Kenyans' political
apathy for allowing graft to flourish: "We are a populace
that can easily be taken for a ride and be conned by politicians
because many of us are busy looking into bread-and-butter issues,"
he posits. "While we are preoccupied with the struggle
to put food on our tables, civil servants who are… supposed
to serve us are busying themselves with looting the coffers
to the bone."
|While we are preoccupied with
the struggle to put food on our tables, civil servants...
are busying themselves looting the coffers to the bone.
Owoche says the problem extends beyond the ruling Kanu party:
"Even opposition political parties, always first to cast
the moral stone whenever the KANU [the ruling Kenya African
National Union] government's shady deals are exposed, cannot
be exonerated. Most of [the opposition's] deals are also enshrouded
On Jan. 13, a team of British experts from the London firm Risk
Advisor Group and Corporate Risk Services hired by President
Daniel Arap Moi to advise his government on fighting corruption
landed in Nairobi. The teamled by Graham Stockwell, a
former commander of the London Metropolitan Police and Criminal
Investigation Department, Stephen Kramer, an experienced British
lawyer, and Sir Humphrey Maud, a former Commonwealth deputy
secretary general in charge of economic and social affairshas
previously helped set up anti-corruption authorities in Hong
Kong and Botswana. Their mandate is to confer with party leaders,
members of Parliament, prominent businessmen, judges, and civil
society groups to record their views on current measures to
fight corruption and to make suggestions based on what they
Kenyan opposition parties greeted their appointment with criticism,
arguing that their services were an expensive public-relations
exercise dreamed up by President Moi to placate donors into
releasing frozen funds. Members of the task force are reportedly
drawing salaries of between 50,000 and 200,000 Kenyan shillings
(US$641-$2,564) a day. These figures seem particularly obscene
when reported in the local press, when compared to the 10,000
Kenyan shillings (US$128) the average Kenyan earns in a year,
"This being an election year, the president will not mind
the additional funds [in aid money] for the purposes of the
electioneering process," Musikari Kombo, an opposition
MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary Anti-Corruption Committee,
told Nairobi's independent Daily Nation.
It is not advice that Kenya lacks, but the political commitment
to fight corruption, Kombo said. Last year, Kombo ruffled feathers
when his committee released the names of prominent figures in
the government accused of corruption.
But after a Jan. 24 meeting with the British consultants, opposition
leader Mwai Kibaki seemed to have had a change of heart. "Let
us give them time," he told reporters, "What they
need is a good political environment to carry out their work."
Perhaps the cynicism with which the British experts were received
is justified considering the fact that previous attempts to
combat corruption in Kenya have ended in ignominy.
In 1997, Kenya launched its first formal attempt to eradicate
corruption from the government. Harun Mwau became the head of
the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority (KACA), with a mandate to
identify corrupt practices and recommend prosecution. After
barely a year in office, a tribunal declared Mwau "incompetent"
after he implicated senior treasury officials in corruption
cases, and replaced him with senior Justice Aaron Ringera.
Soon after, in January 1999, KACA itself was dissolved after
a constitutional court declared it illegal. Subsequent efforts
to create another authority to replace it have floundered in
Parliament. In the meantime, a police anti-graft unit has picked
up where KACA left off. In the year since its creation, the
unit only brought charges against two low-profile officials.
But on Jan. 24, the unit called Mohamed Isahakia, a former permanent
secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources
to court for allegedly stealing 11.4 million Kenyan shillings
On Jan. 24, Chief Justice Bernard Chunga announced the government
would soon establish a court to hear corruption cases. He urged
the anti-corruption police unit to finalize its investigation
of corruption cases so that they could be prosecuted in the
new court. Kenyans are still waiting.
But many here still have deep misgivings about whether the policewhich
ranked as the most corrupt Kenyan institution in Transparency
International's studyand the judiciarywhich ranked
sixthcan be trusted to handle corruption cases. Musikari
Kombo, chairman of the Parliamentary Anti-Corruption Committee
thinks he has a better solution: "Let the president set
the tempo by sacking all senior government officials who have
been implicated in shady deals."