This is a Corruption Free Zone

Michael Onsando
3 December ,2013

In order to withstand the weather, we had to become stone

–          Audre Lorde

Anyone who has been in a government office has, without a doubt, seen this sing “This is a corruption free zone.” Usually it is stuck above a till window, or next to other casual signs like “no smoking” and “please put off your mobile phone.” I have become used to these signs, not paying them much attention. Recently, though, I have been thinking about them and why they need to exist.

The creation of corruption free zones denotes zones within which corruption is acceptable. It makes sense that, if zones where corruption is unacceptable exist then zones where corruption is acceptable must exist. This is clear as with no smoking signs and smoking zones. That seems like the most obvious deduction that one can derive from such a sign.

I’m particularly bothered by this overt nature of our country’s fight against corruption. Of this word corruption and how we use it. It is very easy to say “corruption is wrong, we will not be corrupt.” In fact, the state says it every day. There are Anti-corruption units and anti-corruption statements everywhere. It has been said by everyone.

Corruption is bad.

I’m taken by how easy it is to have these poster perfect pictures of the struggle. Statements like “Rape is bad,” “crime is bad,” “corruption is bad.” Are thrown around with a casualness that states that there will be some sort of battle against these things yet, within these structures, exist a culture that completely embodies these same evils that we struggle against.

Institutional failure is not a new thing to Kenya. Just two weeks ago Brainstorm ran this essay using the Nyumba Kumi initiative to demonstrate this failure.

So this is not about that.

This is about creating organisations that fail to deal and then standing behind them. This is also about investigations that go on for eons and eons without anyone saying anything. The word investigation, in Kenya, is just a way of saying we will bury this far away and no one will ever find it again.

Thinking along these lines I am reminded of the death of Mutula Kilonzo, and the tribunal that was meant to report on it. I’m also reminded of Inspector Kimaiyo’s disgraceful dismissal of Liz’s rape. Listing these indiscretions could take a lot more than the few thousand words I am allowed to use in this essay. We have a history of ignoring, covering up and just blatantly erasing.

A friend of mine says the constitution is full of a lot of wistful thinking. It was as if some people went to a room and thought of a utopian Kenya and what it would look like, sounds like, smell like and taste like. This then raises the question, why are we so afraid of dealing with the very obvious problems that face us?

Life, of course.

I have been thinking about disposability for a while. About how fragile existence is. This constant threatening of our lives to keep us in place is the only reason we could possibly be so complacent. And, the thing is, it’s not even an overt show of strength. It is the police man thumbing his rifle as he asks you for a bribe on the side of the road. It is the two people who lead only being leaders by saying “we caused war last time against each other, now we are on the same side, there will be no war.” It is in the constant victim blaming in the streets. “Why were you walking at night? Who were you with? You should have known better.” Of course, and it has been said here so eloquently before, we have to live. Somehow, within this madness, we all have to forge some sort of meaningful existence for ourselves.

It is a lot easier to get involved in oneself. In getting money and moving forward and upward. And this is what is expected of us. Questions impede the process of moving forward. The people who ask questions do bring to light things that have not long since been pushed to the shadows.

In psychology the idea of repressing emotion is one of the most dangerous things a person could do to themselves. To hide from what you are feeling keeps one from dealing with the problems at hand causing a large number of complications later. Many people, in a bid to fix these deep seated problems focus their energies on the more superficial problem. This is pop psychology 101 – and I will cut my psychoanalysis while I am still ahead. The correlation I am trying to pull is one of a country that buries its head in the sand and wistful thinking.

Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

–          W.M.

Sometimes I feel like I may be the one going crazy, standing on the street corner with a cardboard box hanging over my shoulders. The scribbling on the box reads “the end is near” and everyone shuffles by me very quickly as if embarrassed to be seen near one nearly as paranoid as I.

Ahmed writes:

I think institutions could be thought of as rather like old garments: they acquire the shape of those who tend to wear them, such that they become easier to wear when you have that shape.

I think the shape that institutions in Kenya wear is the ability to look out, solely, for oneself no matter the consequences. This blindness of others that questions nothing is what works best, and is the easiest to manipulate when it comes to power dynamics. Taking a bribe is easier when you can only think of yourself.

This creates the ease with which the institutions in Kenya skirt the law. It creates the ease with which we let them. It definitely furthers the ease with which we walk right by the bearers of the placards on the street, careful not to dirty our feet or interrupt ourselves in our strive to forge a path of some sort for ourselves. We all want to wear the institutional robe. Then, to make ourselves feel better, we put up signs printed on A4 paper in bold, Times New Roman: “this is a corruption free zone.”

Sure it is.

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