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Bribery won’t bring investors

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US Trade Representative Katherine Tai addressing journalists at Serena Hotel, Nairobi on July 19, 2023. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

You know corruption is so bad in Kenya when the likes of the United States cry for help to invest in the country. This is a global superpower, one of the richest countries, which has an investment streak on tap.

However, the US cannot penetrate the Kenyan market because their investors to Kenya keep being asked for bribes to do so. If the level of corruption has given America such a headache, what about the average Kenyan business(wo)man? I will tell you.

The challenges corruption poses for Kenya can be discerned through the brutality meted out by kanjo (county askaris) on mama mboga.

The once-poster girls for the UDA election campaign, who troop to our streets everyday to sell vegetables and fruits to the nation, have borne the brunt of the hooligans who call themselves kanjos.

Kanjos claim to be out to maintain law and order on behalf of the counties but their true intention is to fleece the humble ‘hustlers’, such as mama mboga and all other small-scale traders. It is a bribery exercise. And I should know, since my mother was once a mama mboga and went through hell with kanjos.

The small-scale street vendors are mostly unskilled women and the only way they know to survive is to sell wares on the streets. They deserve support, compassion and funding to trade just like the blue-chip investors.

But we, Kenyans, are good at turning against the most vulnerable and exploiting them. Shame on us!

Kanjos form the bottom tier of the system in Kenya run through extortion and blackmail. A corrupt system that only knows how to function through chaos.

A selfish one just to benefit a few over the majority and hellbent on lawlessness. This culture of extortion starts with kanjos and rises to the very top, where the heads of ministries and agencies believe they wield the power to extort even foreign nationals and missions.

The US statement has taken the lid off ‘cartelism’, which has been the main hindrance to economic growth. The very people who are nominated and appointed to the relevant departments in government to spur economic growth are the ones who stymie the country’s prosperity by making investment policies a cash cow for personal aggradisement and not for the benefit of the citizens.

When the wealthy nations come calling with investment opportunities, the least the country could do is make it easier for them to invest through favourable trade policies such as lower taxes and protection from exploitation. The firms being discouraged by bribery to invest in Kenya are the same ones needed to create employment.

The irony is that the ministers and other senior government officials—who are salaried, pensionable and employed just to create jobs and attract investments to the country—are the same selfish people who undermine investment. And, with that, the throw away the opportunity for Kenyans to gain employment from foreign private entities wishing to invest in the country.

Essentially, the picture being painted by the Americans’ revelation of their frustration to invest in Kenya due to bribery is a troubling one for a country wishing to raise more revenue through tax. Those in government care little about the rest of the country, as long as their nearest and dearest are fine. They forget that they took the oath to serve all Kenyans equally.

The testament to their nepotism is reflected once more in the latest report on employment, where those opportunities are only made available to relatives and tribesmen and women of those in power. A case in point is Kenya Revenue Authority, where the lion’s share of the latest appointment of staff [since revoked by the court] was reportedly drawn from the areas closest to the President and his deputy.

Tribal appointments to government departments and agencies have become the norm since Kenya Kwanza came to power. This is an issue that, perhaps, would not have existed or necessary if there were enough companies to absorb Kenyan workers at home. Sending Kenyans abroad for jobs is a sticking plaster solution. The government and, indeed, politics have become the only employers as private investment is shrunk and frustrated by corrupt government officials.

It would really be helpful if the embassies and high commissions that experience frustration in helping their citizens to invest in Kenya named and shamed the officials who demand a bribe to allow them to do it. Statements alone won’t help foreign companies wishing to invest in the country to do so, hence preventing many innocent, desperate and deserving Kenyans from gaining employment from them.

The least Kenya could do is end corruption, improve security and invest in critical infrastructure such as roads, reliable energy sources and water. These are key drivers of the economy. Enough of roadside declarations to send workers abroad. If opportunities come knocking from foreign investment, the government must receive them with open hands and keep them to settle down so that Kenyans can use that opportunity to build the economy and the nation.

- Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected]. @kdiguyo