OPINION: BBI report is right on corruption

By Michael Cherambos

Of the nine major issues of national importance highlighted by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) taskforce, perhaps the most angering for many of us is corruption. It often feels like something beyond our control.

For many Kenyans, we feel as though we have no option but to raise our hands and surrender to this unfortunate reality. But this is no longer really the case. Corruption needs to be attacked from two avenues: individual responsibility as good citizens, and the government’s responsibility towards us.

On the latter front, we are making clear progress. Many high-level business leaders have been arrested in the past year, but it is even more surprising and impressive when elected officials who have long felt comfortable with graft meet their fate. Of a long list of names, two stand out.

The first major turning point occurred when Finance Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich was arrested in an unprecedented move. It is remarkable that any CS be arrested for graft. But that it was the one responsible for our budget shows that President Uhuru Kenyatta really means business when he says that he is no longer putting up with elected officials who take advantage of their position.

The second big turning point in the anti-corruption battle took place more recently with Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko’s arrest. The man was heretofore seen as untouchable, a very popular figure around Nairobi and well-known for his wealth. But wealth in Kenya should not give an immediate pass into the world of power and leadership.

Leadership should come from skills and experience, from working to serve the people – not make money off of them. Leaders must work for the people who elected them, and not the other way around. This is therefore a clear message to the public: the era of impunity is behind us.

In terms of individual responsibility, let us keep in mind that corruption occurs also at very small levels. The common practice of petty bribery is a cultural problem that destroys our lives and our future. In the words of the BBI report, “it is undermining our public and private institutions, and will destroy them and our aspirations as a nation.”

No more bribing the police to get out of a tough situation. No more giving cash donations or bribery to school officials to make sure that your kids pass their exams. And business leaders can no longer pay to get contracts of lucrative tenders.

The report recommends acknowledging whistle-blowers with monetary awards. If money is what motivates us then so be it. Uhuru and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga have together committed to cracking down on using connections and networks to get out of trouble, because everyone here must be equal under the law.

If they can overcome their differences and complicated, intertwined histories, then every other Kenyan can swallow their pride and work towards unity.

The corruption problem is deeply connected to another major challenge we face – the lack of a national ethos. To the outside world, Kenya is all too often known for its tribalism and lack of national cohesion.

We too frequently define ourselves solely based on our tribe and forget the importance of our national identity. With this year’s celebration of Jamhuri Day, let us keep in mind that our identity as a community should be defined more than anything by our unity as citizens of Kenya.

The independence struggle left us torn apart. Colonial forces attempted to use our tribal affiliations to divide us.
These days that kind of tribalism has evolved into too much self-serving interests and lack of commonality. We share much more than being residents of the same country.

As Kenyans, we need to work towards developing a national ethos, which means defining our Kenyan identity and values together. Our common aspirations should include first and foremost no longer tolerating corruption.
The first step is acknowledgement of the problem, the second is coming up with a solution, the third is implementation.

We are already in the third phase – we have known for a long time that corruption is rife. In the past we whispered it in private, but now it is a highly public issue. With the recent arrests of high profile officials, the crackdown is already in the implementation stage.

As it stands, the national trajectory is positive. Let us not lose sight of our common goals.

Mr Cherambos comments on topical issues.

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