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Corruption in Africa: Not in My Name!

James Shikwati, African Executive

January 27, 2009

When asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, a famous American bank robber Willie Sutton is alleged to have replied: "Because that is where the money is." Over to Kenyan leaders, why are you corrupt? I guess the answer is: "Because public wealth/property belongs to no one in particular!"

The concept of Mali ya Umma (public wealth/property) flourished during the colonial times when ordinary Kenyans and by extension Africans felt disconnected from governance systems and would sabotage all that symbolized authority. Vandalizing public property was part of the fight against colonialism for those who could not get to the bush to confront the Whiteman. Driven by the ideology of "it is our turn to eat," the founding fathers at independence engaged in a plundering orgy that left the common citizenry bewildered. The resultant effect was the perpetuation of the culture of sabotage which manifests itself in the form of corruption.

The generation that grew up when destruction of mzungu (Whiteman) property could turn one into a village hero is currently running the affairs of government. It is currently heroic to steal from government. Wired deep in the minds of leadership elites is the erroneous belief that government does not exist to serve the interest of Kenyans but that of others (perhaps Western powers). A number of Kenyan leaders are graduates from public universities where destroying toilet sinks, bathroom taps, and fire fighting equipment amongst others was seen to be a 'normal' affair. To them, pinching a few billion shillings from public coffers is not stealing anyone's goat, for the goat belongs to all of us!

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At some point, such destruction was seen to be a rebellion against capitalism. The so called workers (who were believed to be the genuine generators of wealth) were not sympathetic to symbols representing the bourgeoisie (the exploiter). An Italian friend (after advance apologies) sought to know from me why Africans destroy office property. She was apparently incensed at her African colleagues who seemed more enthusiastic in destruction than construction. I pointed out that probably the Africans do not "own" the office or are rebelling against something. (The latest joke in town is that the property is made in China - so it breaks easily!) I guess I should have just pointed out that her colleagues belong to the 'Mali Ya Umma' generation.

One is sure to meet the 'Mali ya Umma' generation all over the country; on the highway, it will be a GoK (Government of Kenya) driver recklessly jumping over 'state owned potholes;' procurement officers at the market place inflating invoices; road engineers taking 'layers of cement' off the road and files disappearing in the halls of justice among others. The concoction of the 'Mali ya Umma' generation with that of international do-gooder activists' with their development prescriptions for Kenya/Africa offers a perfect Petri dish for corruption. For example, when the local leadership destroys the economy, it gives international anti-poverty campaigners an opportunity to campaign for funds to fix roads and feed the hungry among others. The cycle of plunder is repeated Ad Infinitum.

Disorientated by the corrupt goings-on in Africa is the dotcom generation. The dotcom generation has no sense of history. In Kenya, retired President Moi sought to scrap history and replace it with science to 'industrialize' the country. This group is keen to be named the 'Obama generation.' Unfortunately the dotcom group is keen to identify with the billboard Obama than the real Obama who has a deep sense of history and his Kogello roots. I will refer to this group as the pseudo-Obama generation.

The pseudo-Obama generation can save Kenya and Africa if they kick out the 'Mali ya Umma' group by first liberating their minds as follows: that free people are not equal and equal people are not free; that one takes care of what belongs to him and tends to leave what belongs to everyone into disrepair; nobody spends another's money better than his own; that thinking long term ought to inform decision making today; and that putting an end to institutions that feed the 'Mali ya Umma' generation must be top on the agenda!

This group must change the Obama slogan from 'Yes We Can!' to "Not in My Name!" The 'Mali Ya Umma' generation is quite at home with 'Yes We Can' but they will be rattled to their bones if African citizens told them not to steal, maim, and kill in their name.

In Kenya, corrupt leaders hide behind their ethnicity; In Rwanda plunderers take cover in fighting to protect their ethnic groups. Hiding behind a "Name" is what has destroyed the ability of the justice system to tame corruption in many parts of Africa. Dear Politician, Civil Servant, Chief Executive ... don't steal, maim and kill...Not In My Name!

James Shikwati is the Founder President of the Inter Region Economic Network and CEO of The African Executive an online business magazine. Mr. Shikwati was named a 2008 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. james@irenkenya.org






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