I vividly remember my first encounter with corruption. I had just completed high school in Kenya and was ecstatic to graduate and start university. I was finally a legal adult.
But as an adult, I needed a national identity card (ID) for virtually everything: from opening a bank account to applying for college.
So, I presented myself to the National Registration Bureau, which processes IDs, with all the required documents for the application.
As I stood waiting to be served, I could see a bold sign written “ID is processed free of charge! Do not pay!” But, as I prepared to leave, the clerk demanded payment of US$2. I tried to protest, but the message was clear, “If you want an ID, you have to pay!”
I ended up paying the first (and definitely last) bribe in my life.
How young people experience corruption
This experience is commonplace in most parts of Africa. In fact, in Kenya, some young people have coined a word for it, “The Induction.” This is where a young person is forced to pay their first bribe to obtain an ID, hence they are being “inducted” into the world of corruption.
Nelson Mandela, the former South African President and anti-apartheid hero once said, “The young people of today are the future of tomorrow.” For African youth, this future seems to grow dimmer with each passing day, as they are constantly staring at uncertainty cultivated by the menace of corruption.
It is through corruption that young people miss out on proper education, probably because money meant for scholarships and research is channeled into more “productive” projects that do more to line the pockets of government officials than to serve the best interests of the public.
It is through corruption that qualified youth are unable to secure employment, or start their own businesses. Furthermore, young people are constantly burdened with the heavy weight of bribes to be able to access free basic public services.
An obstacle to fair and free public services
The burden of bribery is not confined to the issuance of IDs. It is prevalent in the provision of other public services, including health care and the police service.
Traffic officers may take bribes from drivers and police officers may interfere with evidence that favors a particular group or individual.
This kind of behavior plays a huge part in breeding suspicion among citizens, which hurts the relationship between police officers and the public.
In many cases, people fear retaliation if they refuse to participate or report corruption, as highlighted in a recent report.
A refusal to give a bribe may lead to the denial of public services that citizens may desperately need. Hence most citizens opt for the “easier” route and pay bribes.
Sadly, this applies even more for young people: Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer found that people aged 18–34 are more likely to pay a bribe than people aged 55 and over.
Exposing and reporting corruption
But a wind of change is blowing through Africa. People are becoming more conscious of corruption and the devastating effects on their lives.
Citizens are demanding more accountability from their governments and leaders in the fight against corruption. There is a growing consensus that Africa cannot fight poverty, ignorance and disease unless we also tackle corruption.
In the recent years, people are more willing to stand up against corruption even if it entails enduring retaliation. A growing trend in Africa is to use mobile phones to record corrupt characters and expose them for public shaming.
Many corrupt officials have been brought to justice in this way and it is encouraging more people to speak out and report corruption. Most Africans are hopeful that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption.
How we can make a difference
The youth have a huge role to play in the fight against corruption. We are interconnected more than ever through social media; and this can be an effective tool that can be used to pile pressure on corrupt leaders, institutions and officials.
But social media is not enough! The youth must be ready to be activists on the ground. This can be through peaceful protests; both at a personal level and as groups. It all starts with saying “NO” when you are asked for a bribe!
Late October 2018, I came across the Future Against Corruption Competition Organized by Transparency International. The competition aims to inspire the youth to come up with solutions to challenge corruption.
I saw it as an indelible opportunity to express myself and present viable ideas. The youth must be ready to join the conversation! Your small contribution could be the missing link in the fight against corruption. Do not keep off!
My experience with corruption inspired me to take action. If empowered with the right resources and knowledge, I think communities have the power to make a real difference in tackling corruption.
Enlisting a similar model that the global health movement uses to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, I think we should establish corruption resource centers across the continent, where community members can go to report corruption, discuss issues affecting their communities, share their views and receive important services they need to fight corruption.
“Corruption resource centers would be instrumental in empowering citizens to fight corruption from the grassroots level by encouraging the ideas of transparency, integrity and accountability.”
A hopeful future
It fills me with great optimism when I see countries such as Rwanda and Botswana making strides in the fight against corruption. These African countries score higher than some developed countries, such as Italy and Greece, in the Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures perceived levels of public sector corruption.
Progress in fighting corruption is reflected in Botswana and Rwanda’s fast-growing economies, where they are able to attract foreign investment, not just foreign aid. However, for Africa to achieve economic, social and political transformation, countries across the continent must be ready to put the fight against corruption on top of the regional agenda.
Christopher Khajira, 22, is pursuing a degree in Electronics and Computer Engineering at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya. He was a winner of the 2018 Future Aga