Want to end cor­rup­tion? Build pris­ons, fill them with thieves

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - OPINION - mmu­tuma@ke.na­tion­media.com

If Pres­i­dent Uhuru Kenyatta wants to solve all his cor­rup­tion prob­lems, he should build a prison. A big, clean, white-col­lar prison to which thieves can be sent with­out one feel­ing that they have been sent to their deaths.

This week, I had planned to write a fun piece about cars, but I sup­pose that would be wast­ing an op­por­tu­nity to pon­tif­i­cate on graft — what with the scan­dals swirling around us.

I feel sorry for Mr Kenyatta; I re­ally do. He speaks with to­tal, despairing frus­tra­tion about cor­rup­tion amongst Kenyans and what he sees as a lack of pa­tri­o­tism among those who steal pub­lic funds. I think he has tried to deal with the cri­sis by ap­point­ing in crit­i­cal po­si­tions per­sons he hopes are pa­tri­otic and loyal to the coun­try and in whom he has con­fi­dence, par­tic­u­larly based on their back­ground and pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence.

That is one af­fec­tive ap­proach to the prob­lem.

As a stu­dent of so­ci­ety, I think the ques­tion of how to ef­fi­ciently drive a large num­ber of peo­ple to do a mul­ti­tude of com­plex tasks over time and do it well with­out de­viance was can­vassed and re­solved many years ago. Prin­ci­pally by Max We­ber in the late 1800s.

What you need to run a coun­try prop­erly and to clean out cor­rup­tion is not a club of well-bred, pa­tri­otic chaps; it is a well-func­tion­ing, good, old bu­reau­cracy.

This is the dic­tionary def­i­ni­tion of bu­reau­cracy from En­cy­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­nica: “Bu­reau­cracy: Spe­cific form of or­gan­i­sa­tion de­fined by com­plex­ity, divi­sion of labour, per­ma­nence, pro­fes­sional man­age­ment, hi­er­ar­chi­cal co­or­di­na­tion and con­trol, strict chain of com­mand, and le­gal author­ity.

“It is dis­tin­guished from in­for­mal and col­le­gial or­gan­i­sa­tions. In its ideal form, bu­reau­cracy is im­per­sonal and ra­tio­nal and based on rules rather than ties of kin­ship, friend­ship, or pat­ri­mo­nial or charis­matic author­ity.”

Rigid, for­mal, im­per­sonal, rule-based, clear author­ity, divi­sion of labour — these are the crit­i­cal in­gre­di­ents of a We­be­rian bu­reau­cracy.

Now, we can ar­gue whether all that blood­less ap­proach to the man­age­ment of hu­man be­ings is re­ally nec­es­sary but it de­pends on whether your ob­jec­tive is to show peo­ple love or to get the job well done with the least fuss.

Mom-and-pop ap­proach

If you want ef­fi­ciency and pre­dictable out­comes, then the rigid, for­mal ap­proach is the way to go. If you want a hugs, high-fives ap­proach, where re­sults are 50-50 at best and it is not clear which money is pub­lic and which is pri­vate since we are all broth­ers and sisters, then take the mom-and-pop ap­proach.

The rea­son peo­ple are (al­legedly) still steal­ing from the Na­tional Youth Ser­vice is be­cause the peo­ple who (al­legedly) stole in the Anne Waig­uru scan­dal cy­cle got away with it scot-free, with­out the least in­con­ve­nience. It is a fail­ure of con­se­quence man­age­ment. It mat­ters not whether peo­ple are pa­tri­otic or not, loyal or not, so long as they fol­low the rules and do their jobs com­pe­tently. A loyal and pa­tri­otic thief is of lit­tle value.

Peo­ple are steal­ing from the pub­lic be­cause it is safe to do so. They will not be caught and, if they are, they can buy their way out. If you change the dy­nam­ics and in­crease the risk of im­pris­on­ment, the at­trac­tive­ness of cor­rup­tion will fall di­a­met­ri­cally.

Build a big jail, fill it and keep fill­ing it until there are no more thieves left.


I read in the Star that Nairobi Gov­er­nor Mike Sonko’s body­guards had been re­duced from 15 to four.

I am a great sup­porter of pro­vid­ing our lead­ers with the best pos­si­ble se­cu­rity. Writer John Ka­mau ar­gues that giv­ing body­guards to elected lead­ers is a demo­cratic im­per­a­tive. Some­body can de­feat the will of the peo­ple and cause a by-elec­tion if there isn’t enough pro­tec­tion.

But 15 is a lot; it’s a whole rugby team. That’s al­most two squads. I was once told that lit­tle girls in the slums of Nairobi, even those in kinder­garten, go for tuition af­ter school be­cause it is un­safe for them to be at home with­out their mums. They would be de­filed. So their mums drop them off at school and pick them up af­ter work from the tuition cen­tre. How much difference would a sin­gle po­lice of­fi­cer make in the life of many of those en­dan­gered lit­tle girls in those slums?

Our moth­ers, wives, daugh­ters and neigh­bours are hav­ing their weaves and wigs ripped off their heads in the streets of Nairobi.

Kenya has 90,000 po­lice of­fi­cers pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion for a pop­u­la­tion of 45 mil­lion. That means an of­fi­cer is sup­posed to pro­tect a whole 500 of us mere mor­tals. Spe­cial hu­man be­ings like Mr Sonko re­verse the ra­tios and take up 15 of­fi­cers for a sin­gle man. Some Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ters have had about four guards on nor­mal days.

Body­guards, like chase cars, are crutches for frag­ile egos. The con­se­quence is that se­cu­rity re­sources, like all other na­tional re­sources, are tied up by a few peo­ple, some of them to­tally use­less to the coun­try.

It is right and proper to pro­tect. But it is wrong to take away from the ma­jor­ity and as­sign armies to folks whose big­gest prob­lem is low self­es­teem.

MUTUMA MATHIU It mat­ters not whether peo­ple are pa­tri­otic or not, loyal or not, so long as they fol­low the rules and do their jobs com­pe­tently.”

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