Some years ago, a Nordic businessman wanting to set up shop in Tanzania was so taken aback by our officials’ appetite for kickbacks that he wanted to know if corruption was taught in our schools.
My embarrassed retort was that corruption was not a Tanzanian invention, and nor was it an African one for that matter.
“You Europeans came here and taught us your rotten ways, and now you are turning the tables on us,” I told him with little conviction.
I was not going to let him run his mouth off about our people, even when what he was saying should have merited serious reflection rather my knee-jerk reaction.
The poor man was venting his frustration over a whole string of officials saying pretty much the same thing to him in the hope of eliciting a bribe before the necessary papers could be issued to allow him to open an import-export office.
Every official he had met at each level was willing to help, or so they said to him with genuine looking smiles.
According to the man from the North, they all seemed to have practised the same wide white-toothed grin and the same stories about a young son or daughter who needed to go to college, and an aunt whose medical bills were mounting.
He was so impressed by this uniformity in the methodology of bribe extraction that he wanted to know if it was inculcated in the education pipeline.
He should come back now, that insolent mzungu (white person), and I will take him to Nairobi and ask him if he thinks that what is happening with some Kenyan policemen was taught in police academies.
It was from Nairobi that we received this past week news of a gang of armed policemen attacking fellow cops who had in their custody yet another pair of cops who had been arrested for demanding bribes from yet another mzungu.
Can you trump that one? A couple of cops go and ask for a bribe from a mzungu businessman.
The mzungu reports the matter to other police, who move in on a sting operation and arrest the bribe seeking cops, whereupon another group of cops show up and arrest the bribe-busting cops. Phew! Hollywood must be planning a movie script as we speak.
This is of course happening at a time when many Kenyans are making their frustrations felt over the corruption that is permeating all sectors of public life, all the way to the very top of Kenya’s society.
Former political allies seem to have parted ways, and wider fissures in the body politic could in theory cook up a witches’ brew leading up to the next general election in four years’ time.
We shall be following up on what has happened with these three teams of cops working at counter-purposes, although we know precious little of significance will be done about this latest melodrama.
It will probably be brushed aside as another pointer to the phenomenon of state personnel, uniforms and weaponry put at the service of individuals with healthy appetites.
Politicians frequently castigate their colleagues over the issue of graft, but nobody sees these admonitions going anywhere beyond the spoken word.
But who will stop those who want to emulate those who amassed the fortunes that Kenya’s political “dynasties” can rely on today, and make some hay that they themselves in turn can leave in the manger for their offspring? And these people are visibly hungry.
What we have are indeed fraught times for Kenya, so much so that even the national anti-graft body, for long clueless as to how corruption should be fought, is calling for people to turn to the Bible for divine deliverance from the evils of a failing governance system.
It will not work, because, as one local commentator said, the corrupt politicians are also the most frequent and most visible visitors to houses of prayer every Sunday.
They are also the most generous givers of tithes and other contributions. They hope to be able to hoodwink God himself so He does not see that what they are doing is actually money-laundering designed to take them to heaven.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]
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