Three Questions Raised About Corruption in Kenya

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NAIROBI, Kenya  — Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) has a massive problem on their hands. Overall, the percentage of people who admit to paying bribes for basic services in Kenya is 62 percent, when just two years ago it was 46 percent. Retired Anglican Archbishop Eliud Wabukala led the EACC’s recent launch of a Bible Study Guide, hoping that by encouraging regular citizens and those in government to examine corruption in Kenya through a lens of Biblical morality, these high levels of reported corruption would decrease.

However, critics have pointed out that President Uhuru Kenyatta, the head of the current government being embroiled in reported corruption, anchored his campaign in espousing God and the Bible. Many fear the effectiveness of this EACC’s strategy since the Bible is such a vast text, it easily lends itself to being taken out of context to suit individual agendas. Additionally, this strategy does not address corruption among non-Christians. A solution needs to be found soon since corruption in Kenya is only exacerbating poverty and raising three important questions for those living outside of Kenya to consider.

Where are these high levels of corruption coming from?

The commission faces the problematic infiltration of government corruption in many sectors. In addition to the more predictable forms of corruption, such as favoritism in government jobs, corruption affects daily life. For example, criminal cartels connected to government officials in Nairobi have disconnected water supplies, creating artificial shortages. They then profit from selling water to residents of the capital city.

Many also pay money to local officials to be able to stay in the only homes in the slums they can afford, bribing these officials to overlook their duty to report unsafe housing conditions. Additionally, even the basic right to a birth certificate often comes with the cost of a bribe to new parents. Similarly, bribes are often necessary to obtain operating licenses for businesses from fields like construction. In a recent survey conducted by the EACC, 16 percent of companies said they would expect these types of bribes.

This corruption has permeated society to such a degree because rumors abound among citizens that corruption in Kenya infects the police force and the judiciary as well. According to the EACC’s recent survey of Kenyans regarding their perceptions of corruption in Kenya, the Kenyan National Police Service is believed to be the most corrupt government agency, requiring bribes to perform almost any service. Additionally, one-third of those Kenyans surveyed also believe in judiciary corruption. Whether or not these perceptions are accurate, their very existence promotes instability.

Statistically, of those that answered this survey, 17 percent reported paying bribes to local authorities, with 16 percent paid to the police, 10.5 percent to the National Registration Bureau and almost eight percent to their County Health Department. Theses percentage may explain the wariness of the police. In December 2016, 127 officers were fired after Kenya’s National Police Service Commission found evidence of inexplicable money transfers. Though this corruption was severely dealt with, a heightened fear remains.

How does corruption in Kenya affect poverty rates?

Though there are many Kenyans who enjoy comfortable lives, the country has one of the highest rates of unequal income distribution in the world, and 46 percent of Kenyans live below the poverty line. Unfortunately, corruption in Kenya hits the latter group the hardest, making it more difficult for them to escape poverty.

So many services, including finding jobs, require paying money that many do not have, which has left hundreds of thousands of educated Kenyans in their early adulthoods without jobs and basic health, education and justice services, perpetuating poverty.

For those living below the poverty line, on average, the highest percentage of their income goes to paying bribes. More broadly, long-term economic growth, which would raise many out of poverty, has been harmed as business costs for foreign investors have increased and interest in Kenya decreased due to these demands for bribes. International trade has also been hindered from stimulating the economy due to corruption among officials at Kenya’s ports and borders.

How can corruption in Kenya be combatted?

Besides the EACC’s invocation of Biblical authority, signs that Kenyans are trying to take a stand against corruption have recently occurred. This last summer, 2018, President Kenyatta offered to undergo a lifestyle audit, requiring all government officials to prove that they purchased their homes, land and cars with honestly earned funds, which is a positive step towards changing corruption from the top down.

This follows act the new constitution from 2010 that decreased government power by allocating more power to 47 new counties. Peaceful elections have followed, which, coupled with President Kenyatta’s recent offer, reveals a desire to change the country’s reputation for corruption.

The World Bank Group is doing its part to combat corruption globally. It claims that those living outside Kenya have a big role to play in combatting corruption as well. Clear movement of money from poor to wealthy countries exists, meaning that many businesses will profit from the corrupt systems that dominate Kenya. Private sector firms have a lot of power. If they refused to negotiate business transactions tainted by corruption within Kenya, those Kenyans would have a large incentive to end corrupt practices.

According to The World Bank Group, this is the first critical step in creating a culture with new norms and standards for just business practices and less corruption to harm the poor. With the government seemingly on board with ending corruption, organizations like The World Bank Group may be able to finally root out and eliminate corruption in Kenya.

-Charlotte Preston

Photo: Flickr

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