By Gilbert O Kenya
I happen to personally know the richest receptionist in Kenya today: Fredrick Sagwe Onyancha.
We went to the same primary boarding school (Bobembe) and back then, the guy was one of the most humble humans I have ever met in my entire life.
I was shocked to read in the papers that he now uses choppers from the city center to his house, in order to avoid the heavy Nairobi traffic jam, after having looted hundreds of millions from the public health insurer – NHIF!
I also read that, in a span of less than five years, my former schoolmate bought 8 posh houses worth 20 million each, besides acquiring top of the range fuel guzzlers, which include but not limited to a V8 and the latest Range Rover model!
Last year, I bumped into one of his cousins that I used to live with in Kayole in the early 2000s. Sagwe even used to visit us once in a while. By then, he lived in his late dad’s humble abode in Buruburu.
When we met, his cousin told me that, “Sagwe is now a very senior person at NHIF!” Hardly could I suspect that the man was a “senior” receptionist!
In Kenya, it would appear, seniority is measured by the amount of money one has been able to accumulate through either fair or unfair means.
This particular NHIF case has got me thinking really hard lately. I have been asking myself a number of questions:
Are most Kenyans potential big thieves, only that they’re yet to get a chance to steal huge amounts of money?
Is the shameless appetite for public money ingrained in our DNA?
I think, it’s NOT.
It all has to do with the very wrong and despicable traditional mindset that we’ve inadvertently inculcated in our people, over the years.
We’ve gradually made looting public coffers a very lucrative and attractive affair, until all and sundry now jostle for positions where they can be in charge of some public fund!
This culture of wantonly stealing from the poor taxpayers can be largely blamed on the fact that about 99.9%, if not all, big money thieves always get off the hook with a mere slap on the wrist.
With cunning criminal lawyers like Cliff Ombeta and his gang, facing a lazy or corrupt government investigative and prosecution side, what do you expect?
Common folks, who happen to be the biggest casualties of the unprecedented looting going on in this country, are also partly to blame.
They’re in the habit of adoring and worshipping big public money thieves, even when they know very well that the money these thieves keep splashing around is stolen from the exchequer!
I am a keen listener of the usual banter in the streets and villages. It’s not uncommon to hear poor villagers having a chitchat on who has lately become filthy rich from their area.
“Do you know Sagwe, the son of so and so? That guy has money like a problem! He owns 8 villas, and drives a V8 and a Range rover!” Says a villager whose toes are protruding out of his torn shoes.
The admiration in the man’s eyes, as he talks animatedly, is palpable and hard to conceal.
” Do you know that he was mentioned in the NHIF scandal? The guy is very generous! Yule ni mwanaume bwana! Yeye hutoa kakitu. If you are lucky to get audience with him and you explain your problem, consider yourself sorted.”
Mr. Torn shoe will go on and on…
And this kind of stupidity and ignorance is our undoing.
It’s sad that, in this country, big money thieves are adored and revered to an extent that they’re considered heroes in their backyards, instead of being shunned and treated as pariahs.
Those who have been mentioned in mega scandals, involving millions or billions of taxpayers money, are even more feared and respected here. We even defend them as “mwizi wetu!”
In countries like China, they are hanged or shot in a public arena, while in Japan they commit suicide due to the immense shame that will hang over their families, like an ominous cloud, for generations.
Our political leaders have been unable to slay the dragon of mega corruption, 55 years down the line, after independence, for obvious reasons: their ilk are some of the biggest beneficiaries of mega corruption heists that have happened in Kenyan history.
So long as we keep adoring and worshipping people who have amassed questionable wealth, the fight against corruption is far from being even halfway won. We’re our own enemies!
It’s obvious that most of us are potential big thieves of public money, who are only waiting for the right chance to present itself.
We need serious introspection and a huge paradigm shift in the way the masses view corruption, if the fight against corruption is to bear even a single fruit.