Kenyans reportedly pay an average of 16 bribes each month

Ben Curtis/AP
  • Residents of cities in Kenya pay up to 16 bribes per month.
  • Ethnic Somali Muslims claim they are “second class citizens.”

Residents living in cities in the East African country of Kenya pay an average of 16 bribes per month, with locals dubbing the country “ya kitu kidogo,” which translates to “the land of the little something” – a homeland for bribes, Transparency International reports.

In the city of Nairobi, those paying bribes claim the main reason for bribes is the police: “If you look at the police who are meant to protect them, they just arrest them to extort cash,” said activist Abdullahi Mohamed.

Many of those living in Kenya’s packed cities are ethnic Somalis. Six residents of the Eastleigh suburb of Nairobi claim Friday nights usually follow a pattern: police arrest ethnic Somalis and threaten them with jail unless they pay a bribe.

“They take so much money, … you see cars from all police stations in Nairobi converging here [Eastleigh],” Mohamed said. The mostly-Muslim area appears to targeted because the population lacks political representation and power to repel the extortion, with ethnic Somalis living in the region describing themselves as “neglected” and “second-class citizens.”

Transparency International
Transparency International

Two police officers freely admitted that they’re more interested in getting rich than combating crime. One officer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The little amount that you are paid as salary cannot [support] you and your family… if somebody gives you some amount, somewhere … you have to take the money and then you forget about work.”

The problem with police corruption goes further than citizens paying bribes, though, as the ability to pay off police brings in criminals wishing to buy their freedom. One officer claimed a “criminal can come, do anything that they want, they go free. You’ll pay and you go free.”

Arrests of anti-corruption activists has spiked in recent years, one example being 33-year-old former journalist and Eastleigh resident Boniface Mwangi.

“I grew up in Eastleigh, and every cop who gets hired wants to go and work there because when you go to Eastleigh, every single [ethnic] Somali is a walking ATM,” Mr. Mwangi said.

Additionally, residents have accused police of being ‘in the pockets’ of some politicians. Mwangi described a protest against the seizure of a school playground – a site for children that was going to be sold for land, with the buyer having connections to the deputy president. The police arrived and broke up the protest, protected the landowner, and fired tear-gas at young students.

Transparency International
Transparency International

“They tear-gassed innocent kids who only wanted to access their playground,” said Mwangi. “Other countries have mafia. In Kenya the mafia have a country.”

The government denies corruption, but the figures from Transparency International’s 2014 index show Kenya ranked 145 out of 174. For comparison, the United Kingdom is at position 14 and Syria is ranked 159.

“Countries at the bottom [of the corruption index] need to adopt radical anti-corruption measures in favour of their people. Countries at the top of the index should make sure they don’t export corrupt practices to underdeveloped countries,” said Jose Ugaz, chair of Transparency International.

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