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Tuesday, 18 September, 2001, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Kenyans dance against graft
Fans of Eric Wainaina at his Nairobi concert
Young Kenyans want government to act on corruption
By Ishbel Matheson in Nairobi

The ticket booths at the gates of Carnivore club in Nairobi are doing brisk business.

In the warm, afternoon sunshine, Kenyans sip cold beers or sodas, and lounge on the grass.

I love it so much. Maybe if we come here, and join in singing, then the old guys in the government will listen to us

Caroline Gaithoni, Music Fan
Toddlers ride high on the parents' shoulders.

There is a carnival atmosphere, as the crowd waits for the main act: a 28 year old rising star, called Eric Wainaina.

His song Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo, meaning in Kiswahili, "The Land of Petty Corruption", has wowed the Kenyan public.

National anthem

Within a couple of months since its release, Kitu Kidogo has virtually become an alternative national anthem.

Accountant Jonathan Muiriru says: "It's a good song. It portrays what Kenyans are thinking. Things don't get done unless you rub someone's hand."

Kenya regularly ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Protest Kenyan musician Eric Wainaina on stage in Nairobi
There was an outcry at an attempt to stop him singing

The IMF and World Bank have held up millions of dollars of aid until specific, concrete steps are taken to fight corruption.

These have yet to materialise.

Graft permeates all levels of Kenyan public life. Kitu Kidogo which literally means "Something Small", is what ordinary people pay, on a daily basis, to grease the palms of minor bureaucrats.


32 year old Lucy Mburu says: "Even to get admitted to hospital, you have to pay kitu kidogo. If you need a driving licence, or get stopped by the police, it's the same. It's absolutely everywhere".

Kenyans are increasingly fed-up with corruption.

The economy is sinking and poverty levels are increasing.

Many blame their predicament on the country's leaders, who - they say - have plundered the nation's resources.

23 year old Caroline Gaithoni has not been able to find a job since graduating from college. She is a huge fan of Wainaina's hit.

" I love it so much. Maybe if we come here, and join in singing, then the old guys in the government will listen to us".

'Sawa Sawa'

Eric Wainaina himself has been astonished by the reaction to his song.

He had taken time off his college studies in Boston, US, to write and record his Sawa, Sawa album.

I had the vice president in front of me and it is important that this message gets across

Eric Wainaina, Musician

His gamble seems to have paid off - he is now a household name.

"People don't call me Eric any more, they call me Kitu Kidogo when I'm walking through the streets."

Part of the song's appeal is that it makes people laugh, through its witty use of slang-words for corruption.


During the concert, Wainaina throws out handfuls of tea-bags, much to the delight of the crowd.

"Chai", or tea, is another word for a bribe.

He sings: "Ukitaka chai ewe ndugu nenda Limuru (If someone asks you for chai, tell them to go to Limuru)" - a major tea-growing area in Kenya.

Caroline Gaithoni at Eric's Concert in Nairobi
Eric's fans now call him 'Kitu Kidogo'

In another lyric, he advises: " Ukitaka soda ewe Inspekta burudika na Fanta (If a policeman asks you for a soda [bribe], offer them a Fanta)."

The Kenyan authorities have been less comfortable with the song's message.

Although the independent radio stations have been playing the tune non-stop, it has yet to be aired on state-run broadcasters.


At a recent music festival, attended by the Kenyan Vice-President, George Saitoti, the organisers tried to stop Wainaina performing Kitu Kidogo.

Only after an outcry from the audience, did the band continue.

On a personal basis, very few people are averse to making money, through a deal, so long as nobody sees, nobody blows the whistle

Parselelo Kantai, Transparency International

Wainaina says: "My thought process was, I'm not going to stop because a couple of people are going to be angered by this. I had the vice-president in front of me, and it's important that this message gets across."

But others sound a cautionary note.

Parselelo Kantai is a consultant for the anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International.

New-found freedom

"What everyone is rebelling against is the inconveniences that corruption introduces into their lives.

"But on a personal basis, very few people are averse to making money, through a deal, so long as nobody sees, nobody blows the whistle them," he says.

But if rooting out corruption has a long way to go, everyone agrees that ten years ago, Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo would have struggled to get airtime, or be sold publicly in shops.

As multi-party politics and democratic practises begins to take hold, the culture of fear and suppression in Kenya has receded.

Young Kenyans, like Eric Wainaina, are using their new-found freedoms, to try to change the bad, old ways of their leaders.

Eric Wainaina's
"Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo"
See also:

11 Jun 01 | Africa
President Moi's new cabinet
27 Nov 00 | Africa
Tackling Kenya's woes
29 Dec 97 | Kenyan elections
Kenya: candidates and issues
09 May 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Kenya
09 Aug 01 | Africa
Kenya corruption bill falters
17 Sep 01 | Africa
High salaries for Kenyan judges
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