We must reflect on the hypocrisy in our anti-corruption campaign

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By David Wanjala

That the country is choking under the weight of corruption is no longer surprising. It has become a national pastime. We are lurching from one scandal to another–from the plunder of billions at the National Youth Service, the theft of Sh63million worth of fertilizer at the National Cereals and Produce Board to the looting at the National Youth Fund, not to mention what is going on at yet another fat government revenue stream, the Kenya Pipeline Corporation.

Corruption has long been a torturous and disturbing national narrative with dramatic twists and turns. And it is growing bolder and more sophisticated.

What is notable is the fact that the battle has taken a very familiar and predictable pattern: Corruption is reported in an institution, there is feigned outrage and tough talk, officials come out to declare no cash was lost, they are then forced to step down, charged in court, shoddy investigations conducted and the court clears them.

But if you listen carefully, the corruption narrative is oddly changing. Today, the political and ethnic elites that dominate our public spaces have refocused their energies towards rationalising corruption. As former Chief Justice, Willy Mutunga says, we have a situation where “criminal enterprise is sold as success.” Corruption is protected by tribalism. And business need not be clean.

One is reminded of the world in Russian playwright Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector. In the Tsarist Russia captured in the tragi-comedy, human greed and corruption are not only generally condoned, but intertwined with state.

In the play, Ivan Khlestakov, a good-for-nothing, well-dressed but broke fellow who has gambled his cash away, is mistaken for the dreaded government inspector. He is bribed and fêted by government officials in the hope of turning his attention away from their maladministration. As they celebrate their apparent success following Khlestakov’s departure, however, the real inspector arrives—to their consternation.

Like in Gogol’s Russia, corruption in Kenya is not only seemingly condoned but also rewarded and incentivized.

People who have amassed wealth through dubious and unethical means are celebrated as “enterprising role models who are rewarded with leadership positions- both elective and appointive.

Equally, activities of rogue tenderpreneurs with access to official patronage that they exploit to amass immoral wealth are being sanitized as “hustling” with role models up in the state bureaucracy. 

Then there is the question of our attitude towards public service.   Working in government is always seized as the ultimate opportunity for self-enrichment through theft.

On the role of the Judiciary in the battle, there hasn’t been any meaningful debate on the incompetent prosecution of corruption cases.

For some reason the Director of Public Prosecution and the tired Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission seem unable to successfully investigate and prosecute high profile graft cases. Mr Noordin Haji, the new DPP should rise to occasion and reverse this trend.

In the meantime, a society that makes the corrupt its role models cannot purport to detest avarice.  Corruption in the public sector is a reflection of our collective soul. We must reflect on the hypocrisy in our anti-corruption campaign—as we wait for the real government inspector.