Corruption: Kenya’s Cancer

This is a Sunday dose of impassioned moralism. It may not be to your taste.

AFRICOG has come out with a December report on the Maize Scandal. The Star reports that the Public Education Scandal is about to explode, indicating that the amount of directly missing funds is roughly Sh5.5B, with millions taken each year of the program during the whole course of the program! We are talking here about the rich and powerful exploiting hunger and the poverty of children to line their pockets that much more thickly.

This is not a traffic policeman shaking down a middle class driver for lunch money or petty bureaucratic clerk in a postal service. I don’t claim to be an expert on the world–and I am not arguing abstract development theory. Even if people like Ha-Joon Chang, and to a lesser extent Jeffrey Sachs, are right that Westerners from developed nations tend to overemphasize the importance and explanatory role of corruption in overall economic analysis, I think it is still clear that in Kenya today corruption is a metastasizing cancer that will be the death of meaningful democracy if left untreated. The fact that there is no defined “cure” does not mean that we shouldn’t do our best to treat it.

It is a fool’s errand to have high expectations of the kind of people who steal bread from the hungriest and school funds for the poorest–the bottom line is that they just don’t really care about anyone other than themselves. They can be counted on to be immoral or amoral at best and are not going to be actually subject to moral suasion as opposing to pretending. They might on some occasions for whatever reason do things that are desirable–they may have traits like physical courage or resoluteness or articulation skills that prove useful. But they can never be trusted. Likewise, people that steal elections are not democrats–and as the insightful quote in Michaela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat points out, stealing an election is pretty much the ultimate form of corruption in a democracy: it takes away the very sovereignty of the voting public and steals the most from those who have no other form of power other than the vote.

So what is the treatment? It’s not Tweets, nor, for that matter, blog posts. “Name and shame” doesn’t work where there is no shame. What is required is accountability which means prosecutions and asset seizures. If non-Kenyan actors and institutions want to help they will stop playing Hamlet and decide to consistently be in favor, and act in favor, of this type of actual accountability. The policy of my country, the United States, has been over a period of years, so inconsistent as to be incomprehensible. Likewise the British. France has become a big donor to Kenya for whatever reason–and has spoken some good words, but I haven’t picked up on much in terms of action.

We have arrived now at one of those times when both the US and the UK have shifted some in the direction of expressing dissatisfaction with part of the Kenyan political class in government. We have been here before and they have always in the past “gotten over it” before anyone went to jail or lost his or her ill gotten wealth. Before there was always a distraction or excuse that arose. Some other priority involving some neighboring country perhaps. I certainly hope that those lessons have now been learned. The patient is obviously sick and candy or sugar pills will not take the place of medicine.

One thought on “Corruption: Kenya’s Cancer

  1. Pingback: Today’s Corruption News–Education Funds, Rift Valley Railroad, Maize & More « AfriCommons Blog

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