There is a psychological disorder called the “Stockholm syndrome” that affects some people when they have suffered an abusive relationship. People who suffer from this disorder fall in love with their tormentors and will protect the villain from any harm, even from those who are trying to rescue the sufferer.

The syndrome was first observed in Stockholm, Sweden, after a criminal incidence in which a robber had entered a bank and taken four hostages whom they held for four days. Upon being released by the police, the victims became hostile to the police and refused to co-operate with the investigation or to testify against their captors. Instead they raised money for the defense and openly spoke out for the hostage takers.

The Stockholm syndrome answers very many questions in my mind about the very curious relationship we Kenyans have with corruption kingpins. It is an abusive relationship in which we are held captive and are being abused by a few people who have stolen our money. Rather than become angry about this injustice, some of us cherish this relationship and are ready to fight other Kenyans to protect the abusers.

It is a phenomenon we see every day. Even with the clearest evidence of crime, there are many Kenyans who will not accept the facts against corruption kingpins. They will defend them against every accusation and will, where possible, do everything in their power to help them escape from any accountability.

One explanation psychologists have offered for this strange relationship between villains and their victims is that the victims suffer from very low self-esteem. It is people who feel they are worthless who accept to be treated in a cruel manner and believe that the abusers are right to treat them that way. It is low self-esteem that is cultivated by the abuser in order to convince the victim of the hopelessness of his situation. The abuser paints himself to the victim as a super human who has power over the victim in a reality in which the victim has no choice but to surrender.

In respect of corruption, these kingpins have convinced many Kenyans that they have abilities that the average Kenyan cannot ever hope to acquire. They portray their crimes as acts of ingenuity and when one challenges their actions their common defense is that their accusers are jealous of their achievements.

One of the reasons why we are unable to get rid of corruption in our society is because we have too many of us accepting this abusive relationship we have with our corruption kingpins. Rather than get angry at the crimes they are committing against us and our children, we believe that the current reality is ordained and we are meant to suffer the abuse that these reprobates subject us to.

This is cemented when the reprobates indulge us to occasional acts of “kindness” using the same money they have stolen from us. A healthy retainer paid to a human rights defender, a gift handed to a judge, a contribution given to a clergyman or a donation made to a community project is accepted as evidence of the honourability of the criminal and their pre-eminence over the average Kenyan.

Watch in awe

But it happens more often in our private social lives. Even when we are not receiving any benefit from these criminals, we think they are very smart to have made the money they have and we watch in awe as they splash our money to impress us by living large and acting like super human beings.

We hear of receptionists who ride to work in helicopters and we are wonder struck by the magnificence of the display of wealth. It is incredible how we cheer those who steal our milk, remove all the fat to churn butter for their children, then come back and donate the watery skimmed milk to us as famine relief.

Participants during the National Anti-Corruption Conference that was held at Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi last month.


How we came to suffer from such low self-esteem is a long story for another day but we have to do something about it if we shall ever achieve our vision of a corruption free Kenyan society. Corruption is here to stay for so long as we continue to labor under the Stockholm syndrome and protect and celebrate our abusers and those who steal both our present and the future of our children.

Apart from encouraging these reprobates to continue stealing from us and enthralling us with their degenerate lifestyles, the sympathy we are showing to these debauchees not only invites others to do likewise but also totally demoralizes those we have entrusted with the task of bringing these criminals to account.

Sworn allegiance

First we must call these reprobates for what they are. We need to come up with nomenclature that captures their criminal activities, their lack of accountability and their sworn allegiance to each other. Usually they are known by their own definition of themselves. In Italy, they called themselves “Cosa Nostra” or “Mafia” because of their code of silence. In Russia, they called themselves “Thieves-in-Law” because of their control of the law enforcement agencies. But I think we cannot flatter them by using their own terminology. We should name them ourselves and unflatteringly.

Secondly, we must call their crimes correctly. Let’s stop this talk of “economic crime” and “corrupt transaction”. It is stealing public money, not “corruption”. It is public conmanship, not “abuse of office”, or “conflict of interest”. Many words we are using to describe the criminal activities these public con men are engaged in just makes their crimes sound clever and sophisticated. There is nothing clever or sophisticated about taking a bribe or stealing public money. You just need a criminal mind and a loose moral fibre.

Then we have to drop the courtesies we have become accustomed to as a society when dealing with thieves of public funds. It is possibly the product of our low self-esteem that we are so diplomatic whenever we address ourselves to these scoundrels, especially when they are powerful. Let’s call them out without fear. Let’s name and shame them. Let’s challenge everyone to account for themselves, their wealth and their activities.

This should be combined with a whistle-blowing culture. All corrupt activities are conducted in our face. There is always a patriotic Kenyan who hears or sees these crimes as they are being carried out. The measure of patriotism should be whistle-blowing.

If all patriotic Kenyans decide to call out all the corrupt transactions they witness, there will be no corruption in Kenya.

This is not just something for bank managers or estate agents or Kenyans in managerial positions. Drivers, waiters, bank tellers, court clerks, and many other executive assistants are actually the best witnesses of corrupt transactions as they are being put together and executed. We must all start blowing the whistle on corrupt transactions as we now do on terrorist activities, particularly because the former is the more dangerous.

Lastly, we must refuse to share our society with thieves and be shameless about it. We must ostracise them, their wives and their children. Would you socialise with a drug lord? Would you let your wife or husband socialise with the wife or husband of a drug lord? Why do we entertain the socialisation with those who are stealing our present and the future of our children?

For example, there are very many corrupt public officers who are educating their children in schools that they can only afford through theft. The other parents think this is acceptable without realising that they are the ones paying that school fees.

We need to drop the diplomacy and demand that these public servants account for how they are paying millions of shillings per term in school fees yet they earn a couple of hundred thousand shillings a month.