Corruption: A plague to mankind

Corruption is an Abomination. It is the source of all evil facing mankind. In Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, and especially America, most acts of corruption could easily qualify as Crimes Against Humanity or Treason. For instance, officials in Uganda stole money meant to buy Anti-retroviral medicine, causing many people living with HIV to die; Their army officials however, took it to another level; they embezzled military back-up meant for Ugandan Peacekeepers in Somalia and sold them on the black market in Mogadishu. I can only imagine the shock of the Ugandan troops, when Al Shabab militia started shooting at them with their own guns, wearing their uniforms after eating their own canned food.

But the word ‘corruption’ isn’t actually African. In fact, America has institutionalized it as ‘lobbying’ and ‘donating’, and accordingly, the country as a whole has become literally a prisoner of it. The American polity is never free to do the right thing. To fund their campaigns they make pacts with the devil, and once elected; they routinely invade foreign nations, pass outrageous or ridiculous legislation to feed the insatiable monster that is corruption.

This has had grave consequences on the entire world, because lobbyists with deep pockets hardly work for ‘Mother Theresa’-type employers; no. They work for oil companies, tobacco, guns and ammunition manufacturers, or big, heartless insurance companies. America rarely signs international law, and is never held accountable internationally. It invades countries around the world for the sole reason to respond to pressure from internal lobbyists, eager to ‘test’ their latest weapons or satisfy their home demand in gas.

It has consequences on the American people too. The reason Obama struggled to pass his healthcare bill, allowing millions of poor people in America to finally have health coverage, is because big insurance companies lobbied their crony-politicians in the Congress and Senate to oppose it.

In Somalia they call it ‘respect’. You cannot visit a Clan leader, a Member of Parliament or a Minister, without bringing him a few piles of dirty, smelly, fake Somali Shillings – although they prefer US Dollars… And when I was there, I witnessed that most inter-clan power struggles revolved around who is in the position to eat and trade influence to or against his clansmen

The inter-ethnic conflict in Kenya is based on that too. In her book: ‘It is our turn to eat’ (2009) Michaela Wrong shows how corruption is celebrated in Kenya; (The country is a close friend to Rwanda, so I will refrain from mentioning the clan – most prone to corruption, which the book talks about)

In the UN, Donor or the NGO world, corruption is even worse. ‘I once resigned from one of them, because I was struggling to make ends meet with my meager salary, while my colleagues who earned the same, drove fancy cars. I was offered a RwF two million bribe and I got traumatized; I was very young… I couldn’t take the bribe but I also couldn’t seat in the same office and look into the eyes of the said colleagues, whom unlike me, never complained about their salaries, ironically…’

Many NGOs in Rwanda that couldn’t account for initial funding continue to receive additional funding, sometimes from the same donors, with little to show for it. Many people working for NGOs in this town, have a widespread reputation for ‘kickbacks’.

I have heard stories of bilateral expatriates who ransom benefiting governments to cut them deals before signing off on roads and hospital constructions. Sometimes when donor countries overtly complain that their aid has had no impact in Africa, it is because much of their money is given back to their own citizens as direct bribes, and most of it through shady western companies, brought by themselves.

Leaders of the countries mentioned above have stayed in power for many years because they have used money as a disincentive for rising opponents, and brokered power and peace through bribing – also common in the Somali context.

The Niger Delta, which sits on one of the most oil reserves in the world, is the most desolated place in Nigeria. The area has enriched Shell Petroleum, but people there live in abject misery. Activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, was assassinated for speaking out about this.

But corruption is like feeding the crocodile: the more you feed it, the bigger it grows and the more food it demands and so on, until you can’t satisfy it anymore and it devours you. At some point, the corruptions creates some sort of an ozone layer that obstructs leaders from seeing the impact of their policies on the ground. Over time, as the ozone layer gets thicker, they can’t even see the impact of their bribe (poetic justice) – and that usually is pretty much the end.

Fighting corruption is a good fight. It is also a perilous one: a little like David and Goliath – Goliath being the corruption of course! A foolhardy leader would break his teach for biting something he can’t chew.

Many political challengers like to campaign on the slogan of ‘fighting corruption’. But no matter the amount of good intentions animating them while they are in opposition, once they get to power, they quickly realize, this is stronger and more entrenched -clearly beyond them and choose to turn a blind eye for their own sake.

Committing to fight corruption is accepting to live in a lonely place. It is the acceptance to see your brother, your son, your best friend, your comrade and your party member: all hate and turn against you. It is like the plague, cancer or death: it takes the best among us. Which is why Sarkozy and Juppe in France, Zuma in South Africa and many others have been allowed to rule, with flagrant cases of corruption in their CVs – something that is unimaginable in Rwanda.

So to fight corruption you have got to be a very, very strong leader; you aught to have a very, very strong network of loyalty surrounding you. And I have to say, kudos to president Kagame for that!

policeCorruption, just like mediocrity is a habit. practicing it becomes a lifestyle, fighting it becomes one too. The fact that every year, more than 150 police officers are sacked and/or jailed for both reasons in Rwanda, doesn’t make the headlines here anymore – although the mere action would be unbelievable in most countries in the world where corruption is a ‘sign of being clever or sharp’; Where the most openly corrupt man marries the most attractive woman.

We still have demons of our own though: Most of former President Kagame’s collaborators, now turned political opponents in the west, have left mainly because of corruption. On the other hand, unlike here, foreign expatriates in other countries work less, deliver less, yet they are respected more, and eat more bribe hahaha.. and it is made possible, thanks to our strict rules of mutual government-donor accountability, and our usual scrutiny of service delivery and public expenditure. So our anti-corruption fight hasn’t earned us only friends; but that’s Ok; in fact we are totally better off , without that toxic friendship!

There are good students of transparency and efficiency though. While in the US, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya, corruption is celebrated, in China and Singapore it is punishable by death! – That and tax evasion. (e.g. Already by 1952, Singapore had established a ‘Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau’.

In Japan, everyone repulses the vice. Even after you have served your sentence, going up to five year imprisonment – with labor, some restaurants still can’t serve you food; schools won’t take in your kids and cabs wont take you: they’re all like: ‘just, why did you do it?’ the public stain can last for a lifetime…

Humans are inherently corrupt. The capitalistic world we live in sets us on a race for fast and ruthless enrichment at all costs. And corrupt people are usually one step ahead of the anti-graft safety nets; but that’s also Ok.

There are only two ways to reduce corruption: updating one’s anti-corruption framework to catch-up with thieves, and severely repress anyone caught doing it!

As a human rights lawyer, I do not support capital punishment, even though as an African from a landlocked country, I hate corruption more.

You see, I live in a world, which is violent and unjust, mainly because it is ruled by oil companies, tobacco and gun manufacturers. As a Rwandan I see the cost of my commodities increased, as it factors in the corruption chain, all the way from the seaports of Mombasa or Dar-Es-Salam.

When he visited my university in Pretoria, Raila Odinga shared a story, told to him by President Kagame. Apparently President Kagame had put a person on a track from Mombasa to Kigali and asked the person to document the number of times he had to corrupt an official on the way: The person reported to have spent USD 200 and bribed 20 times, by the time he reached the Rwandan border in Gatuna. So like global pollution, corruption in one place affects the entire world.

We pay our fare share of the world’s corruption without even partaking in it directly. So we couldn’t afford more. So in Africa, and in Rwanda in particular, we need life sentences, sacking, shaming, threatening and possibly banishment from the public eye for anyone caught!

As Umushyikirano, our national dialogue looms, I can’t wait to laugh in the face of unworthy leaders who have delayed our progress, by feeding the monster within themselves!

Umushyikirano is about integrity, but also about efficiency. Authorities are appraised, praised or shamed accordingly; promoted, sacked and/or jailed; likewise. There is certainly a number of corrupt civil servant in Rwanda; they have just not been caught – or like we say it here, they haven’t reached their fortieth day. Which also means we are not yet done with political opponents living in exile…


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