Corruption in Kenya requires a change of culture
‘All actors should strive to bring about a quiet revolution in public attitude towards
It is easy to feel ambivalent about Kenya. In my experience, the people are outgoing, warm
and welcoming. They exude confidence and pride. For the scholars, racial chauvinists and
friends of Africa who sometimes feel compelled to combat misguided stereotypes that the
continent and its people are helpless and hopeless, nothing could serve as a stronger counter
than witnessing ambitious, vibrant, and entrepreneurial Kenyans going about their daily lives.
Against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Kenyans exhibit fortitude and persevere with
Unfortunately the same characters who make Kenya appealing make it loathsome. Corruption
in Kenya has been embraced by most citizens and hated by all. Its effects cannot be
Anyone in Kenya has experienced the Kenyan traffic jam. Drivers aggressively attempt to
circumnavigate the traffic, manoeuvring between the lanes, cutting off competing vehicles,
driving on the ‘shoulders’ and frequently even racing between oncoming vehicles in the
opposite lane- all the while cursing and condemning other drivers who resort to the same
tactics. The passengers exhort their drivers to take drastic measures to get them where they
are going as fast as possible, even as they lament the whole spectacle. All involved appear to
know that bad driving only worsens the traffic, but once others are doing it everyone feels
compelled to participate or risk being overtaken, left behind and even squashed.
While corruption is much more complex than a traffic jam, Kenyans are participants wherein
they are simultaneously the main victims and the loudest critics.
Corruption is among the vices at the apex in any society worldwide including Kenya that
continues to cause unnecessary pain and suffering to innocent citizens. Its adversities caused
a clarion call at both national, regional and international level for an immediate solution.
Among them, Kenya has resorted to policy, legal and institutional framework to curb the vice.
However, this state approach has been largely unsuccessful in its quest as corruption shifts
from benign to malignant.
Adversities have also tripled with national values & principles being trampled upon like they
don’t exist in the Constitution. In the long run, the civil, political, economic, social & cultural
status of a state and quality of life continues in tatters. This calls for an alternative and/or
complementary approach to the fight against corruption. Therefore, rather than the state
approach, could the citizen/bottom up approach be the foundation of a long term
anticorruption strategy for Kenya?
The citizen strategy acknowledges that corruption is a two tier relationship involving a giver
and recipient. The former strategy focussed on eliminating one party (the recipient) through
the established institutions, laws and policies. Therefore, the other party (the giver) who forms
the root of the equation went scot free pollinating an attitude and culture of paying for
services that should otherwise be offered for free.
In the long run, the people have adopted the culture of giving bribes as a way of life hence
promoting and sustaining corruption. This being the root of the menace, an anticorruption
strategy that seeks to neutralise the ‘giver effect’ or culture needs to be adopted. So, are there
any initiatives that can be adopted in Kenya and work? YES.
By Mwongela Mbiti
An advocate of the High Court of Kenya and
Transparency International Kenya