Welcome to Kenya, where the customer is not always right and has no say at all

Thursday August 01 2019

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich leaves Milimani Law Court in Nairobi on July 23, 2019, after he was released on a cash bail. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG


In 2002, Kenya was one of the most optimistic countries in the world. We truly believed that corruption could be fought, uprooted and squashed.

Everyone played a role and felt a part of the fight against corruption. People were rejecting hikes in charges in matatus and even making crooked police officers leapfrog to police stations.

These are not fables of a brave utopian Wakanda—this was Kenya. And we can't say that it was so long ago that we now use it as a bedtime story.

Some of those who were involved are still alive today. President Mwai Kibaki's administration started with gusto, strong and vibrant, when it came to the fight against corruption.

Kibaki fired some ministers who were linked to corruption. Something new was being done, there was a new wave. An anticorruption agency was established—a new department to investigate high-profile cases. There was hope.

Even the radio presenters of those times were vocal and firm about their stance. If we were to replay some of the things they said on air during that time, they would today be labelled extremist. Now, those very presenters have become mute, sitting on the periphery of political engagement.


Today, a matatu crew will raise charges and people will pay. When you are taking a long-distance trip in a minivan and all of a sudden the driver feels like not going to the final destination, he will drop you off somewhere. The nice ones actually stop traffic and transfer you to another vehicle.

Even worse, during traffic jams some decide to turn around and just kick the passengers out.

There are services we pay for and are treated like scum. The customer is not always right; here the customer has no say.

As Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and his Principal Secretary Kamau Thugge trended for days following their shock arrest, many people thought that it was just razzmatazz.

It was all a show and nothing would come out of it. Others were wondering how and why Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji is so courageous. Isn't he afraid of the cartels? He appears to be in this battle alone and the people are watching from the sidelines.

In 2002 ,we were on a high, but many thought that the change was going to be real. But the people we elected to make the change ended up becoming monsters.

A high gives off certain hormones that make you feel good about yourself. The thing is, once you start, to get to that level again, it ends up that you need more, or something stronger. For Kenyans, it sounds like a broken record. They have heard it all before.

We somehow got impervious to the fight against corruption and, like a drug, now need a stronger dose to feel the effect.

Right now, the sudden arrests of high-profile officials for many is just a charade to show us that something is being done. Until someone is jailed, people will have little hope. It's going to take more than words this time.

Whenever a high-profile individual is arrested, there will never miss a newspaper article that highlights how the individual commented on how bad the state of the jail cells are. It is not just the prisons, it is anything public that they hardly interact with.

Some of the services that citizens receive are inhumane and those who represent them have no clue. It takes out the dignity of people. Perhaps part of benchmarking for government officials should be to visit and only receive government services.

Then the fight against corruption might become more real.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director, Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW