As I write this blog post, I risk being charged with ‘witness of crime and not doing anything to stop it. If such a charge really exists that is. But I really doubt I’d be found guilty, at least not in a Kenyan Court where nowadays everyone is acquitted for lack of evidence. And I am not at all hinting. 🙂
Well, today I had quite many errands to run in the big city. Seeing that I live in Timbuktu (someone insists that I live in Timbuktu so I am starting to believe it, a bit. 🙂 . Utter hyperbole though), I had to be out of home early to avoid the dreaded Thika Road jam and be in the big city by eight am. Now, being a nocturnal means I that I have gotten used to sleeping into my mornings so having to get up as early as I did was a huge sacrifice. Fortunately, my errands were worth that kind of sacrifice, and I knew I’d catch up on my sleep in the matatu since I was not travelling alone. That did not quite happen though, which would explain why I was struggling to keep my eyes open as I waded through the streets of this big city.
Part of the reason why I could not sleep is because I could not stop the train of thoughts in my head that needed my attention. For a person who is constantly ‘busy’ nowadays, a matatu ride provides a great opportunity to reflect on various things, amongst them, our corrupt society. Well, this is quite weird. Very weird actually, considering that I have no interests in politics or a career in law implementation. But it was not entirely my fault that I gave thought to corruption. Those thoughts were triggered by two incidences.
The first incidence that brought my attention to what corrupt a society we are happened on Thika Road, just before daybreak. It was still a bit dark. I really did not know what happened since I was in dreamland (quite) but I was startled by the screeching of brakes. I opened my eyes to see a roadblock being plunged right in front of the matatu to stop it by force. A policeman came flashing his torch to the driver and asked him to pull over. 🙂 Like he had any other choice. Anyway, I did not quite get what prompted such an action by the police but what happened after really caught my attention. A short conversation ensued;
Conductor: (handing over a one hundred shilling note to the driver)Shika hii mia umpatie atuache.
Driver: (ignoring the conductor and talking to the police officer instead) Wacha tuongee, niambie unataka nini.
Passenger: Nini mbaya na huyu dereva? Polisi hawezi sema anataka kitu, lakini ukimpa atachukua tu.
At this point, there was a kind of uproar by the other early risers asking the driver to take the money and give it to the policeman so he could let us go. Rather, all the passengers’ voices were expressing anger at the driver for not wanting to bribe the policeman and choosing to negotiate instead (though he would still have had to give ‘something’). I was well crouched up in a corner and listening to these conversations with utter amusement (the kind of things that amuse me 🙂 ). Anyway, the driver had been asked to pull over and park on the side and had he heeded, maybe we would have stuck there for an hour or over and still not escape charges of some kind. For some reason, I understood these angry passengers’ concerns. They must have woken up that early for a good reason. Maybe they had important appointments to catch so every minute counted. If the driver insisted on negotiating, it meant they would get delayed, and they were going to do everything they could to stop it. Another issue that amused me was the amount involved; a hundred shillings. This, to many people is a very small amount but it only goes to show how important every single cent is to others. Also, this incident proved how people would do everything they could to get out of trouble, even if it meant bribing, or propagating bribes in this case. The same people will in another forum be heard complaining at how the judicial system is corrupt and how we need change. Talk of removing the speck in your brother’s eye and leaving a log in your own eye!
The next similar incident happened on my way to bush. Usually, I do not seat on the passenger seat next to the driver but well, today I did. I think it was meant to happen (that is what people call fate, right?) As soon as the conductor got wind that there was a police check ahead, he gave the driver a hundred shillings note. Yeah, 100 bob again. The driver folded it about four times as I watched. I thought he’d put it in between his fingers and give it as bribe while shaking an officer’s hand. Well, he did not. Instead, he took his Driving License and put the note in it and drove on, well armed. Though we narrowly escaped the first police check, the second was inevitable. This time it was a policewoman who asked the driver to pull over. The driver gave her his D.L, she walked to the left side of the windscreen to check the car’s insurance and then walked back to the driver’s side and gave back the D.L. Very clean job. I couldn’t help but smile at how well they (traffic police) had perfected their art. It was amusing to see how natural everyone acted and no one would think that a crime had just been committed. I had watched the whole process, even recorded it if I wanted but I did not. I’m not sure if I felt even an iota of guilt for witnessing a crime. Maybe it was because I felt a bit powerless. Or maybe it has become too common to the extent that it feels normal to see people give and/ or receive bribes. I just smiled at the survival antics of my fellow Kenyans but could not help imagine how much those traffic policemen and women fetch per day since nearly all matatu’s are asked to pull over.
Well, some may call it survival tact, but whatever name anyone uses to sugar coat bribery does not make it less of a corrupt act. We want reforms in the judiciary and we hope that new personnel will help us achieve that. True. But if we; you, me, the person who sits next to us in the bus everyday, the drivers and conductors of the buses we travel in, the traffic policemen and women on our roads and the people in our neighbourhoods have the slightest trait of corruption, we might be asking too much of our Judiciary.
1. Change begins with you and me. Very cliché but very true.
2. Integrity is a value very few people uphold. Are you one of them? Really? Would you go to all lengths to do what is right, fair and just? Really? Think again. Maybe now you can give a more truthful answer.
3. Be sure to remove the log in your eye before removing the speck in your neighbour’s eye.