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Will Kenya's Attempt To Root Out Graft Take Hold?

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Will Kenya's Attempt To Root Out Graft Take Hold?

Africa

Will Kenya's Attempt To Root Out Graft Take Hold?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In Kenya, government investigators are tackling their country's culture of corruption. In recent weeks, two Cabinet ministers have been forced out because of suspicious property deals, and police arrested the mayor of Nairobi over an alleged land fraud involving a city cemetery.

NPR's Frank Langfitt begins his report in that graveyard.

FRANK LANGFITT: This is the center of Kenya's most recent political scandal. It's 120 acres of parched, windswept grassland south of Nairobi. The city government spent three-and-a-half million bucks on it to turn it into a cemetery. There's just a couple of problems.

Investigators say it's worth a small fraction of that price. The other thing is, if you go down two or three feet from where I'm just standing, you hit bedrock. In other words, there's not actually any room to bury people here.

Mr. PLO LUMUMBA (Director, : My name is PLO Lumumba. I'm the director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission.

LANGFITT: Lumumba is leading the investigation into the cemetery. He says there's more energy to fight corruption these days. For one thing, Kenya has a brand-new constitution which provides more checks and balances, that makes it easier to go after dirty officials in what for decades had been a one-party state. For another, Lumumba says, taxpayers are just sick of being ripped off.

Mr. LUMUMBA: People are getting angry, and people are saying that if we don't eliminate this scourge from our midst, then we are done.

LANGFITT: What has corruption cost this country?

Mr. LUMUMBA: Huge. Monumentally. Ninety percent of our problems have germinated from the bed of corruption: our roads, our infrastructure, our hospitals, our education system. Today, I dare say that we would be in the same class as South Korea, Malaysia and the other Asian Tigers, if we had proceeded on the course that we were following in the mid-60s.

LANGFITT: Francis Macharia is a Nairobi businessman. And this morning, he's reading in an outdoor cafe by a waterfall at one of the city's upscale malls. Macharia says corruption is part of daily life here.

Take the police, who loom by the side of the roads, pulling people over for no reason other than to shake them down.

Mr. FRANCIS MACHARIA (Businessman): You go to any police station right now, there's a corruption-free zone poster on it. And, please, how much money is exchanging hands there? I have cops who live in a much better house than I do, and their salary is what - $500?

LANGFITT: But Macharia is encouraged by the recent crackdown.

Mr. MACHARIA: If you look at what is happening in the courts this year, it has really improved. And if this is an indication of where we are going, corruption will be a thing of the past in the next couple of years.

LANGFITT: Not everyone is nearly so optimistic. Carol Asuko is a travel consultant and a skeptic when it comes to anti-corruption campaigns.

Ms. CAROL ASUKO (Travel Consultant): I think we normally go through phases in this country. There's a time when everybody is all out saying no more corruption and we are arresting people.

LANGFITT: Asuko says then, after a flurry of activity, cases languish in court, the accused go free and the public loses interest.

Ms. ASUKO: We only hope that this is not a phase anymore, that this is going to be a way of life. If you are touched by a scandal, or whatever, you have to step down and let investigations take place.

LANGFITT: What do you think will happen?

Ms. ASUKO: I hate to say this, but I have a feeling that we'll go back to normal.

LANGFITT: And normal is not good. Last week, Transparency International - the global watchdog group - released its annual ranking of countries based on public perception of corruption.�Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore tied for first place. Kenya was 156 out of 178 countries, with a long way to go.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Nairobi.

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