Do you know anybody: The widespread bane that can’t just go away

As the National Ethics and Corruption Survey 2018 was being presented by a dejected retired Anglican Bishop and current EACC Chair Eliud Wabukala, spirits of the late Dr Magayu Magayu, Ken Saro Wiwa, Chinua Achebe and Ebsen Henken must have been hovering over the bishop’s collar with impish glee, for when they lived, they wrote and castigated the cancerous vice that has defied Kenya’s state machinery, with devotion and in compelling genres 

BY GAD WESONGA

Following the release of the 2018 Corruption Report on November 19, 2019, the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (EACC) singled out the vice as the country’s worst nightmare, attributing to it nearly half of the challenges facing Kenya. 

According to the report, conducted between November 16, 2018 and December 19, 2018 the corruption scourge ravages through the Interior Ministry which accounts for nearly half of the corruption cases in the country at 47.5% followed by the Ministry of Health at 17.9% and then the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation at 13.8%; wrapping up the top three bragging rights’ to infamy.

Regrettably, the three ministries form the fulcrum of the Kenyan economic activities around which lives of the society at large revolves. As such, the horrific percentages presented in the report are horrifying as it leaves behind a trail of plagues including cancerous ailments due to consumption of contaminated food and water, extreme poverty, falling standards of education and a myriad of other horrendous life experiences that exposes many to immense despondency.

As the report was being presented by a dejected retired Anglican Bishop and current EACC Chairman Eliud Wabukala, the late Dr Magayu Magayu, Ken Saro Wiwa, Chinua Achebe and Ebsen Henken spirits must have been  hovering over the bishop’s collar with glee, for when they lived, in various parts of the world, they  wrote and castigated the vice with devotion and in compelling formations. But the bane, it appears, cannot just go away. 

Are human beings inherently corrupt? One may justifiably wonder considering that the Kenyan public has in the recent past been treated to high-octane drama related to the fight against corruption such that it leaves one to struggle in relating the statistics as per the survey report. 

Apparently, this lamentation about corruption has stubbornly stuck with humanity in Kenya and beyond for far too long. 

Do You Know Anybody? 1994

In this short story, Dr Magayu presents a poignant, pungent and repugnant menace of corruption practices that continue to wreck and sweep any available form of hope and optimism from the helpless victims. He painfully, portrays a sordid picture of corruption; a monstrous vice whose respect for humanity is completely missing that its adherent practitioners have totally lost their basic humanly attributes.

Cancer Patient 

Kimani, a High School teacher and husband to Jennifer, has his testing final times battling cancer at Mung’etho National Hospital. Jennifer and their family friend Ngugi are so determined to support and help the situation.

Nonetheless, an obstacle seems to stand between Kimani and his treatment – the missing laboratory report.

Such brutal and blatant occasions where people, in this case the laboratory attendants, are shamelessly confident to announce that the crucial documents that form part of their daily duties are misplaced is a reflection of the inherent unprofessionalism and basic ethical apathy exhibited by those entrusted to serve in public interest but decide to torment the very public by working under the shameless motivation of solicited bribes and favors. 

It is revealed in the bitter words of Jennifer to Ngugi that, “of course it is not lost. They want something… allow me to ask for a favor …some money to give to the lab people…” 

These sorrowful words loudly echoes the muted voice of the voiceless multitude in the hands of rapacious bribe solicitors, a rampant practice in public service as confirmed by the EACC report where services are exchanged with favors and nothing less such that Wanjiku is robbed during their helplessness and desperation, their  right to be served and ability to even meet the basic human needs, leave alone the luxury to give a bribe notwithstanding. 

These sorrowful words loudly echoes the muted voice of the voiceless multitude in the hands of rapacious bribe solicitors, a rampant practice in public service

Kimani, the ailing High School teacher’s family has been struck by poverty and reduced to paupers which is unbearable to his friend Ngugi, such that “…the poverty that had encroached Kimani’s home as a result of his illness came fresh into his mind and the thought of anyone soliciting for a bribe in the face of his friend’s suffering made him mad.” 

Apparently, this, in its passive nature, is a way of dealing a fatal blow to the proletariats by those in places of authority and control, the bourgeoisie; an illustration of socio-political and economic control by a few.

The detestable vice is deeply entrenched in the society that in response to Ngugi’s outburst, the nurse retorts, “This place is like that. Unless you know somebody…” painfully suggesting that patriots who cannot afford a bribe or do not know someone are inherently prohibited from receiving public service.

As Ngugi would later put it, “…it is immoral to seek a bribe from a poor woman in exchange of a report on her sick husband.” The hospital, Ngugi lamented, was a public institution, that people paid taxes to maintain it and to pay salaries to the laboratory people, which enabled them to feed their wives and mistresses.

Unfortunately, this is the reality that merchants of corruption shun and shy away from; the fact that humans are interdependent and affect each other either directly or indirectly, and that this should be reason enough to exercise justice in carrying out one’s duties diligently.

It is evident with Kimani, that even after spending years creating and disseminating knowledge; guiding learners to taking up higher studies in the fields of their choice out of which they make important professionals such as medical doctors, many dedicated public servants including teachers cannot afford access to proper basic medical services. 

It is unfortunate to see that these efforts, the contributions made over the years towards building the nation, for Kimani, goes unrecognized. But worse still, is to see the state and its functionaries, in this case the doctors bringing down the same architect who built it; the teacher, just because he is not able to align and appropriately respond to the big question – Do You Know Anybody? 

Fortunately, as evidenced through Kavisi Musyoka, a clerk in the lab who offers to help the couple, a few remnants of patriotism, decorum and decency whose virtuous motivations are not grounded on personal gain or interests but the spirit of service, stand against this ugly tide that ride and thrive on the boring chorus of Do You Know Anybody? 

They still endeavor and strive to steer the community towards restoration of sanity and sanctity. The society, albeit awfully stinking in its fabricated nature has not completely lost its savior. 

The caring and virtuous Kavisi offers to get the report for free but discreetly, fearing for the consequences. It is a callous exhibition of a society where impunity and evil rein, have been canonized and crowned such that those doing the right thing are exposed to the risk of punishment including job loss. This vengeance on people who opt to do the right thing is meant to create a conducive environment for the vices associated with ‘knowing somebody’ to blossom.

Kimani, a professional teacher, breadwinner and family man who later dies of neglect and the worry that his fate is sealed by the fact that his people have no links in the hospital represents many Kenyans who rely on public services where they are molested. 

In his analysis of this emotionally crushing short story, Muchira Gachenge wrote that the value of humanity has been substituted with the label – their accolades, titles, positions in the government, and worse; their tribes, depth of their pockets, blood relations, and ethnicity et cetra- with little or no attention paid to the means to their fortunes, and to their ends.

The mourning about corruption is not just confined to Kenya. In other parts of the world like in West Africa’s Nigeria, the same bitter tears of hopelessness are shed with blood. In the next Issue we look at other works including Africa kills her sun by Author and political activist Ken Saro Wiwa who paid with the ultimate price for his crusade against such evil.  

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