Corruption in Kenya has reached such levels that even the habitually corrupt are shocked. Let’s be honest, we Kenyans know corruption too well. It is a common practice, we encounter it all the time. It is the level of corruption rather than corruption itself that is now troubling us.
People who stole millions are now feeling like saints. They are shocked at the boldness and tactics of the new kids on the block who manage to walk away with billions.
But how did we get here? How did corruption become such a part of us? How did the devil we created become bigger than ourselves? These and many more questions have been circling my mind as a young Kenyan, especially in the past few months.
I am trying to figure out the big picture in this article, which is often missed especially with breaking news of scandals every other day.
Older generation’s failure
One common factor in all the major corruption scandals that I am aware of is the involvement of what I call the older generation, people who are mostly above 40 years or have worked for more than 15 or 20 years in the public or private sector.
Most young Kenyans encountered corruption for the first time in the presence of an older person or from an older person.
It is the parents who gave bribes to the police in front of their children. It is the senior accountants who taught their juniors how to cook books. It is the senior engineers who told their juniors ‘this is how it’s done here’. It is teachers who helped students cheat in exams.
This does not mean that all the seniors are culpable but corruption in companies and organizations (especially where significant amounts are involved) does not occur without their knowledge. Mostly young people are ‘told what to do’, its an effective guidance into corruption.
Mostly young people are guided into corruption by the older folks.
It evolves into monkey see monkey do business. Some young people join in the corruption, innovating new stealing methods along the way.
Complains about millennials
One of the hobbies of the older generation is to complain about ‘young people these days’ AKA millennials. Millennials have been analysed more than the world cup. Books, articles and scientific papers have been written about our curious case and whether we shall make it in life.
They say we are lazy, we want things easy, we don’t want to put in the work, we complain too much, we are entitled. The same older generation forgets that they are our parents, uncles and aunties.
They also forget that ‘mtoto wa nyoka ni nyoka’. It is either we are like our parents or something very wrong happened to change our course. Either way our parents, being older, should have caught that and redirected us, ama?
It would be stupid of me to blame the entire older generation (parents, guardians, teachers, etc) because a lot of them have done very well.
But I dare submit that corruption is our number one problem because it has been modelled to us very effectively from a young age.
Let’s talk about this modelling a bit.
Regarding integrity, there is a great disconnect between what the young people hear and what they see happening.
Young people are being told to work hard and smart but are not shown how. All they see is an older generation who have made a lot of money but most of whom cannot explain the process of how they made it. Young people don’t see the hustle which raises questions.
What we are being told and what is being modelled are worlds apart.
The truth is that most parents and guardians have not sat their children down and explained life to them. Young people love stories, they love processes, they like to put brick upon brick but sadly that’s not what is presented.
‘Go to school, work hard, get a good grade, go to university, get a good job, earn a lot’ is the gospel in most homes in Kenya. That would be fantastic if life was all about grades and money. It is not and sadly life’s most important lessons have to be taught to young people by life itself.
Young people want to see integrity broken down to dos and don’ts. Show us examples of how you fought corruption, how you said no to a bribe, encourage us to stand for truth.
The fight against corruption in Kenya, to most young people, sounds mostly like a chicken flapping its wings, just continuous rhetoric that yields nothing. We all know the chicken isn’t flying anywhere.
We want to see action against corruption, but more importantly we want to see men and women (in all sectors) come out and give us their stories of integrity. We want mentors in integrity.
Young people have been left to fend for themselves. It is like older people have resigned to the fact that they can’t relate to young people.
When young people have to be spoken to, they go and find the youngest person in age or ideology to come and speak. Even in churches young people have been confined in youth churches with young pastors who, with all due respect, may just be struggling as the same young people they are trying to teach and mentor.
We need older men and women to come and speak to us. I don’t know about other young people, but I enjoy listening to older people, especially those who genuinely share their stories.
I feel very strongly about this because I know young people who are striving to do things right. But they are being frustrated by the older people in organisations. I know young people who have lost jobs because they refused to participate in corruption. Young people have lost contracts and orders because they refused to give a bribe out of the little they were making.
And guess who is mistreating these young people; mostly the older people in the workplace. They are asking for almost all the profit the young person is making as bribes when they just trying to keep their businesses afloat.
A young person is highly performing but sadly his or her job security depends on how well they ‘co-operate’ with their seniors in corruption rather than their performance.
These are your sons and daughters.
If a young person quits his or her work because they refused to participate in corruption, mostly they have no one to support them, surprisingly even their parents. They are told ‘hii ni Kenya’.
Do not dismiss all the young people, there is a generation that is committed to do the right things. They are willing to stand up and be counted and even pay the price.
But they need the support of those ahead of them.
Values, like vices are caught more than they are taught.
I understand that we do not have national values and hoping for that is a tall order. If you understand the complexities of a human heart you will be quick to side with those who say that its only man’s maker who can fix it.
But this message may resonate deeply with you and you are wondering what can be done.
Be a champion of integrity in your space.
If your son or daughter asks, why should I not give/take a bribe? Why should I not cheat in the exam? Why should I not buy a certificate? What will your answer be? Can you as a parent, guardian or mentor answer your son or daughter and say…. Because I don’t.
If you can answer that to the affirmative, then can we begin to build family values and then maybe, national values.
C.S Lewis said, ‘Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil’.
Sadly, lacking values, we have made cleverer devils through our education system. It is time to instill values, but it can only begin with every individual modelling it, especially those who have people looking up to them.