29 May 2012

Kenya: Why Corruption Is Not an Option

Every alternate day newspapers headline the corrupt disappearance of hundreds of millions of shillings of public money. We never hear of the corrupt misappropriation of similar huge sums from the private sector. What is the purpose of corruption in Kenya ? Why does grand corruption continue ? To whom is it useful?

Some of the usual purposes of corruption are, obviously, personal enrichment, covering past crimes, financing elections, rewarding compliant subordinates, widening patronage, bringing about legal short cuts. All of these, and other, reasons play a part, either together or by themselves in making corruption useful.

But the deep-rooted persistence of corruption, the acceptance of it as partially legitimate, and the absence of any effective moral condemnation from the religious sectors, point to some over-arching factor that can survive for fifty years and is not dependent on particular individuals. This factor is that corruption is the key means of obtaining and retaining power in our country.

Corruption therefore includes a wider use of improper means than only money. Corruption does not only mean illegally obtained money, or illegally given money. It also means the improper use of processes, rights, information and force. It includes the improper denial of those same processes and rights to others. It includes illegally obtaining a judgment, or illegally obtaining the termination of a person's job, or the improper taking of the land of others.

The consequence of this wider corruption is not only that we break the commitment of applying public moneys to public development, we also break the institutions of development themselves. We corrupt the concept of Government itself.

So the next effect of grand corruption is the corruption of the purpose for which we, the electorate, have given a mandate to our rulers. The mandate was to provide solutions to our problems. But our rulers for fifty years have considered the purpose of power is simply to perpetuate themselves in power.

The effect of this, and the third danger of such corruption therefore, is that public moneys are again being concentrated in a few private hands. When grand corruption is prevalent, we find that the concentration of money and the concentration of power come to be in the same few hands. There is a direct connection. The temptations of continual power are irresistible. The human mind can fashion limitless rationales for this.

The fourth danger then, in such an environment, is that instead of the Rule of Law another rule prevails: that politics has no rules. The Rule of Law then does not extend to politics, or to the obtaining or the retention of political power. The result is that lawlessness prevails heavily in the political arena. Corruption is thusone of the major responses of insecure holders of power. For such small groups holding insecure power, corruption is a necessary means.

Therefore corruption will not disappear by treating it as a law and order issue as bribery, or by more and more legislation, or by increasing financial or custodial penalties. The practical deterrent is barring convicted persons from holding any public office. Allowing the use of both illegitimate and legitimate means to obtain or retain power will result, as it had, in institutional government being forever weak and the Rule of Law failing.

The Constitution says our rulers are accountable for corrupt losses. The practice is that they are not, or not enough, yet. Such political schizophrenia causes the same illness in a country as in an individual. And living in an ill country eventually brings about the fifth danger: it demeans our humanity and brings about an indifference to inhumanity that is itself the biggest corruption of us as individual Kenyans.

Therefore, the full implementation of the new Constitution's changes is necessary. Because blocking the implementation of the Constitution returns unrestricted power into the hands of one man - exactly what we fought against for decades. Those who want unchecked power after the elections continue to practice corruption.

Most of all, the lesson of history is that the alternative to corruption must not disappear from the choice of Kenyans. The alternative, fortunately, is the new Constitution. The task of its steady and full implementation must continue. So the choice we have in the coming elections is: Which candidate will best implement all the remaining parts of the new Constitution? Which candidate will best steer the country to the future the Constitution safeguards for us? Which candidate fought for the new Constitution and its Promulgation?

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