When I visited Kenya in December 2010, my friends and I were stopped by the police at an intersection on New Years Eve. There were three Americans and three Kenyans in the car.
The police told us to get out of the car, and said we had too many passengers to be driving (which was true). They then asked if we were American, and we said we were.
Then the policeman said something I have never heard before. He told us if we paid him a thousand shillings (approximately $12), he would look the other way and let us go.
I was appalled. This policeman was not going to let us go unless we paid our way out of it. Essentially, he wanted a bribe.
One of the people I was with rolled up two $1 American bills and handed it to the policeman (who thought there was more). He then let us go.
As we left, I was told that corruption and bribes were a way of life in Kenya.
This is a crazy concept to me. I know that America is not perfect, and surely there are bribes and corruption taking place. But I have never seen it done so outright in the open- so matter of fact.
Apparently, Kenya is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. According to the Washington Post, there are only 28 more countries more corrupt than it. Everyday citizens are faced with paying fees to small bureaucrats in order to make life easier. And until recently, citizens could only complain amongst themselves.
But times have changed.
Now, Kenyans can share their experience with bribery online at I Paid a Bribe. The website launched last month.
Antony Ragui, the Web site’s 36-year-old founder, was inspired by the Arab Spring and the activism surrounding it, and decided to begin a movement of his own, according to the Washington Post.
According to the article, Ragui is calling this the “Bribe Spring.”
“People are fed up with corruption and the government. The real goal of I Paid a Bribe is to harness the collective energy of Kenyans. I am trying to create a network of Kenyans who are anti-corruption-minded,” Ragui told the Washington Post.
According to the article, the “site is divided into three sections. One part collects stories about bribes paid, listing the amount as well as where and when the incident occurred. Another section collects details about people who refused to pay bribes. And the third provides a forum for instances of honesty, when a bribe was not required.”
Having witnessed the corruption first hand, I must say I was appalled with it, especially how matter of fact it seemed. My friends from Kenya understood what was happening and said we have to pay them something or they will not let us leave. Luckily, we were able to trick them and not give them the amount they desired.
Still, the situation did not sit well with me. It does not sit well with the citizens of Kenya. That is why I commend them for finally standing up and voicing what is happening. The bureaucracies are able to get away with bribery- and make extra cash for themselves- because no one has stood up to them or held them accountable.
This website will change that. This website will publicly tell the truth about what is happening in Kenya and how common place bribery really is. It will begin to hold the bureaucracies accountable for their actions. And it will hopefully spark a movement that will bring about change and end bribery in Kenya.