Celebrating East African Writing!

A THIEVING NATION By Mwangi Wanjumbi

“Are you from Nigeria or Nairobi?”asked an inquisitive attendant in a supermarket situated in Sharja, a city neighboring Dubai. “From Nairobi, but why the two?” I answered and asked at the same time. “Yes, I know Nairobi. There are many reports of thievery and corruption. I have not been there but we receive many visitors in our supermarket. We have to be careful with the people from the two countries.”  explained the attendant of Indian descent. This happened about 10 years ago, during one of the visits I have made to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Come Thursday 26th April 2007, I attended a Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) public seminar on investments in stocks and shares. The main speaker, Mr. James Murigu of Suntra stocks eloquently made the case for investment in shares. Indeed, it looks like it can be a strategy of creating wealth and at the same time removing business management from the hands of shaky entrepreneurs. This is even more appropriate given the thieving and corruption culture adopted by majority of Kenyans today, a worrying situation indeed, as explained by the speaker. Honestly, should we not castigate the KANU regime for entrenching the culture of get rich quick and making nonsense of work ethics as a value?  

Friday (I hear it is called Furahi Day) was again another day of being reminded of my sad memories of the Sharja visit. I attended the wedding of a friend’s son, somewhere in Karen. Unbelievably, the master of ceremony kept on reminding guests to be mindful of their mobile phones, handbags and other personal belongings right from the church service to the reception. “It does not matter who your neighbor is,” he kept saying. These Friday announcements again reminded me of having personally lost a Holy Bible right inside our own church, never to be recovered despite efforts by the church office.

What has indeed become of our country whose 80% of the population professes Christianity? Should we bury our heads in the sand as the country and its nationals continue to glide to top positions in the list of the world’s most corrupt? What of being treated suspiciously or labeled as thieves whenever we venture abroad? Interestingly, the more we excel negatively, the more the situation is seen as normal by the society. I tend to feel that there are some societal values that have been ignored or conveniently discarded as the country becomes more and more urbanized, or is it as unemployment continues being entrenched? 

Meanwhile, our communities had ways and means of controlling and upholding up-rightedness of its members. There used to be a government (remember Njuri Ncheke – the council of elders in Meru) which would institute corrective or disciplinary measures on wayward members of the society. Habitual thieves in the Kikuyu community for example used to be put in beehives, rolled down a ridge, the end result being death for the sins committed against the society. 

But what is happening today? It seems nobody cares about values any more. Even, going to church has become a ritual, where majority come out with nothing other than having socialized and showed off new outfits and latest vehicle models. Corruption and theft have become a norm. It does not matter the type of property. Owners of intellectual property are even at more risk from thieves. They will stop at nothing as they try to steal not only written ideas but also those in people’s heads. I have personally encountered this many times while in the course of duty. It is no wonder that those who choose to follow the straight path are seen as psychologically wanting by the larger society. 

Perhaps experts in values and ethics could attest to my views on the way forward. We must redefine our values as individuals and as a society for a start. But first, we must understand the factors that contribute to decay of our moral standards. Some people have no personal values to live by at all. Issues of trust, fairness, honesty and respect to other peoples’ property are non-existent to them. Others succumb to pressure to perform and seek to acquire wealth at whatever cost. This pressure may be from family, workmates or even peers. Still, others engage in unethical behaviour for luck of or little threat to punishment. The unavailability of opportunities further encourage normally upright people to change course.

I find lack of personal values as a major contribution to societal decay. A society without values reflects badly for any nation. Personal values are modeled by our upbringing. They are about what we perceive to be right or wrong based on teachings by our parents, school systems, church and even the social environment. The modern urbanized child for example has been exposed to substantial knowledge about such national vices as corruption and theft of property through the media. 

Then, no attempts by successful administrations have been directed towards punishing perpetual economic thieves.  At some stage these thieves have been treated as heroes and given more and more opportunities usually while enjoying public office. The law of the land on the other hand protects criminals who are presumed innocent until proven guilty. It has particularly been difficult to prove the guilt of people who have immense wealth, capable of buying their freedom even from those who supposedly uphold the rule of law. Mind you, the law keepers are part and parcel of the same society whose norms and values have now gone to the dogs.

The country has on the other hand been treated to political circus where people with no moral values continue seeking high office probably to regain opportunities which facilitate continuity with immorality of corruption and greed. Or is it in order to protect the ill gotten wealth? How does this reflect to Kenyans who have been exposed by the media to all this during their growth process? It is no wonder that management has become a major challenge in a country that has evolved into a thieving Nation.  

What then should be the way forward? I think we need to start all over gain. As Mr. James Murigu said “we must accept that we are a thieving Nation.”  There is urgency to redefine the moral code of conduct; reinforce all existing laws meant to control unethical behavior. Put behind bars all those involved in Goldenburg, Anglo-leasing and other ills afflicting our society. The least that should happen is to recover all assets acquired through theft. If nothing is done to national or is it international crooks, the moral values of the society will continue to decay even further. 

A country like Egypt went through periods of decadence many centuries ago. The Church in Rome openly experienced similar phenomena. Should we not find out how they overcame this and resumed normalcy?  We must reclaim our social order by all means. Management has become a challenged profession under the prevailing circumstances. 

Dr. Alfred Mutua, (government spokesman), are you there? I am a Kenyan who never dreams of ever migrating. I am however not proud of the situation the country has drifted into. I expected things to change when an office of ethics and governance was created. But, alas it became another audit office, which appears to have been discarded. 

Is it not time that this office is revived, but with the main aim of cleansing the country and re-inventing our social order? Certainly, the country has been going through admirable renovations in the recent past. But, for effective management of the renovations, the social order must be renovated too. The alternative is wasted efforts as we bury our heads in the sand.

Opinions expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Storymoja. The writer is a Management and Entrepreneurship Consultant in Nairobi. Email:


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