Tag: corruption

Tell the African story – including corruption

(Pic: Flickr / DW Akademie)
(Pic: Flickr / DW Akademie)

Two weeks ago, one of Kenya’s leading newspapers, The Daily Nation, published the story of a county governor who had spent some $197 000 on accommodation at a high-end hotel while awaiting renovation of his official residence. Quoting a report by Kenya’s Auditor General however, the paper noted that the county’s government also spent some $5 300 on house rent for the same Governor, during the same time period he was living at the hotel (July 9th to August 1st 2015). If these numbers don’t speak for themselves already, then add some 1.2 billion shillings ($11 855 844) misappropriated by the same county in September of 2013. You get the picture?

What is worrying about such blatant corruption and outright impunity in Africa is not its existence; it is the recurrence. It is the fact that it is as systemic as the education sector or agriculture is to the common citizen. I worry that while a child’s disease and a region’s poverty will be well documented by some aid agency and paraded to solicit funds from some well-meaning individual, these incidences of corruption will not see the light of day in the western world. It seems as if, we Africans, would rather allow benevolent stereotypes to flourish than for our dirty linen to be aired in public. The narrative thus remains the same. Africa is poor because it is poor; and while we’re out fighting the poverty narrative, we fiercely defend the source of our poverty.

I know there is a lot of noise about ‘Africa Rising’ going around the web and in intellectual circles; I also know that this is complete hogwash. Africa is going nowhere – not yet at least. There cannot be any development on a continent that propagates and recycles the same ideals that have kept it from developing for the last 50 years. So, citizens having some internet with which to shout at western media will not in itself change the continent’s trajectory. The corruption will stay, terror attacks still go unattended and ethnic strife still pit us against each other. Just because we can tweet at CNN and get an apology does not mean we are better off as a people. While it is laudable that we are challenging stereotypes about our continent; and while we need to show things as they are, we must acknowledge that incidences of corruption too are a part of our social fabric. They might be undesirable alright; they might be shameful; but integrity to our continent and preparedness for real development implies (indeed requires) that we talk about these indecent characteristics too.

So what happens to our sandy beaches and wild animals and M-Pesa and the Savannah? Nothing. But if we want a complete story of us, we must be at the forefront of telling it. If any media speaks about corruption, or terrorism in Kenya, it has every right to. Granted, sensational reporting is below media ethics, the truth must nevertheless be spoken. It is pretentious of us Africans to imply that exposure of our continent’s weaknesses, or our politicians’ misdeeds, somehow blemishes our “good name”. Because it is this very identity that gets tarnished every time we want to keep the monopoly on talking about corruption within our borders.

There is no substitute for thinking.

Franklyn Odhiambo is an alumni of the African Leadership Academy and student of the university of California, Berkeley. Oh,and he’s Kenyan too.

The ridiculousness of “If the West can do it, why can’t we?”

King Mswati III of Swaziland and his wife arrive at the White House for a group dinner during the US Africa Leaders Summit August 5 2014 in Washington, DC. (Pic: AFP)
King Mswati III of Swaziland and his wife arrive at the White House for a group dinner during the US Africa Leaders Summit August 5 2014 in Washington, DC. (Pic: AFP)

I am absolutely exhausted by the argument that we cannot complain about inefficient and corrupt African leaders because “even Western leaders do it.” The follow-up to this point is usually an indignant “How come when white people do it, it’s OK?”

And by ‘it’ here, the speaker is referring to plunging a population into a well of suffering simply because one can.

A few days ago I happened upon an article on The Root in which the gripes social media users have with Swaziland’s royal family were brought to light. The article was short and simple: a report on a report really.

“Swaziland’s royal family has found itself ensnared in the firm grip of social media users who are determined to expose the lavish lifestyle of “Africa’s last absolute monarch,” while most of the country’s people barely subsist on $1 a day per person, Agence France-Presse reports.”

But the responses to it are what angered me. Of the hundreds of comments that this post attracted, many of them repeated the same idea: if the [insert white royal family] can do it, why can’t we?

I was so overcome with rage, I found myself doing the one thing I promised myself I never would: I left an angry Facebook comment. But that was not the end of it. My rage at the commenters, many of them African American echoing a sentiment often uttered by Africans too when our own leaders are to be held accountable for one act or another, did not go away.

So here I am, finally explaining why “Well, the King of Britain does it” has to be the dumbest counter-argument I have ever heard.

“If they can do it, why can’t we?”

When this question is posed, it is often by a person, I assume, beginning to familiarise themselves with the heady nature of self-pride. The underlying idea here, is that to criticise one’s own leaders is to exempt the West from blame for their own misdoings. It is a noble idea, and of course, very understandable, even to me, a mere child. But it is sorely incorrect.

To say, “If the British family can live far above its subject why can’t the King of Swaziland?” is to say two things:

1. Exploiting one’s own people is something of a competition and God forbid the African be excluded from suckling the sweet fruits of corruption.

2. Comparing the people of Britain to a nation where sixty-percent live under $1 a day like Swaziland, is perfectly logical.

Indeed at some point in the past they suffered under the tyrannical rule of their monarchical lords, but for the most part, in 2014, the people of Britain are not as affected when the Queen takes a private jet to some island as the people of Swaziland are. This is a simple fact.

Plunging your nation into economic turmoil is not some sort of marker of empowerment. And the very idea conjures up images of corrupt African leaders winking at the portraits of former colonial powers, as they continue the age-old tradition of exploiting African people.

It is simply unacceptable. When will we get to the stage where we view our states through our own lenses? When will we remove ourselves from the “at least…” mentality? “At least it’s better than being exploited by whites.” “At least even the Europeans go through this in their own countries.”

Accountability is not a joke. And government is not a playground where we as citizens must continue to watch our leaders play while we tell ourselves that it’s alright because other people do it too. What is this – primary school?

Governance is not something our leaders do as a favour to us. It is an opportunity that we award them.

To say that what the King of Swaziland is doing is acceptable, is to say the suffering of those people (our people) is acceptable.This mentality is bigger than Swaziland, it is bigger than us. To say that corruption is a problem “everyone has” is to say that it and the ludicrous levels it reaches on our continent every day, is acceptable. To ask, “If the West can do it why can’t we?” is to say we are not people worthy of sound, accountable governance.

Why do we not ask “If the West can do it, why can’t we?” of education reform, of health policies, of infrastructure development, of government transparency, of social welfare policies, of economic engagement, of business forums, of infrastructure maintenance, of youth employment, of medical innovation, of technological integration, of political growth, of citizen empowerment, of sports development, of intra-continental trade, of trade policies, of foreign policies, of art evolution, of literary celebration….


This to me, is a symptom of us having bought into the lie our leaders are living. Drunk on new power and political “equality”, some of our leaders want to forget that political reality only means so much in the face of economic fact. They go to the UN and sit in big chairs next to the President of Italy and think just because the fellow can get away with running the economy like a gangster, so can they.

They shake hands with Obama and think to themselves, “Hey, if he can get funded by morally ambiguous corporations, why can’t I?” as if this is a nightclub. Well, news flash: this is not a nightclub. Economic reality is the only reality that matters. If the GDP of your nation cannot fill even one American state, you have absolutely no business trying to live like the US president.

This is just how life is. So we as citizens, cannot, no, MUST NOT allow our leaders to continue living this lie. The first step to that is to respond, the next time someone says “The President of the US does it”, with: “We’re not in the States here, comrade.”

We have to demand more for ourselves, because as long as it’s fashionable to disguise acceptance of corruption as “our right”, nobody will demand it for us.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 21-yeard old math-major at the University of Botswana. She is currently slumming it in Finland. Follow her on Twitter: @siyandawrites

Ipaidabribe: Fighting corruption in Zimbabwe

I will admit that I paid a bribe at a roadblock just hours before launching an anti-corruption site. In May last year, I was pulled over by a police officer. He inspected my car for “vulnerabilities” and then asked if I had a fire extinguisher. He said I could be fined $20. When I told him that I did not have that much on me, he quickly gave me a way out. “Give me what you have and I will look away.” The alternative was that he would detain me until he knocked off duty – and I didn’t have time for that. I paid him a bribe.  I didn’t like it and my conscience weighed me down. Frustrated, I brainstormed, decided to create a website and by the end of the day www.ipaidabribe.org.zw was up and running, thanks to the beauty of open source software.

The site got over 3000 visits in the first two days. It was clear that many Zimbabweans were as frustrated as I was about corruption and now we had a chance to do something about it.

What ipaidabribe.org.zw is all about:

The idea behind ipaidabribe.org.zw is to fight corruption by empowering the crowd. If anyone in Zimbabwe can report corruption (even anonymously) and if the reports are available for everyone to see, a solution to the problem should become obvious to at least somebody. The reason why crowdsourcing the fight against corruption works is because it tackles the three biggest conditions that are conducive for corruption to thrive:

  • Opportunity: People get involved in corruption when systems don’t work well and they need a way to get things done regardless of the procedures and laws.
  • Little chance of getting caught: A lack of accountability comes when there is little transparency (for example, public officials who don’t explain what they are doing, how and why), and weak enforcement (law agencies who don’t impose sanctions on power holders who violate their public duties).
  • Certain attitudes or circumstances that make average people disregard the law. They may try to get around laws of a government they consider illegitimate. Poverty or scarcity of key goods such as medicine may also push people to live outside the law.

What we’ve achieved so far:

The site is now a popular way of reporting corruption in Zimbabwe. It’s been successful in:

  • Getting people to start speaking out when they see corruption around them.
  • Getting people to talk about how they refused to pay bribes. This gives the crowd a good example of how people can achieve things on the basis of personal integrity.
  • Establishing partnerships with media houses and using these to escalate some of the reports

Admittedly, there are areas where I need to improve:

  • Verification of reports. One person can only do so much here so I am happy to talk to people and/or organisations that can help with verification of reports. This aspect is difficult to crowd source.
  • Escalation of reports. There are still many reports that have not been properly escalated. My idea has always been to have the crowd handle the escalation of reports. We are clearly still a long way from this.
  • Marketing. Scaling up too fast was a concern for me because it would increase the chances and number of reports that are not verified and escalated. But it goes without saying that scaling up is an absolute necessity.

From running ipaidabribe, I learnt the following lessons:

The future of fighting corruption
It is on this basis that I have decided to focus my efforts to fighting corruption on road-blocks. Working with a colleague, we are building what could be the future of the fight against corruption Kombi.

We know that the fight against corruption can be more effective if we change mindsets rather than try to attack specific incidents. Because of this we have decided to build a video game which will be targeted at younger people. The video game is called Kombi, named after a vehicle for public transport that’s an essential service throughout the continent. It’s called a taxi in South Africa, matatu in Kenya, dala dala in Tanzania, tro tro in Ghana,  the list goes on.

We chose to go for a video game was because we know that people love games. With a game we potentially engage many people simultaneous because they have a lot of growth potential. The legendary Angry Birds, for example, took only 35 days to reach 50-million people. Compare this with the 3.5 years it took Facebook to reach that same number or the 75 years it took the television to reach the same number of people.

It will be a few months before Kombi hits the market but here is a sneak peek of how it’s going to work:

  • Every players starts at the bottom but depending on the points they earn in the game, they can graduate from being a conductor (the lowest level) to being a driver, then kombi owner, then police officer, then ultimately, police commissioner.
  • Every player is in a situation similar to that of the average Zimbabwean where they may have to pay/take bribes meet their daily targets or get through the day but every time the pay/take bribes, they lose points and hence take longer to become a police commissioner. The result is that players learn that although corruption can seem to help in the short term, it hurts in the long run.
  • The game will be real-time and online – you will be competing with other players to get passengers, fuel, reach the destination faster, etc.
  • Third party Developers in different areas can build their own routes and add them to the game. They can also earn money for themselves on the permit fees paid by players to drive on the routes they have developed.

I’d like to invite any game developers (especially those based in Zimbabwe) who would like to get involved in Kombi to send me an email. We don’t care about the platform you develop on for now.

Tawanda Kembo is interested in finding innovative ways to meet social needs. He explore existing methods to see if he can remake or modify them to serve today’s society. He is one of 10 young Africans shortlisted to be a One Young World delegate at this year’s summit. At this event, the M&G’s Trevor Ncube will be chairing a session on African media and what Africans think of their journalists. To share your views, complete this short survey.

Egypt’s graffiti artists: Painting truth to power

Egyptian graffiti artists are doing more than just painting art on street walls. They’re creating social awareness campaigns against corruption, media brainwashing, poverty and sexual harassment, and also using graffiti to beautify slum areas of Cairo to restore a sense of pride, ownership and hope to residents.

Nazeer and Zeft have launched a new awareness campaign called #ColoringThruCorruption, where they paint walls, water pipes and other public surfaces to raise awareness about corruption and how the Egyptian government is stealing money from its citizens. As Nazeer explains:

We’re not painting to make life pretty – on the contrary, this is our way of drawing your attention to the reality of the situation: the government is stealing your money, the taxes you pay every year to renew your car license, pay your traffic tickets, pay for the roads, bridges and highways to be maintained, pay for your water/gas/electricity bills and so on. This money goes into the personal accounts of the governors and the local councils. In the end, you find the roads ruined and full of holes that damage your cars. So many homes without access to water or electricity or gas. This is the devastating reality. We’re painting corruption to draw people’s attention and then tell them our message. This time we were ten people painting. Next time we’ll be twenty, forty, sixty, a hundred with God’s will. We will paint the slum areas. The biggest proof of corruption is when one man lives in a palace and across the road, another man lives in a slum.

Street artists painting Maadi bridge. (Pic: Nazeer)
Water pipes painted to raise awareness about public corruption. (Pic: Nazeer)

Zeft’s previous campaigns include his Nefertiti mask graffiti, which was endorsed by anti-sexual harassment campaigns and spread to protests around the world in support of Egyptian women.

Zeft’s Nefertiti mask. (Pic: Ahmed Hayman)

Nazeer’s previous campaigns include graffiti calling for a return to protests in Tahrir during 2011, and his graffiti of 16-year-old Iman Salama, who was shot dead in September 2012. Nazeer made the stencil for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an NGO that wanted to draw attention to Iman’s murder, which had received little media coverage.

Nazeer’s graffiti of Iman Salama. (Pic: Nazeer)

Nemo is a street artist in Mansoura who has made graffiti that raises awareness about street children, homeless people, poverty and sexual harassment. He is one of the most diligent street artists in Egypt and has dedicated pretty much every single graffito he’s made to honouring martyrs, advocating the revolution and drawing attention to the impoverished and disenfranchised millions of Egyptians. He is featured in the upcoming documentary In the Midst of Crowds, and all his images can be viewed on his Facebook page.

“You who are sleeping under mountains of money ask about the bridges under which the children sleep” (Pic: Facebook.com/egynemo)
“I am hungry” (Pic: Facebook.com/egynemo)

In his latest campaign, he plasters sliced photographs of Egyptian faces on the iron walls of Gamaa Bridge in Mansoura. This one below is my favourite. It’s of Abo El Thowar, who has become an icon of the Tahrir protests for his resilience and poetic protest posters.

(Pic: Facebook.com/egynemo)

Then there’s the Mona Lisa Brigades, who created the great ‘I want to be’ project. The artists painted on the walls of people’s homes in the Cairo slum of Ard al-Lewa. The children of the neighbourhood were photographed and their images made into graffiti on the walls of the narrow, grim alleyways.

Such a simple gesture can bring so much hope and joy to an otherwise neglected neighbourhood.  Using graffiti to beautify an area has an effect on the entire neighbourhood because it restores a sense of pride and ownership. The project is a great example of using street art to help a community.

(Pic: Mona Lisa Brigades)

“After doing a great deal of research in Ard al-Lewa, we discovered there were thousands of children who have had almost no voice or representation throughout this movement, Mohamed Ismail, one of the founding members, told Egypt Independent. “We sprayed stencils of their faces along the walls. Under each image, we included the child’s dream. This way, whenever those kids walk by their faces on the wall, they will never forget their dreams.”

All of these initiatives are good examples of putting street art to good use, diverting it from its usual political course to spread positive messages, educate, raise awareness and help others that are completely ignored by the state. These artists are great people and deserve credit and recognition for their hard work. I hope they get it.

Soraya Morayef is a journalist and writer in Cairo. She blogs at suzeeinthecity.wordpress.com, where this post was first published. All pics above have been sourced by her. Connect with her on Twitter