It’s corruption that’s the problem, not poverty

The officials at the immigration department here have requested an audience with my husband. Not because he is working here illegally; he’s not. It’s something, they hint ominously, to do with your last job.

The one where we were shafted by the American boss and finally gave up after working without a salary for nine months. The one where despite my husband’s best efforts, the workforce remained similarly unpaid, The one where my husband was dragged through the local courts as scapegoat for elusive US shareholders. The one where a colleauge and fellow Englishman made threats on our lives then sold company assets for almost a quarter of a million bucks and fled.

The job which we resigned from twelve months ago but which, by virtue of the fact we’re still here, could cost us in bribes – chai as it’s euphemistically referred to here. Especially around christmas; nobody wants to spend time in jail over Christmas. Immigration know that: they know that we know that protesting our innocence of whatever charge might be levelled at us is futile; only cash will get us off whatever hook it is they’ve invented.

And it’s not because we’re white, not because we ‘aliens’, not even because it’s assumed we can afford to pay a bribe. It’s because we live here and if you live here, no matter how hard you try to side step the system, corruption is going to trip you up in the end. 

The wheels of Africa’s economies are lubricated by the oil that is corruption as much as it bleeds her dry.

I watched a television program last night. And witnessed a poor woman in Kenya being forced to pay a bribe in the local clinic before a doctor would agree to see her sick baby. I witnessed men hungry for work – any work – being thwarted in their efforts because they didn’t have the necessary to bribe their way onto a job. I witnessed aid agencies being bribed to set up bogus charities.

Ten days ago, whilst in Kenya, I had a conversation with a cab driver in the capital, Nairobi. I asked him what he thought of the country’s imminent elections.  Who would he vote for, I asked?  

”Oh what does it matter”, he responded glumly, ”no matter who gets in, nothing’s going to change: they don’t care about the people. They just care about making money for themselves”.

I asked him what he thought ought to be done about that.

”we need European governance”, he said, ”like the settlers: look – this road we are driving on? Built by the settlers, and our independent governments have done nothing to maintain it in fifty years. Why should I pay my taxes if I do not benefit?”

What? No benefit at all – but what about government hospitals and schools? I pressed

Hah! scoffed the cab driver: ”government schools teach our children nothing and in the hospitals women are having their babies stolen”.


Yes, he says, ”if a woman has a daughter and wants a son, her family will pay the doctors or nurses to steal her a new baby boy”.

Such exhortation is at every level. It’s endemic, and like a perpeutally evolving and lethal virus it’s impossible to avoid infection.

If those who talk about making poverty history are serious, they’d better implement a cure for corruption first.

3 Responses to “It’s corruption that’s the problem, not poverty”

  1. Potty Mummy Says:

    How do you manage it RM? I would be completely weighed down by injustice and futility. Good luck with the immigration department – I so hope you are wrong in your suspicions.

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks PM. I am a bit. Weighed down. Today the idea of life in a French idyll where I could drink wine every day at lunchtime and not worry that I might be interrupted by bureacracy is hugely appealing. Sadly can’t afford that though.

  3. R. Sherman Says:

    One wonders whether anything can be done to change such a system. For too long, there has been no rule of law, merely the rule of wealth and privilege. How does one change the mindset of an entire nation or society. Truly, I wonder how good people do not sink inexorably into despair.

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