March 3, 2008

A Rationale Behind Corruption

Monique Chartier

In 2002, Mwai Kibaki was elected President of Kenya primarily on an anti-corruption platform. Once in office, he appointed as Kenya's Permanent Secretary to the Office in Charge of Governance and Ethics (an anti-corruption czar) a man named John Githongo and specifically included his own government in Mr. Githongo's purview. This week on The Interview, the BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones interviews Mr. Githongo, now in exile for attempting to discharge the duties of his office as corruption in President Mwai Kibaki's administration ramped up.

In describing the situation he was forced to walk away from, Mr. Githongo also provides some good definitions of public corruption:

Top leaders in Kenya became corrupt or decided to acquire resources by abusing their public office. ... The abuse of public office for private gain became quite normal.

While he acknowledges that corruption is endemic in Kenya, Mr. Githongo rejects the excuse that the problem is cultural, correctly noting that "culture is made" and that the people of Kenya do not have an "inbuilt kind of corruption gene" (a note that I would apply to all people).

What was fascinating, however, was the excuse or justification usually given when Mr. Githongo would approach a minister or member of government about his corrupt activity. The minister would respond, "This is us."

Mr. Githongo elaborates:

And who is us? Typically, us is a small group of individuals predominantly from one ethnic group around the president.

"Us." Whether an ethnic "us" or a party "us," it's "us," so we are entitled to receive, bestow, or trade resources for personal gain.

The concept that "us" would have a much broader meaning and that the power voluntarily ceded by all citizens through free elections is to be exercised solely for the greater good seems to be entirely missed from this reasoning.

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Rhode Island - "the Louisiana of the north" and now (also) "the Kenya of the Western Hemisphere"!

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at March 4, 2008 11:42 AM
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