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Africa’s hub of corruption

Anti-corruption suggestion box

An anti-corruption suggestion box in Mombasa, Kenya. Marcel Oosterwijk under a Creative Commons Licence

Corruption in Kenya is worse now than at any other time in the country’s post-independence history. While it is true that corruption exists in most African countries, in Kenya it affects the daily and economic business both of government and the governed.

The government of Kenya, under the leadership of President Uhuru Kenyatta, is said to be full of corrupt leaders – with his deputy at the top of the list. In this regime, leaders are appointed to positions on the basis of tribe, regardless of merits.

To make matters worse, the corruption has extended to the hiring of new staff, to promotions, to the recruitment of youth to join police training colleges, and even to service delivery in public offices. In government hospitals, patients must part with a bribe of not less than $25 if they want to get the best treatment. Otherwise, no nurse will attend to them.  

In police stations the trend is the same. The Kenya High Court recently cancelled the recruitment of 10,000 young people picked for police training because the exercise was marred by corruption. In learning institutions, bribes are paid to get admission or good final grades, so the quality of education is compromised. Many graduates are left jobless, not because of lack of vacancies, but because of their tribe affiliation. Other graduates, whose grades do not reflect their actual ability, fail in their jobs.

President Kenyatta comes from the Kikuyu community, while deputy president William Ruto is a Kalenjin. Thus it is only people from these two ethnic communities who benefit under this regime. Development projects have stalled or collapsed because the tendering process awarded the contracts to people ‘ethnically friendly’ to the government, regardless of experience and qualifications, as a way of rewarding them for supporting the regime during the election.

Standard Gauge Railway Line is one such example. The project was sponsored by the World Bank, and the government was to oversee its progress by employing qualified engineers and experts to construct it. However, the contractors colluded with government to exaggerate its cost almost fourfold.

Opposition leaders have been mounting fierce pressure on the President to commit himself in the fight against corruption. The criticisms seem to have been ignored until the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) cracked the whip. (The EACC is responsible for integrity and ethical behaviour, especially in those serving in public offices, yet its own officers are also easily compromised.)

President Kenyatta bowed to the pressure, swallowed his pride and made public the names – given to him by the EACC – of 162 individuals in his government said to be corrupt. The individuals include cabinet secretaries, governors, senators and legislators from both the opposition and the ruling Jubilee party.

‘I call upon those implicated in this corruption list to step aside to give room for investigation. If you are found innocent, you come back and continue serving, but if found guilty, carry your own cross,’ President Kenyatta said amid cheers of legislators in parliament. All 162 have since stepped aside pending 60 days of investigations.

The opposition has accused Kenyatta of taking too long to tackle the corruption charges.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga lamented: ‘The role of opposition is put the government on check. If it sleeps too much, we step on its toes to awaken it. But it should not wait until the problem reaches this [magnitude].’

Odinga claims that the corruption has had an effect on the country’s gross domestic profit (GDP). A few people have become ridiculously rich while the majority have remained extremely poor, thus widening the gap between the haves and have-nots.

The opposition leader has said that the police force is the most corrupt sector. ‘Surprisingly, these uniformed men and women who are mandated to maintain law and order within the country promote the vice,’ he disclosed. ‘No police officer in Kenya would discharge their services for free to citizens without any form of bribery.’

Illegal militia group Al Shabaab has taken advantage of the weakness of the police force, to terrorize and kill innocent citizens. Al Shabaab, a group of Somalia rebel soldiers, has been attacking Kenya in retaliation for the deployment in Somalia of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to boost security there. Kenya has as a result become the target of terror attacks itself. Militia groups bribe Kenyan border police and the KDF to get into the country. On 2 April, at least 150 students were killed at Garissa University College.

Police officers on the border say they are badly paid, receive no hardship allowances, live in dilapidated conditions and are not supplied with sufficient firearms and vehicles to deliver the services required. ‘We risk our lives guarding this part of the country’s border,’ one officer revealed. ‘If [Al Shabaab] bribe us with money, we cannot resist. After all, they have more sophisticated weapons than we do. They can force their way in by whatever means.’

Another area in which corruption is flourishing is smuggling. As long as one has the money and knows which buttons to press, foreigners can have access to anything in Kenya. Foreigners own Kenyan national identification documents, own huge chunks of lands, run businesses and operate anywhere, anytime, anyhow at the expense of citizens.

Senior election officials were recently implicated in a bribing scandal involving a British company which paid over $600,000 in bribes to win business contracts.

Meanwhile, in the National Assembly – where laws governing the country are made – bills are passed not based on benefit to constituents, but on how they will affect members of parliament (MPs). MPs are also easily bribed to debate certain motions and to defend or reject particular bills. When government MPs passed a security bill in record time recently, opposition unhappiness led to chaos and fighting in Parliament – misconduct seldom seen elsewhere.

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