Stop being corrupt!

There are notices aplenty. Notices in government buildings that tell you: ‘Bribes will not be taken.’ Notices on blue boxes invite you to: ‘Post your complaints here.’ Signs in red and white that state baldly: ‘Stop being corrupt.’

They are all part of the Anti-Corruption Commission’s nationwide campaign to tackle the endemic sleaze that spread under ex-President Moi. In 1996 Kenya was the third most corrupt country in the world, beaten only by Nigeria and Pakistan. Last year it was the 15th most corrupt out of 144 countries listed by Transparency International. An improvement of sorts. But considering President Kibaki came to power on an anti-corruption ticket, it’s not great.

Tranparency International’s Kenyan Bribery Index found three-quarters of business people still expected to have to pay bribes. Officials of the Ministry of Public Works demanded the largest sums, closely followed by officials of embassies and foreign organizations. And of the ten most corrupt institutions, six were law enforcement bodies and local authorities.

But what seems to be bothering Kenyans most is President Kibaki’s reluctance to prosecute wrong-doers within both his own and the previous government. Up until February 2005 there was not one high-profile prosecution. Even Moi himself was untouchable. This has not been for want of accusation – both in the Kenyan media and from some unexpected quarters. British High Commissioner Edward Clay eschewed diplomatic language when he accused government officials of vomiting ‘on the shoes of donors... and all Kenyans’ by colluding with members of the Moi regime in corrupt procurement deals. He provided a list of some 20 examples. ‘We are talking about massive looting or/and corruption which has a huge impact on Kenya’s economy.’

Canadian High Commissioner Jim Wall added that ‘what is apparently lacking is... the political will to ferret out and expose the crooks’. Canada, the US and other donor countries estimate that sleaze has cost Kenya $1 billion in the past three years – a fifth of the national budget.

But the real body blow came when Kibaki’s own anti-corruption tsar, John Githoni, resigned in February. Colleagues in the organization he used to head, Transparency International Kenya, said that Githoni’s resignation could only mean that his job was impossible. At this point international funding started to unravel. The US suspended $2.5 million in anti-corruption assistance to Kenya; the European Union, Japan and Canada all warned that their assistance was in jeopardy. Under such heavy domestic and international pressure, Kibaki announced that six sacked senior government officials would stand trial on graft charges involving millions of dollars.

But it takes two to tango. Looted funds are kept in safes in Switzerland, Britain and other Western countries. Western banks are never required to open up the details of their thieving clients, let alone repatriate the loot. And many Western companies doing business in Africa continue to grease the palms of their clients to get the juicy deals they seek.

  • Sources: Transparency International (; Odious Debts (; Rob Crilly, ‘Kenyan sleaze tsar quits as crisis grows’ The Independent, London, 8 February 2005.
  • New Internationalist issue 379 magazine cover This article is from the June 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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