The revealing event itself was over and done in half a minute. A Kenyan businessman and I were in his car, on the outskirts of Nairobi, on the return leg of a visit to an entrepreneurial skills development class. After admiring his knack for slipping between and around miserably slow, diesel-belching trucks, I asked about local institutional financing for companies moving past the startup phase.
"All of the banks in Kenya are corrupt," he said, but without a trace of anger. His right hand slid into his jacket pocket. Out came his cumbersome circa-1998 cellphone. "This is what I want." His left hand released the steering wheel, he quickly fake-punched the phone buttons, then coolly grabbed the wheel. "I want to be able to move money from my account to anywhere. Like that."
He named a British bank, one he trusted more than any Kenyan outfit. "The corruption in Kenya is terrible and our worst problem," he continued. "It hurts. It kills us. And it is difficult to change it. This situation. I want to be able to keep my money in a place that is honest."
He added that he couldn't wait for the day when he could securely (and he stressed securely) handle local and international financial transactions digitally and give the slip to endemic political and economic corruption.
Corruption, political and economic, was the biggest issue in Kenya's disputed 2007 election, which gave current President Mwai Kibaki a second term. Despite Kibaki's sworn commitment to combat corruption, corruption remains the biggest issue in the 2013 election. The worst example is political. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted the likely winner, Uhuru Kenyatta, for directing the post-2007 election tribal violence that left over 1,000 Kenyans dead. Though the evidence against him is compelling, in February Kenya's High Court refused to remove him from the ballot.
Why? There are several reasons, none good. Uhuru Kenyatta is a member of Kenya's largest tribe, the Kikuyu (and the tribe of my friend, the disenchanted businessman). A court ruling against him might have guaranteed a tribal war. Uhuru is also the son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president and the founding father of modern Kenya. Critics regard the elder Kenyatta as the man who institutionalized governmental corruption, and that corruption has seeped throughout the economic and political system.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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