Wipe Out Graft, It’s the Father of Illicit Brew [opinion]

Trade in illicit brews may be one of the children in the growing household of corruption. But the two vices – plunder of public resources and alcoholism – should be contained for citizens to rethink national reconstruction.

The country is fast headed south, with widening social inequalities, as reflected in the massive unemployment and rising poverty. It not therefore surprising Kenya is rated as one of the most unequal countries in the world.

The massive turnout last week of jobseekers from across the country for a few advertised positions at the Kenya Ports Authority confirmed the worsening state of unemployment. The venue of the supposed interviews, Bandari College, seemed like a public rally on the eve of a general election. But no, these were desperate jobseekers.

The growing number of young people who crowd around village markets is a sign of the hard times. There are millions of young people out there who can be contracted do anything, including dangerous political assignments. Crime is rising, as opportunities among terrorism cells attract new recruits.

The panga-wielding Moses Kuria gang in Gatundu represents a tinderbox waiting to explode. It is like these young people are waiting for something to happen. They are idle and they are excitable. They have nothing to lose because they do not own much.

These youth may have just enough money to buy small sachets of any liquor that will sweep them off the reality of want and unemployment. They are the first victims of the rising illegal trade in alcohol. They were also the first on the rampage, raiding and destroying business premises where illicit brews are sold.

Ascendant corruption and reluctance to fight the vice is making this situation worse. Hungry people feel bad when all they can do is to watch the power elite amass wealth. Hungry people are also easy to manipulate to defend beneficiaries of corruption.

About Sh300 billion is lost to corruption annually. The loss affects not just the anonymous crowd of Kenyans, but villagers we know. The plight of the many at the hands of the few underlies the mass poverty of the digital age.

Worse, corruption has been devolved, with each unit, including the constituency, being the centre of decentralised impunity. The Constituency Development Fund, in some areas, is a massive narrative of plunder without conscience. Here is the irony: in one constituency there are thousands of school dropouts who loiter around a beach. The beach also hosts an abandoned youth polytechnic. The facility is supposed to have been rehabilitated to train these young people in skills they can use to earn a living. The youth are victims of corruption. They are also being used to sanitise and coverup corruption.

The tragedy is that the people who should know and reject these abuses do not know. The majority are kept in blissful ignorance through occasional handouts from the power and economic elite who abuse public resources.

Accountability is alien. Public participation is non-existent. Awakening the people to the plunder, through civic education, is politicised and often treated as potential competition for strategic ‘eating’ positions in the public trough. Corruption feeds on public ignorance.

One of these vices will have to go first, if a simultaneous double-front war is not possible. This may give room for the overdue moral reconstruction. But whether trade in illicit trade or corruption goes first depends on where one stands in the societal strata.

Driving my daughter home last week during the dark moment for alcohol addicts and traders in illicit brew, I asked her: “If you were given a rope to hang the peddlers of illicit liquor and the lords of corruption, who will go first?”

The precocious standard six child said without hesitation the corrupt should have been executed yesterday. She said it does not need rigorous thinking to see that alcoholism may, in some ways, be a consequence of rampant corruption. So the corrupt should go to the gallows first.

I put the same question to a petrol station attendant, who said without hesitation corruption must be routed out first before the illicit alcohol trade is contained.

The following day, a professor of economics and a counselling psychologist reinforced what my daughter and the petrol station attendant had said. These categories of people seem to agree corruption is the patriarch of trade in illicit brews and alcoholism. Some corrupt public official must have allowed alcohol peddlers to trade without due regard to the law. Police and the local administration know and are often the protectors of the fuel that fires alcoholism.

Yet in the zeal for political and social correctness, we are hitting ‘Mama Pima’ with a force so brutal, even children can tell the energy applied is out of proportion to the crime. Again, as if to show little criminals get thrashed first, we are kind of saying let us deal with the vulnerable ones before facing the father of moral and economic genocide.

It is then easy to understand the shared selective and discriminative reaction to corruption and peddlers of illicit brews.

Someone tell doubting Kenyans that even right-thinking children know and are angry about the rising cost of corruption.