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Last Updated: Monday, 23 February, 2004, 15:51 GMT
Kenya re-invents corruption
By Noel Mwakugu
BBC News Online

Dressed in their ceremonial navy blue uniform, Ezekiel Oduor and John Ogutu were admitted to the corporal ranks of Kenya's police force.

Riot policemen on duty
Police salaries have been increased to curb corruption in the force
The two former police constables were being honoured by their chief, Jambeni Bakari, for rejecting bribes.

But is this act of honesty an isolated one - or part of a change of culture under way in Kenya?

Well, a just released survey by Transparency International shows that since President Mwai Kibaki came to power in 2003 corruption levels have been falling in several areas.

Among Kenya's police, who have become infamous for their sharp practices, the number of bribes being sought or accepted have dropped dramatically.

However, it appears the cost of these bribes has jumped, suggesting that despite the greater risk the practice still flourishes if the rewards are large enough.

There also appears to be another form of corruption emerging for Kenyans seeking services from inefficient government departments - something called "corruption in kind".


Offering bribes and kick backs had become a tradition in almost every sphere of operations in Kenya for the past two decades under the rule of former President Daniel arap Moi.

A recent purge on the judiciary made a major impact in the government's massive anti-corruption crusade.

Nearly half of the Kenyan judges were suspended from duty after a probe into allegations of corruption in the judiciary. A price list was published detailing how much it cost to bribe which grade of judge.

That and repeated pledges by the government to observe zero tolerance on corruption has instilled fear among civil servants and even ordinary Kenyans who have been joint players in the "kitu kidogo" (something little) game.

As it is now, it is becoming difficult to openly offer a bribe to avoid arrest or to gain a favour in the murky waters of service delivery.

'Bribes in kind'

It is now being argued that corruption is re-inventing itself in Kenya as a game for the "big fish".

President Kibaki
The government's zero tolerance campaign has borne some fruit

"What is happening is that bribes are being offered in kind. Even key government officials are involved here," political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi told BBC News Online.

Mr Ngunyi says offers of company shares, or positions as directors in private and government companies have replaced the previous exchange of cash in return for favours.

He says this is part of a new style of corruption that is now taking root in Kenya under the guise of repairing injustices committed by the previous regime.

Bribes are now allegedly being given in secret and within cartels making it less obvious than in the past, observes Mr Ngunyi.

Living standards

The government says it is trying to address the root causes of corruption in the public sector.

Government officials are still looting from the public till and are not being questioned
Prof Makau Mutua Kenya Human rights Commission

For instance, a recent huge salary increase for police officers.

Security Minister Chris Murungaru says raising their salaries from $75 to $130 is part of a wider initiative to fight wide spread corruption in the force.

But critics claim the increment was never enough to change behaviour in the force since their salaries had fallen way below the required living standards and it does not make a difference.

That said, it must be good news that police now seem far more wary of seeking the many small offerings of ordinary poor Kenyans.

Donor confidence

But what seems clear is that there remains a lot of work to do.

Slum dwellers
Poor living standards and poor service delivery promote corruption
Professor Makau Mutua, the chairman of the Kenya Human Rights Commission holds the view that the zero tolerance on corruption campaign by the government has not been working.

"Government officials are still looting from the public till and are not being questioned," he says.

Political pundits argue that President Kibaki's "hands off" style of rule, is derailing his aim of removing the corrupt elements within his government.

Although his recent crackdown on official corruption has restored donor confidence the task remains daunting.

Fall in Kenyan police corruption
23 Feb 04  |  Africa
Huge pay rise for Kenya's police
22 Jan 04  |  Africa
Kenya wields axe on judges
16 Oct 03  |  Africa
The trouble with Kenya's police
08 Sep 03  |  Africa
Profile: Kenya's anti-graft czar
17 Jan 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Kenya
22 Nov 03  |  Country profiles

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