A new anti-corruption strategy: A bottom-up approach in Kenya’s fight against graft

Kenya has been grappling with corruption for decades, which has hindered the country’s economic growth and development. The government has implemented various measures to combat corruption, including the establishment of anti-corruption agencies and the prosecution of individuals involved in corrupt practices.

Every president since independence has declared to tackle the issue, but progress has been slow and corruption remains a major challenge for the country. Surveys and index on the country’s progress in combating corruption confirm this. Corruption Perceptions Index 2022 ranks Kenya at position 123 out of the 180 countries assessed, with a score of 32. This score is a reflection of high levels of corruption in the public sector.

Prominent form of corruption

This was a 7 percent improvement from a score of 30 points in 2021. The CPI uses a scale of 0-100, where 100 is the cleanest and 0 is the most corrupt. Although Kenya’s score is equal to the Sub-Saharan average score of 32, the score is 11 points below the global average score of 43.

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the body mandated to combat corruption and economic crime in Kenya published a national survey in 2021 that reported bribery (50.3%) as the most prominent form of corruption and unethical conduct witnessed in public offices. This was followed by favouritism at 22.9 percent and delays in service provision at 21.6 percent.

The same survey reveals that most citizens (61.7 percent) who reported corruption as the main problem facing the country, did nothing to support the fight against corruption in the country with majority of them actively engaging in bribery. According to behavioural economists, this is not surprising as evidence shows that citizens paradoxically approve of corruption that serve their personal interest.

With the acceptability and willingness to engage being highest when a citizen is at fault. However, behavioural experiments conducted in Kenya also show that citizens avoid self-serving corrupt opportunities when reminded of potential harm to others.

Public education campaigns

The results of the experiment are promising and suggest that citizens can be motivated to avoid self-serving corrupt opportunities when reminded of the potential harm to others. This finding has important implications for policymakers and anti-corruption advocates, who can use this knowledge to design interventions that effectively discourage corruption.

For example, public education campaigns could highlight the negative consequences of corruption on society as a whole, rather than just focusing on individual punishments for corrupt behaviour. Overall, these findings suggest that promoting awareness of the harm caused by corruption can be an effective tool in reducing its prevalence and impact on society. Furthermore, these approaches are inexpensive and high potentially impactful. 

This far, most research on approaches to combating corruption focuses on top-down approach, often legislating sanctions and punishments. Emphasis on eradication of violation of principal agent relationship by public office holders who act on their own self-interest is based on chapter six of the constitution on leadership and integrity.

While a top-down approach to combating corruption through legislation and punishment is certainly important, it is equally important to address the root causes of corruption. This requires a more comprehensive bottom-up approach that takes into account the social, economic, and cultural factors that contribute to corrupt behaviour.

Ultimately, a multi-faceted approach that combines legal sanctions with broader societal change is necessary to effectively tackle the problem of corruption.

Weaponization of anti-corruption

The current government’s anti-corruption strategy targets to end the weaponization and politicisation of anti-corruption efforts by allowing the relevant institutions to freely exercise the independence given to them by the Constitution.

Key among the plans is to grant financial independence to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the police, to end their reliance on the Office of the President, to promote accountability and openness in the management of public affairs, to institutionalise open governance in all state organs and agencies, and publish an annual State of Openness Report.

Although the top-down approach is great, the recent findings from behavioural experiments show that this approach will not get the country to levels of Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand. The three countries topped the 2022 corruption perception index, with 90, 87, and 87 points respectively.

Instead, the approach should strive to promote a culture of honesty and transparency, where citizens are encouraged to report corruption and hold those in power accountable. This can be achieved through education and awareness campaigns that emphasize the negative impact of corruption on society as a whole.

Additionally, stronger legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms can serve as a deterrent for those who may be tempted to engage in corrupt practices. Investing in education programs that teach societal harm of corruption from a young age can help cultivate a culture of integrity and discourage corrupt behaviour in the future.

By implementing these measures, a society where corrupt activities are less likely to occur and those who engage in them are held accountable for their actions can be possible.

The author Darmi Jattani is an Economist @DJattani 

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