One of the best places to find fresh and crispy Tilapia fish in Kisumu is Dunga beach. It is a smooth drive out the city, through the quaint Milimani suburb that ends abruptly at the Impala National Park which borders Lake Victoria. The road onwards to Dunga is an uneven gravel surface. Recently and much to my surprise, I noticed that the road had been graded. The trip to Dunga village was not a rattling experience as on previous occasions. I reasoned that it was good news for taxis who ply the route and further inquired from my taxi man, whether the grading was an ominous sign. Was the road was ‘earmarked’ for tarmacking? He replied in a matter-of-fact tone, “The road was already tarmacked on paper many years ago”. My efforts to dig out the back story were only met with scanty detail. All he knew was that everyone in Dunga knew. “This is kawaida corruption”. The taxi driver had exhibited a familiar Kenyan peculiarity. The ability to dismiss a mega corruption incident that directly impacts on one’s livelihood with a wave of hand as kawaida (the typical).
Kenyans no longer react to corruption scandals with outrage. At least nothing close to the outrage reserved for those who emerge from closets to proudly announce their sexual orientation. A corruption scam might make waves in the news for a few days but scandals do not dominate the news like in past fashion. The 90s, in my opinion, was the golden age of corruption epitomized by the absurdly fascinating Goldenberg scandal, starring Kamlesh Pattni the villain who grew on you. Nowadays, mega corruption scandals come thick and fast and even media hounds cannot keep up with the details. I have seen more concern for Cecil, the dead lion in Zimbabwe than the 67 billion shillings of allegedly misappropriated public funds in the Auditor General’s annual report. One would think 67 billion was a 20 bob coin that rolled under a heavy sofa seat, that is not worth soiling your knees for or risk injuring one’s back moving heavy furniture.
The seed of the original sin was planted in colonial Kenya. This is a country founded on corruption. Entire communities were dispossessed of ancestral lands by the colonial British administration. Prime land was forcefully acquired, fraudulently apportioned and legitimized with new title deeds and bequeathed to a few private hands. 50 years on, corruption has grown from strength to strength and become part of the Kenyan DNA. Kenya has consistently performed dismally in the global corruption perception indexes. In the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2014 report released by Transparency International movement, Kenya was graded at position 25 on a scale of zero to 100 where zero is the abyss and 100 is civil heaven. Kenya languishes in position 145 out of 175 countries.
If there is ever any hope of changing this ingrained national culture, for the sake of our children, we would have to change the way we speak about corruption. The word corruption has lost its shaming qualities. It evokes neither fear nor regret. This is why I think we should toss out corruption and replace it with overeating. Overeating and greed during a shared meal is a habit everyone detests. The guest who heaps his plate in total disregard to others on the table will be ostracized from many homes. Besides, there are not as many versatile words in the Kenyan lexicon can accurately embody the multifaceted nature of corruption.
Eating can describe suffering. “Even since we were young, they have been eating and they are yet to get satisfied”.
Frustration: “It is our turn to eat but they won’t let us”:
Incompetence: “Some people do not know how to eat properly”.
Addiction: “Some people only think of eating”.
Fraud: “We thought they came to help but they were only interested in eating”.
Surprise: “Guess who has also been eating?”
Displeasure, “How could Peter have eaten without us?”
Patriotism: “Over eating retards development. Eat less and build a strong and healthy nation”.
Anxiety: “If they keep eating at this rate, they will be nothing left for us”.
Apathy: “I don’t care who is eating as long as I can eat”.
There is a clear sense of resignation in the national psyche. Very few public institutions have escaped the long arm of corruption and we are yet to see a high profile individual convicted for economic fraud. The Eating networks are holding the country hostage and the hostages have fallen in love with their captors to the point of defending them. These are clear signs of Stockholm Syndrome.