On March 8th, thousands of jobless youth turned up to try their luck to fill 1900 slots advertised by the Kenya Forest Service. As the youth thronged stadia to be considered for the positions, what many may not know is that the “rightful candidates” may have been chosen long ago and what happened on the 8th was just a formality.
If your ears are on the ground, you will know that the police recruitment exercise is ongoing. I don’t know what you have heard, but if you have people on the ground; please ask them about the talk in the bars, villages and at the market. Women are struggling to get Ksh 350,000 for their sons to join the police force. That’s almost 2000 USD. To make it worse, you will hear more poor people selling their pieces of land, cattle and borrowing to raise money. Ksh 350,000 is a fortune to many. There are many things you could buy for this price; land, education, healthcare etc. But for many, This is the cost of a job in the police force.
As a country, we lost our golden opportunity to fight corruption. That was in 2002, the year of the Rainbow Coalition when Mwai Kibaki was elected as President. I remember the feeling that corruption was gone with the Nyayo era, that there was a new day. I remember the day I was in a matatu and the police stopped it for a bribe. The passengers in the car, including me, stepped out and arrested the police officer and drove him to the nearest police station--just for asking for a bribe. The feeling was overwhelming. It was a dawn of a new day. Sadly, politics took over when Raila Odinga and Kibaki differed and life continued as normal until today. Will we get there again? You tell me.
Every so often; a bigwig meets the day when they are asked to answer for their source of wealth. Where the anti-corruption investigators come to call. Estimates suggest that over 20% of Kenya’s GDP is lost every year to corruption. Imagine what this money could do for us as a country. It can repay debts that are saddling future generations with a mortgage they can’t pay. Invest in climate-resilient technologies. Provide more cost-effective health care and education. We absolutely must and should address this grand-scale corruption: especially as we are asked to pay more in taxes. But today, this is not the topic of my thoughts.
I want to talk about the micro-corruptions that are not even seen and recognized as such because they are accepted; ingrained in the Kenyan way of life. We have become resigned; accustomed to having to pay for what should be our rights. Traffic stop, for no reason? Hand over Ksh 1,000. Faster service at a government office, “pay a guy.” But even more stunning; buy a job. Even a spot in the police force.
Are you sure that policemen or women will fight corruption? Don’t blame them when they ask for bribes because they bought that job. They have not paid their debts yet. Their parents sold their only prime land for them to get the job. Of course to be clear; not all police officers got their jobs through bribes, but there is deep, and accepted corruption in the system.
This has cost the lives of many young policemen. They have committed suicide as they get phone calls from the village reminding them of the debt they need to pay. And yet they earn less. As always; they say that the money is going to 'mkubwa'. Many people have also been conned after paying the money. You can’t report the mess as you were corrupted too.
As shocking as this is; I in some way understand. We need jobs for young people. And if this is the only option a parent sees, they might do anything to secure this chance, this future for their child. But what happens next? The new police recruit has to bring the money back. Corruption becomes the foundation of our nation’s critical policing service. If we don’t look at the beginning; why are we surprised later on?
President Ruto is on the right track to funnel National Youth Service (NYS) as a training ground for the police, army and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers. This will create a foundation of service; a pathway to jobs and will start to end this practice but we need to do more. We need to create jobs for our youth so that they are not bought and sold. We need to hold the police accountable for corruption. We need to expand the NYS as a training ground for the police, but also for a national community health-worker force. This is an area of so much potential and one that I know I and others would be eager to support.
Mr President as you are working hard on affordable housing which is creating jobs, you can also re-structure NYS to exist in all 47 counties. And in the future, all forces should take the recruits from NYS. Mr President, you will kill the cartels. Then we must work on a curriculum which will focus on values so that we might have men and women in uniform that are trained to denounce corruption. Mr President, all 47 counties will feel part of the government. If there’s no radical change; we are going to ruin our country.
As we look at our nation, we must ask why are people going to such lengths, and what impact does that have on us, the people? Corruption; both big and small should be called to account — but we must also seek to address its source.
Dr Kennedy Odede, is the founder and CEO of Shofco, a member of USAid Advisory Board, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and a multiple humanitarian award winner, including 2022 Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year and best-selling author.