Corruption in Kenya: A Lament

10 Jul

For a long time I laboured under the delusion that most Kenyans want to eradicate corruption. It was only recently that I came to see that people actually long for corruption’s illicit fruits – if they or someone near them can benefit.

There’s a new normal in town.

This realization has finally led me to write a poem. I am not often moved to write poetry, and I am sure I am not as good at it as I used to be. But here goes:

For a long time I thought
That no one had bought
The lies and untruths of corruption
But now I can see
That the lure of things free
Has led to a widespread deception:

That it’s wrong when it’s he
But right when it’s me
Or someone of kindred extraction;
“My people and I”
May now justify
All manner of cruel exploitation.

Wrong is now right!
Black’s the new white!
(So long as my tribesmate has done it)
Darkness is light!
The unrighteous upright –
An appointment? My clansman can run it!

But – some feeling stirs
When it’s not one of ours
And with a colossal log in each eye
We point the long finger
Let our mutterings linger
Then we open our mouths and let fly:

“Politicians!” we shout
“The larcenous louts –
They’re the cause of our nation’s downfall!”
I bring us a mirror
Let’s see ourselves clearer:
There’s politician inside of us all.

The truth should be plain:
That nobody gains!
When our nation is chock full of theft
Tis but a matter of time
‘Til fraud, vice and crime
Cause collapse, and there’s nothing left

It’s time someone said
Enough blood’s been bled
Enough of this cannibalization!
Let a nation stillborn
Become a people reborn
It’s time: for revitalization.

The day after I posted this poem I read this quote (edited slightly) which I thought explains how it all works quite succinctly:

“Corruption rarely begins with grandly named schemes. Rather, it starts with a series of minor compromises, small bows to the exigencies of reality. These capitulations add up, as do the number of other people with whom they are made. Favors are owed; logs are kept. This is the kind of corruption to watch out for.”


Posted by on July 10, 2012 in Politics


21 responses to “Corruption in Kenya: A Lament

  1. Gachii Ndungu

    July 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    well put my brother for surely its a matter of time the ” beneficiary” and the victim we will all be decimated by corruption……

    • Chrenyan

      July 10, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      Hey Gachii,

      Thank you sir, for your speedy response. Indeed it is merely a matter of time before collapse ensues. Let us work to reverse these trends, first in ourselves, and then in others. May God help us, and may God bless Kenya.

  2. Justus

    July 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Bro, you know i have also come to appreciate the fact that Kenyans in general support corruption. if they did not, you will not have people falsifying travel expense claims, we will not have corruption at the lands ministry. Indeed to many corruption is bad, if you are not the one benefiting. Few would stand firm and refuse to be compromised if they would gain materially.

    • Chrenyan

      July 10, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      Hey pal,

      It was a sad discovery to have to make, but it is better that we are informed, then we can start working towards solutions. Starting on the inside of each of us. I know that 99.99% of Kenyans would not pay taxes if they were MPs. Our angry finger-pointing is fuelled mainly (yet merely) by a lack of opportunity, and not by any greater morality we may have compared to the MPs. As you say, when we individually stop falsifying expense claims, and when we individually stop bribing cops/lands ministry officials, and when corruption becomes as wrong for watu wetu as it is for hao watu, then this nation will change.

  3. Moree

    July 12, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Well put bro! So sad our acquiescent nature as Kenyans as far as corruption is concerned, that we look at people who stand against it like they are fools. That we normally ask how high to jump when asked for a bribe as opposed to fighting against it. It starts with me and you to change our mindsets, though it may take a while before corruption is seen as the all consuming ogre it truly is. But Rome was not built in a day, so there is hope.

    • Chrenyan

      July 15, 2012 at 12:43 am

      Hi Moree,

      First of all thanks so much for commenting. I keep saying authors read to be written, so it’s always great when someone reads, and it’s even better when they comment. I am glad you liked the poem.

      I agree that it starts with you and me. We need to change our mindsets. If we can make internal decisions not to be corrupt, the nation can change. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

      Although before God we will be responsible for our own behaviour – and perhaps that of those we could have affected, I also think the tone at the top is very important. A nation takes on the characteristics of its leaders. Low-level corruption is merely a mirror of what is happening at the top. Right leadership can play a major role in accelerating nationwide change.

  4. Allan N

    July 12, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Sammy – nice poem – this is obviously something you are passionate about. Silly question, actually very silly question: Why end corruption, what are you hoping to achieve?

    Reason I ask has to do with focus. Should eliminating corruption be the key focus of say the next leader and if so what can they hope to achieve by doing this or making significant steps in the right direction? If the end goal can be reached by alternative means that may not require the blood of those we have chosen to be our leaders for so long, then I would opt for that route. I feel it has a higher chance of success.

    agree with you that corruption is wrong but I would like to get a feel for the desired end result. Living in the western world I have formed the ppinion that corruption does not disappear with good institutions and transparent judicial systems. It morphs into a more sophisticated way of benefitting a few at the expense of many. It does become less blatant, but is still present.


    Allan M

    • Chrenyan

      July 15, 2012 at 12:54 am

      Hey Allan,

      Thanks a lot for commenting. YES I am passionate about it.

      Before I go into why corruption should be ended, I must first say I am rather baffled about “requiring the blood of those we have chosen to be our leaders for so long.” Did something in the poem imply that this should be done? I have not at any time said anyone’s blood is required. If that is in some way implied, please let me know, because that is not my aim at all. I would definitely want to correct whatever may be giving that impression.

      My main reason for eradicating corruption is poverty/quality-of-life at a national level and at an individual level.

      Poverty – at a national level
      The end-result of corruption is the kind of economic situation we have in Kenya today. We are billions of dollars in debt – and yet roughly the same amount lies in the bank accounts of those who have been in positions of power to this point. What this means is that national debt, and the crippling interest that come along with it, could have been totally avoided if we were less corrupt. It is (or ought to be) public knowledge that as at December 2011 national debt amounted to KES 662 billion/USD 7.88 billion whereas amounts lying in bank accounts abroad amount to KES 566 billion/USD 6.73 billion. Per a June 20, 2012 Nation article, KES 72 billion/USD 0.86 billion of this is in secret Swiss bank accounts. In other words, we borrow only because we are corrupt. If were less corrupt, we either would not have to borrow, or what borrowing we do would be a lot more effective in terms of what it does for the country.

      Every shilling stolen is another shilling that cannot modernize the rail network, or build a road, or build a hospital, or retrain our teachers. Actually let me dwell on the rail a little. 111 years after the railway line reached Kisumu, the current average speed on the Mombasa-Kampala line is 16km/h. To me the railway should not even be private. It is a public problem and should be solved by public funding. As is pointed out in this article, private solutions to public problems often achieve less than the desired result. Anyway, the railway is just one pointer to what corruption does at a national level.

      Individual poverty
      There is a direct correlation between corruption and poverty. When the Goldenberg scandal took place, the shilling suddenly devalued by several factors, inflation hit alarming percentages. We woke up to find bread was KES 21 from KES 7, overnight. People who were earning an honest living suddenly found their salaries were worth mere fractions of what they were worth before. In July –August 1993, interest rates hit 84% ( I usually say that the former President Moi is answerable to God for many of those who have to live their lives in slums because of the way he handled the economy. The day-to-day lives of millions of Kenyans are affected directly by the theft that goes on at a national level. It is possible to change the lives of millions at a stroke if we can just eradicate this ill.

      So poverty, at a national and personal poverty is my reason for wanting to end corruption.

      I think it is not right to say that just because corruption hasn’t been eradicated in the West, we shouldn’t take steps to end this menace. First of all, the West has had some measure of success in reducing the vice. It is not experiencing corruption on the kind of all-pervading scale that we are experiencing in Africa, as I have tried to explain above. This is something we can aspire to. Secondly, why set the bar so low? Why must the West, which is morally bankrupt in so many other ways, be our standard as far as corruption is concerned? Call it youthful idealism, but we can do a lot better.

      I am not sure that good institutions and transparent judicial systems are that effective. I once asked my friends what the best way of dealing with corruption is. It is not as easy a question to answer as it looks on the face of it. So I did some reading. I once read (and I think it was a World Bank/OECD report, but I just can’t find it now despite desperate Googling) that corruption is more effectively dealt with in less democratic environments. (Unfortunately the other side of that coin is that these types of societies are the ones where corruption prevails – so much depends on the man at the top.) In Georgia, for example, they sacked the entire traffic police force, with stellar results. Although this happened in a democratic environment, this kind of draconian action is in my view what is best for passing across a message and starting the change.

      What other steps can best be used to eradicate the vice? I’d be interested in hearing your point of view as to what alternative methods can be used.

  5. Linda

    July 15, 2012 at 2:25 am

    Awesome poem!
    Well, personally I think most Kenyans are against corruption in general,especially the kind that you mentioned in your above comment.However,Kenya has been corrupt for as long as I can remember and it will take some time until that can totally be eradicated.
    Yes, it definitely starts with you and I, but if the people in power keep being replaced by equally corrupt people then the war is endless.
    I think it will take the replacement of that whole corrupt generation of leaders with a new generation of leaders who care more about Kenya than about their own pockets and that could take a while.When it can take a Kenyan citizen upto two years to acquire a passport which is a right,just because they refuse to bribe…how did we get here?
    On the other hand,when for example a student has to show bank statements with millions in order to get a student visa yet the parents clearly do not have this kind of money and just want to give their kid an opportunity to acquire a degree ,I understand that they would resort to asking for a bank statement from someone who clearly has no intention of supporting the student but just wants to help with the visa process.Is this kind of corruption necessarily frowned upon??
    I have discovered that half of the young people who go to study abroad do so because their parents cannot afford to send them to private Universities in Kenya yet they did not get a place in public universities so their only option is to go abroad where they can work and earn enough to pay their own way through a degree.So although I do not condone corruption at all,it’s not always selfish or negative.

    • Chrenyan

      July 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm

      Hey Linda,

      Thanks for commenting, and I’m glad you liked the poem…

      Kenyans (indeed, humans) are against corruption as an abstract idea. Take a poll and no doubt 99% of Kenyans will say that corruption is a major problem in this country and should be eradicated. The same 99% are bribing cops, stealing from their companies, and dodging taxes where they can. If we can start seeing what we ourselves do as being corrupt, we might be onto something. As I was saying to Moree, we are responsible for our own actions and perhaps for the actions of those we can influence. The actions of our leaders are perhaps beyond our ability to affect. Or maybe through prayer it can be done. And the ballot. 🙂

      I also think we need a root-and-branch uprooting of the current political leadership. Both sides of the main political divide (ODM/PNU) have shown themselves to have their fingers, nay elbows and perhaps even armpits in the pie. They’re in it up to their ears. And as we move deeper into the election cycle, we will see them advocating their ability to change things. It is sad.

      About the visa, is there a kind of corruption that should be condoned? If we start with that, where are we going to stop? How many Kenyans are unable to leave the U.S./U.K./other Western nations because their studies suffered while they tried to make ends meet, and now they are illegal immigrants because their visas expired? And even if this doesn’t happen, I don’t think one should have to lie to get ahead. Where will the lying stop? Like the little statement I have quoted at the end of the poem, corruption doesn’t start with the grand schemes. It starts with little things like those. It starts when a certain George Kinuthia wa Kiarie claims to be a Maasai in order to qualify for a scholarship (see page 2 of this article), and if it doesn’t end there, it results in Goldenbergs, electoral fraud, and flames. Will we be able to stop, if we start? Will we find in us the ability to draw a line below our misdeeds… or will it become harder and harder to stop?

      Perhaps we had rather not start at all.

  6. Linda

    July 16, 2012 at 8:52 am

    I believe I clearly stated that I do NOT ‘condone’ any kind of corruption at all but sometimes I ‘understand’ it in cases like the one I mentioned.
    I do not believe in lying to get ahead either and the visa was just one of the examples of cases where it’s ‘understandable’ that someone who would not necessarily steal from a company,avoid taxes or bribe a cop would resort to this in such a case.
    I used to judge people who get married or have kids just to get papers to stay abroad and though that is something I would definitely never do,having seen just how hard some of these countries make it for foreigners to survive I now ‘understand’ why people resort to that.
    Again ‘understand’ does not mean that i ‘condone’ such behavior but people stay abroad for upto 20years struggling and living from hand to mouth because they can’t bear the shame of coming back home with nothing yet they are trying to stay honest.Only the extremely strong willed remain incorruptible under pressure.
    I guess what Im getting at is there is a selfish and evil kind of corruption like all that you have mentioned but in some cases the problem goes deeper and its not just a selfish act but an attempt to survive.
    I agree that we would rather never start but I’m just saying someone who would ‘cheat’ to get a visa is not necessarily someone who is capable of causing the next Goldenberg scandal.
    So what is the solution ??What would you advise such a person to do??

    • Chrenyan

      July 16, 2012 at 11:09 am

      Hey Linda,

      Even as I was writing my response, I was thinking: what if my wife was expectant and needed urgent medical attention, or else risk losing life and child, and all it needed was 1,000 shillings to get her into the ward at someone else’s expense? Would I still be chanting “Death To Corruption”? I cannot say that I would not succumb under such circumstances. It is hard. But (1) it is rare that this is the kind of choice one has to make, and (2) I would have some respect for the sheer convictions of the person who is able to say no even under such circumstances.

      As I said, rarely are we saving lives when we are bribing cops, etc. A foreigner who is finding trouble surviving abroad… why not come home? I remember when we had this Jamaican who was a suspected terrorist, he was deported from country to country until finally he was taken to Jamaica, and they could not deport him. He was home. I remember thinking: “Home is that country from which you cannot be deported.” Why compromise faith, belief, integrity and righteousness just to stay in a country that doesn’t want you there, and (some of) whose citizens insult/ignore you at every turn…? Is it really worth it?

  7. Linda

    July 16, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    I used to say the exact same thing before but its easy to say that when you are not the one in the situation.Some of those people don’t even have a home to come back to and with all the corruption in Kenya they are not sure they would get a job enabling them to survive even for those who manage to acquire the degree so imagine those who didn’t make it.Therefore they would rather struggle abroad despite racism and everything else you mentioned than come back to humiliation and suffering.
    Well I am not one of these people, because of my faith I believe one can prosper anywhere as long as you are in God’s will and as I said I am against all forms of corruption but the problem as I said earlier goes deeper,the question is, aside from the greedy politicians and the like ,what makes honest people resort to corruption and what can be done about it??

    • Chrenyan

      July 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      Hey Linda,

      Sure, that’s a difficult situation. I can’t claim to have been in the same situation these people are in. However, having personally endured racism as a child, it is perhaps a little difficult for me to understand why someone wouldn’t want to come home.

      If everyone had your attitude, that you can prosper anywhere as long as you are in God’s will (or even if you do not prosper, you are at peace so long as you know you are in the right place), we’d be a lot better off.

      And yes, what is the root cause of honest people resorting to corruption? It’s a broken system, a leadership that has no vision beyond the accumulation of personal wealth, and (to some extent) a section of the citizenry that is happy for corruption to continue. It’s smart thinking to examine these causes and fix them.

      Thanks again for commenting.

      • Stephanie VanBuren

        August 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm

        I think the root cause of honest people resorting to corruption is simple…greed…For example, i travelled for work, saw the Samsung S3, and thought, i will sleep at my mum’s place, get a receipt from my friends hotels and that amounts to 60k(whatever the cost of the s3 is) claim the 60k, walk into fonexpress and voila….Samsung S3 is mine….its that simple..Greed could be defined differently, selfishness, laziness, taking shortcuts…

        To be honest, when put in that position, a briefcase full of USD,im not sure if i would say no…im not sure..

        In other unrelated news..ive just discovered your blog and i LOOOOVE it

        • Stephanie VanBuren

          August 3, 2012 at 4:13 pm

          Please ignore the major typo :):)

        • Chrenyan

          August 4, 2012 at 12:51 pm

          Hi Stephanie,

          Thanks for your comment – and THAAAAAAAAANKS for the compliment on the blog 🙂 🙂 🙂 Authors write to be read, so it’s always encouraging when one’s message resonates with his/her readership. If you’d like to, there’s a button on the right-hand side that you can use to subscribe to the blog. You’ll get an email every time I publish a new article.

          To your comment: that’s just it! The root cause of corruption is greed. You know, I discovered that something about wealth. In too many instances someone else needs to know we have it for it to have meaning. If we lived alone on this earth, we’d probably be happy living under a tree. But now that we’re all here, we’ve got to get ahead of everyone else. Which is odd, if you think about it. Why should other’s thoughts of me and my station in life matter so much? I don’t know how long it will take before folks can realize that each night, even if one has one hundred houses they can only sleep in one bed at a time. One can only wear one pair of shoes at a time. Ambition is great, and useful. But a man/woman/family only needs so much. Beyond that, we have to start thinking about other folks and how they can be helped.

          Thanks again.

  8. Andy

    September 2, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Does anyone here have the power, guidance or knowledge to help me with a specific and current example of corruption in the Kenyan Judicial system in Nairobi?
    My friend is right in the centre of it and I’m running out of options to save them.

    Email me if so, cheers


    • Chrenyan

      September 4, 2012 at 7:58 pm

      Hey Andy,

      You might need to publicize your email address in order to receive the examples you’re after…



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