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Another corruption scandal in Kenya

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In Kenya, there was a time when stealing from the colonial government was considered morally acceptable. Does this mean that the thief should still be regarded as a hero?

It was an unfortunate turn of events for you. As a farmer, you diligently plant your field using government-subsidized fertilizer, only to later discover that the fertilizer is primarily made up of lime and sand. This major scandal has been captivating the Kenyan media for weeks. At least two of the companies that received a government quote for fertilizer distribution had screwed up.

The scandal uncovered by journalists initially fell on the deaf ears of Agriculture Minister Mithika Linturi. According to him, these were stories of “compromised” journalists, whom he branded as criminals. An editorial in the Daily Nation then called on the minister to resign. Towards the end of April, the Standard reported farmers noticing strange yellow and purple streaks on their sprouting corn after using the doomed fertilizer and complained of stunting.

Another major corruption scandal has emerged. Kenyan freedom of expression and publication almost never leads to the punishment of the guilty, mainly the elite. It has been this way since independence in 1963.

The government of William Ruto, who was elected as the head of government eighteen months ago, has been marred by numerous scandals. There are the sugar, oil and mosquito net scandals. A company approved by the government supplied sugar that contained traces of mercury, copper, yeast and mold. The company hired by the government to import cooking oil supplied cooking oil unfit for consumption. Millions of dollars disappeared during the purchase and distribution of mosquito nets, a corruption scandal that forced Health Minister Josephine Mburu to resign.

The Kenya Manufacturers Association estimates that 40 percent of products on the market are counterfeit or brought into the country illegally, such as food, beverages, medicines and electronics. In this way, some tycoons, often in collaboration with politicians and civil servants, enrich themselves.

Another way to become a “fat cat,” as cartoons depict eager thieves, is to become a politician. This month, the President of the Court of Audit Nancy Gathungu exposed the rampant corruption in the administration of Kenya’s 47 states in a report. Members of some local parliaments were paid double salaries and earned extra money by illegally collecting commissions.

The question continues to arise why some Kenyans dare and are allowed to steal from the state so shamelessly. In an article for the Standard, columnist Barrack Muluka referenced the renowned historian Ali Mazrui (1933-2014). “Mazrui tells us of a time when theft of public property was welcomed as heroic,” he writes. He quotes the professor: “In my youth in colonial East Africa, the term ‘mali ya serikali’ (government property) had a kind of derogatory ring to it. It became almost a patriotic duty to embezzle resources from the colonial government.”

Then stealing from the oppressor was morally justified. “That behavior has continued, but now we are stealing from ourselves,” columnist Muluka analyzes the fertilizer scandal. You enter politics to steal, and possibly to become a member of a powerful smuggling cartel yourself. The rest of the citizens don’t seem to mind, provided the thief is their blood relative, or belongs to the same clan or tribe. “While the thief was a hero in the colonial regime, today’s thief is an even greater hero. This means that our morals and ethics regarding theft do not apply to ‘Our thief’”, is according to Muluka.

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