I have a friend, let us call him ‘Anonymous’. I have another friend, more of Anonymous’ friend than mine, I shall call him a friend nonetheless and for the purposes of this story, name him ‘InNeed’. It so happened that we were in my kitchen, having lunch and talking, one lazy Tuesday afternoon with not much going on. The two, Anonymous and InNeed have known each other a long while. InNeed flew out for further studies a few years ago. He was in the country for his holidays and would soon be flying out again, he came to spend some time with Anonymous before leaving.
We talked about many things, mostly comparing the lives we live as university students in Kenya and what InNeed’s experiences are as an international student in Malaysia. Very interesting dynamics came up, stories for another day perhaps. Our conversation at some point then wandered to driving licenses. InNeed knows someone who needs a driving license…fast! Anonymous can facilitate this. He has done it before for someone in their circles, but that was several years ago. InNeed first confirms that Anonymous still has the connections and is still willing to ‘hook him up’ with the license. Anonymous has no objections.
As they are friends, they speak very freely, laying all their cards on the table. Anonymous says that it will cost ksh. 10,000, but this is of course not the cost that will be quoted to ‘ThirdParty’, who is the person that InNeed is helping out. Anonymous recently ran in to some troubles and sees this as an opportunity to get him through these troubles. He needs a little money. Ksh. 5,000 is what he wants his cut to be. So the price to be quoted to ThirdParty gets bumped up. InNeed feels entitled to a cut as well, says that he would not mind ksh. 5,000 himself, and the price gets bumped up to ksh. 20,000. I, TheOpportunist, quickly chime in that I would not mind a cut either and we all laugh, saying the price is now set at ksh. 25,000. InNeed proceeds to quote that to ThirdParty. (Just for the record, in case I am ever running for president, I did not really get a cut, heh heh!)
“This is how the Kenyan government works, you know?”, says InNeed.
This is something I had coincidentally been thinking a lot about at the time this conversation took place in my kitchen. Corruption in Kenya. Corruption is institutionalised. Corruption is an institutionalised business in this country. Just business. A way to mint money.
When you are on the inside, you count your lucky stars and go with the flow. There are a couple of silent unspoken rules.
Share. It is the only way things will work. When you are called on to do your part, do it. Be it exaggerating the cost of something, falsifying documents, being a loophole in the system through which those privileged with wealth are granted exclusive access to, a route via which things are expedited, no questions asked. Just do your part and you shall get your share of the profit.
Keep your mouth shut. Act like nothing happened. Keep things silent and you will get away with it. It might itch, nag at you. You may want to tell just one or two people what good fortune has befallen you. Don’t.
Do not grow a conscience. Just eat. Take advantage of the good fortune while it is upon you, take the money, spoil yourself with it, spoil your family with it, invest in businesses, go on an extravagant holiday, you can do whatever you please with that money, just take it and go enjoy it. Do not start feeling contrition for your sins and wanting repentance. This goes hand in hand with keeping your mouth shut. Do not tell anyone and you all stay happy.
(If you are caught) You are on your own. Those that were very quick to welcome you into their offices, ask the secretary to fix you a cup of tea as you discussed the details of your dealings, those that very quickly validated your parking and asked after your family, they are the very ones that will deny even having lain eyes on you. Know that this is a friendship of convenience. For a season, for a reason, and once that time is up, silently move on and go your way. Once the deal is done, whatever happens, know that you are on your own! This business has no insurance policies.
What about the general population on the outside? We are aware that these things happen. We whine and complain every chance we get. At social gatherings, when we watch the news, on the way to work as we read the newspapers, we see it all, we complain, we lament at how far this country would be if the government was not so corrupt, we try to preach change, we try to challenge each other’s mindsets, dare each other to think differently, promise each other that when it is our turn to hold those positions of power we shall be different, do different, do right by the people and not by our greed, by our stomachs. Then we settle back into the comfort of our routine, into our indifference, telling ourselves that we are currently not in a position to do anything, but one day, one day, one day…when we finally are, we shall rise up and bring about change. We talk amongst ourselves, in hushed tones, feigning courage as our eyes flit back and forth to make sure no one ‘big’ is listening.
I wonder how many of us would really rise up to the challenge.
One of my favourite quotes growing up, it still is, was as follows:
Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a fixed time, without yielding a single minute to laziness. If, with God’s help you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It is so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish!
I repeat, I wonder how many of us would really rise up to the challenge.
We fail at the little things.
We condemn big time corruption then fail at the little things.
We, the people that see the corruption, condemn it, lament, swear off it, we perpetrate it as well.
We pay a little something to get off of a minor traffic offense, to falsify documents, to not have to stand in line, to not have to wait 3 weeks, to ensure we are awarded the tenders…
We cheat in our exams, copy our assignments. (Nothing irritates me more than the phrase ‘degree ni harambee’.)
We tell ourselves that these are but little things, that when push comes to shove, we will say NO, a big, bold and valiant NO! (plus italics for extra extra emphasis)
We genuinely deceive ourselves that when it is big time corruption, we will not be like those people.
We convince ourselves and each other that we only default on the little things
…because the system does not work as it should.
…because the lecturer won’t look at all those assignment scripts anyway.
…because they award grades randomly, so why should we put in any effort.
We do not see that however genuine we may be, we have already failed.
We gave in at the first skirmish.
If we fail in the little things, I suspect that we shall fail in the big things as well.
So where shall the cycle end?