I was one of the many young people from all over the World who attended the Transparency Caucus night organized by the One Young World Foundation via twitter. Thank heavens for technology because all the way from Nairobi, Kenya, I was not only able to see the thoughts of my peers and elders concerning transparency but I also must say that I had an aha moment for sure.
Srilatha Baltiwala, a woman I greatly admire, a respected feminist and scholar defines empowerment as a process of transforming the relations of power between individuals and social groups and shifting social power in three critical ways; by first challenging the ideologies that justify social inequality such as gender, caste and ethnicity. Secondly by changing prevailing patterns of access to and control over economic, natural and intellectual resources and thirdly by transforming the institutions and structures that reinforce and sustain existing power structures such as the family, state, market, education, and media.
You may be wondering just how transforming the relations between individuals and social groups ties in with issues pertaining to transparency and more so eradication of corruption and so I will go back to One Young World’s transparency caucus night to explain the connection. One striking thing about the discussion as relayed to the rest of us via twitter updates is that many young people feel that there is so much focus on the ‘hardware’ that is supposed to transform our institutions and societies but very little focus on the software, and the ‘software’ being us, the people that make up these societies.
The tragedy of our generation is that we focus on the tangible and neglect the intangible. So we have strategy that leverages on technology that enables citizens to amplify their voices in the demand for accountability and transparency, huge banners in front of public offices declaring them a ‘corruption free zone’, like in my own country Kenya, organize seminars, conferences and workshops to sensitize the masses about the ills of corruption and how to tackle it e.t.c. . All very important, but the values of dignity, self-respect, respect for others, respect for the law, are singularly lacking. The result: we abound in law, but fail to espouse its spirit.
Nothing will ever stop a bad leader from breaking a good law, and nothing will also stop citizens from breaking good laws too if their values system as a nation is either non-existent or in urgent need of evaluation and fixing. It is estimated that a $ 1trillion is paid in bribes every single year that is according to Robert Barring of Transparency International. At 23 years of age, I together with the other 43 million people who make up the nation of Kenya owe the international donor community approximately $300. The painful truth is the loans issued to my country mostly for use in developmental issues cannot be accounted for but that notwithstanding, in each budget cycle, almost 40% of our budget is used to settle these debts, at the expense of pressing development issues.
Is it not time for us as a society to begin having discussions as to why corruption, bribery et al still continue to thrive even though most of us know full well that it us who end up suffering in the end. Reforming the hardware is absolutely pertinent but the biggest question is who or what operates the hardware? If its technology for example, it is easily manipulable, after all, it is man-made and hence the same people who made it can use it to fulfill their own needs.
Like Srilatha Baltiwala, I am interested in empowerment that transforms institutions and more so the institution of men and women of this Earth. We desperately need a paradigm shift, for societies all over the World to question their values, their beliefs or lack of and how exactly they contribute to the rot in our society with regards to transparency and accountability matters. I personally come from a continent that has some of the best laws in writing but all these have amounted to nothing more than blank ink written on white paper in the hands of bad leadership and a citizenry that is part indifferent, part ignorant and part lacking in shared values and virtues.
‘You do not give birth to a baby and leave a hyena to take care of it’, that is an African proverb that aptly describes our approach in trying to ensure a corruption free and transparent society. Where are the people, how have they been wired by the system, their upbringing, society, socialization and public offices? Even as we appeal to the why people do what they do, it is even more important to understand why they do what they do aka solving the problem by understanding the cause and not just treating the symptoms.
Finally, this is not an attack on the noble initiatives being spearheaded by various anti-corruption and pro transparency and accountability institutions, some of which I have taken part in but rather a call for a paradigm shift, a call for new thinking and approach as I see absolutely no reason why both approaches to tackling this problem cannot be used together.