Corruption in our politics does not start when the politicians win elections and get power, but way before. [iStock]

Ideally, Kenya is not a united nation. That is not odd because few nations can claim to be. Even though Kenyans are always at war – sometimes over nothing important but often over politics – one thing that brings them together is corruption.

They hate it because it denies them opportunities, kills their dreams, disempowers and impoverishes them and leaves them without basic services. Ironically, they still worship it. They love it because it is the engine that drives their enterprises. They thrive because of it, and when they fall, they again blame it. Kenyans engage in underhand deals at the slightest opportunity. When they encounter a minor inconvenience, they look for someone to bribe to overcome it. Even when they anticipate a hurdle in their way, they look for underhand ways of circumventing it. 

Kenyans bribe their way through the lowest level to gain access to another level where they will again pay a bribe. From the smallest greengrocer, to the wealthiest businessman, all Kenyans have a role in the country’s corruption industry, and that is why ending it will be a tall order. Kenyans may shout at politicians for being corrupt, but they will not change because they know that the people have embraced their wicked ways and adore those of them who are reportedly the most corrupt.

They steal from public coffers, and during the electioneering period, throw money at voters, who lack the guts to ask them about service delivery, the source of their funds or how they will recover the monies they are spending on the campaign trail. All politicians claim that they are people of means and have wealthy friends who fund them, but these friends remain faceless until a financial scandal involving billions of shillings is unearthed.

Thus, corruption in our politics does not start when the politicians win elections and get power, but way before. It intensifies when they are in office since that is the time to steal and pay back their wealthy financiers, and themselves too. Of course, payment is made through inflating costs of State projects and flawed tendering processes in State entities which are eventually bailed out using taxpayers’ monies.

Ultimately, it is the taxpayers, the voters, who suffer but when any authority tries to show its gums – they barely have teeth – the sufferers complain the loudest that their innocent tribes, clan or village mate is being persecuted because of politics. Any time a corruption index report is released, and State entities are listed as the most corrupt, Kenyans join in the condemnation, but forget that people working in these bodies are bribed by outsiders, the taxpayers, so-called ordinary Kenyans, who want to cut corners.

How can Kenyan motorists complain about corrupt traffic police officers, yet they have normalised paying bribes so much so that those who decline and prefer to go to court, are castigated for wasting their time? Paying bribes is the norm and anything to the contrary is frowned upon.

We can argue till kingdom come that the system has been designed that way, but this system does not run on its own. It is fueled by Kenyans who also have the power to disrupt it, but no, they want to cut corners, to save time.

When road accidents occur, we heap the blame upon police officers, yet vehicle owners or the drivers know the vehicle is faulty, but takes it out on the road, nonetheless, armed with money for paying bribes. When buildings collapse resulting in casualties, there is a chorus of condemnation that the house owners used substandard construction material but bribed respective authorities to look the other way. But these house owners are not aliens. They are Kenyans, born and bred – they are our siblings, parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents or even spouses.

And the idea of using substandard material came from them. They initiated the act of corruption – committed the first crime then infected the others. Corruption is not a single event committed by an individual in isolation. It is like a virus, an infection that needs a chain of hosts to thrive, survive and continue on its path of destruction. And speaking of construction, when business in scrap metal was banned in mid-January, traders dealing in steel rods increased prices of goods they already had in stock within 24 hours. They cited the ban as reason for price rise, as if the scrap metal is delivered to their stores and made into rods therein.

How are they any different from politicians who steal from public coffers? Can they be a part of the fight against corruption? That kind of behaviour exists across all businesses in Kenya. Everyone wants to steal from buyers. Those traders are not aliens. Their families learn, literally, the trade secrets from them, and will continue with that culture of stealing, or corruption, in any sector, including politics.

Kenyans have never internalised the fact that we are inherently corrupt people and that we are the only ones who can stop it, but we are not ready — so we will continue suffering and whining.