Habituation: How we cope with corruption scandals in Kenya

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We have a problem.

Corruption in Kenya is a culture that started even before independence – colonialists were stealing from Nairobi County Council in 1953. Instead of changing colonial era institutions and values for better, we continued the deeply compromised governance systems and replaced the colonial elite with narrow ethnic elite class. Now we live in the devolution experiment in which we have decentralised corruption, and presently it is “everyone’s turn to eat.”

We lament how different government regimes have been corrupt because of their ethnicity but here is the thing- we had a coalition government in 2007, and we did not fair any better. Transparency International was created out of frustration of ongoing corruption in countries like Kenya but shaming the corrupt countries has not made significant changes in the rate of fraud.

It has been over 50 years since independence, and yet we have not changed that much. Today, less than one week from 2017 elections, there are reports of a new scandal that ICT authority managers colluded with banks to embezzle over KSh.160 million. None of the perpetrators of the NYS scam, Goldenberg, Eurobond or any other embezzlement scheme has ever been prosecuted.

Why are we immune to stories of government officials looting the people’s coffers?

Scientists have found that when our brain recognises an alarming situation, our bodies produce stress hormones that penetrate the brain and may accentuate memories of stressful or negative events. Ultimately, we habituate or become used to the status quo. We have lived with corruption scandals for so long that we have tuned it out. It is just background noise.

What are the ways we can fight against habituation?

Unlike murder where the victim of the crime is clear when we see someone accused of stealing millions there is no apparent casualty. If we cannot identify victims of public corruption crimes, then they will not generate feelings of empathy.

We need to discover a way to relate with the harms of corruption in the first person: My brother has no job, my hospital has no nurses, my town has no clean drinking water.

Identify the victims of corruption

Kenya has an unemployment rate of 22 % among youth age 15-24 according to the  World Bank.Most of the money stolen from ICT authority was intended for internship opportunities targeting 400 engineering and ICT graduates under the Presidential Digital Talent Programme.  These are the victims. My brother with an engineering degree and no job is a victim.

Corruption is not harmless

When we see our trusted civil servant stealing we need to identify corruption as any other crime that disrupts economic, social and political order, consequently disturbing the general welfare of our communities.

When we complain about a lack of jobs, no electricity, no water, no Unga, nurses are on strike, let’s remember this money stolen is not Uhuru’s ICT millions it is our millions. If the national and county governments cannot protect us the victims of corruption, at least give us right to sue the perpetrators in civil court and demand our money back!

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