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Living With Corruption

This documentary is the real story about how Africa works; how the rich are getting richer and the poor are dying. Despite the billions of dollars in foreign aid pouring in, Africa is headed to oblivion. But it’s not war, famine and disease strangling this continent; its corruption. Corruption in Africa has become normal and accepted from the poorest slum-dweller to the top government official. In Kenya its only 5 years since a new government was voted on an Anti-Corruption ticket. Sorious Samura the narrator of this documentary is going to live in Kibera, a vast slum outside Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. From here he seeks to show you how corruption blights the life of millions of Africans and why the poor will remain poor.
Once you walk out of the main street in Kibera as we can see in the documentary, you step into the bottom of society. Here, desperation forces people to rip each other off just to get ahead. Samura is going to live with a family that lives deep in these alleys where robbery and violence is commonplace, for a week. Just like Kibera’s other one million inhabitants Eric and Janet Otieno live in a tiny shack. When Eric can find a job he is a casual laborer. Janet takes in laundry. They live from hand to mouth and corruption affects every aspect of their life. Janet tells Samura in the documentary that they have to bribe everywhere including police station, hospital even mortuary.
Its day one and Samura accompanies Janet to the hospital. Her baby Edgar is sick which as evident from the documentary is not shocking; raw sewage passes right in front of their shack. Janet arrives and is told there is a 24-hour wait. Janet like every other Kenyan knows she needs to bribe so she is seen today. As we can see in the documentary she gives one hundred shillings to the hospital receptionist’s middleman. This was all she had for food and hospital expenses. The receptionist’s middleman shares the spoil with the receptionist. Wages for workers is too low and hospital payments are irregular. This suits the staff to take bribes and earn a little more. Edgar is finally treated but Janet has no money as she heads home. It’s a 2 mile walk. She tells Samura in the documentary that they will have no lunch. She isn’t sure about supper either. Corruption literally takes away food from babies’ mouths in this country. Institutionalized corruption in Kenya means nothing gets done unless you bribe. This leaves millions of Kenyans without basic amenities.
On the next day Samura leaves with Eric as we can see in the documentary. Its 5:30 a.m and Eric needs to find a job at a nearby construction site. Janet has spent all the food money on bribe at the hospital. At the gate of the construction site, the guard takes away their ID for 50 shilling to be paid at the end of the day. He does it just because he can. He knows if one does not pay they cannot work. They get to the foreman and here comes the second bribe of the day. He too takes 50 shillings. Samura is lucky to be the last one to be taken. Eric has missed out and will go another day without work. As we can see in the documentary he is totally devastated. With a sick child at home he has no more options.
Samura joins the rest in carrying bags of cement as filmed in this documentary. He will be paid 150 shillings (about one sterling pound). But after paying off the guard at the gate and the foreman he is left with only 50 shillings-about 80 cents. If Eric has to bribe to get such a menial job and how is he supposed to get ahead in life when he loses 2 thirds of his pay to corruption? As Samura walks back home from the day’s hard work we can hear the sound made by his shoes in the documentary. He is walking on used polythene bags which contain raw feces. In Kibera these are popularly known as ‘flying toilets’. Slum-dwellers help themselves in these bags and throw them into the open sewer lines. There are no toilets in this part of the world. Samura has bought Eric’s family some dinner with the money he earned. At supper, Eric tells Samura it’s not just at work he has to bribe; even to get shelter the most basic amenity, you could find yourself in collision with the local authorities. Land in Kibera is owned by the government. But it’s controlled by unofficial landlords who demand a fee of 30000 shillings before you build a house. But as Eric tells this documentary even when you have complied with this you still need to bribe. One would still have to bribe the village elder, the chief and the District Officer.
The next day despite Janet and Eris warnings, Samura builds a shack of his own. As we can see in the documentary a couple of Eric’s friends are helping him with the construction. A few minutes into the job, a neighbor comes claiming part of the land is hers. This is a straight forward bribe because she is threatening to go to the authorities and the construction work will be forcibly stopped. As samura is not a local they will side with her. Peter, the fixer negotiates with the lady as we can see in the documentary. She demanded 8000 shillings but accepted 2000, about 30 dollars. About an hour later, someone calling himself ‘the chairman’ comes in. he is literally the big man as evident in this documentary. He promises to smooth things over with the chief, District Officer and the neighbors. As we can hear from the documentary he says he is the one who should be sough as the politician. He takes a bribe of 1000 shillings.
Three hours into construction Samura has already paid 3000 shillings in bribe as much as Eric makes in a month. A while later a man claiming to be the chief’s representative arrives despite the promises made by the chairman. He demands 2000 shillings but agrees to take 1000. Samura has had to bribe 3 times just to build a shack in one of Africa’s most notorious slums. For most people in this society it’s financially crippling. Unlike Samura, Eric did not have money to bribe when he built his shack. He tells this documentary that the chief has sent men severally demanding money. Every time he leaves for work Eric worries he might come back and find his shack demolished and his few belongings strewn outside. He wonders how even the chief who knew him since infancy would treat him like he didn’t know him at all. In Kibera a man’s shack could be destroyed because he cannot pay a 14 dollar bribe. That is what it means to live with corruption. 70% of urban dwellers in Sub-Saharan Africa live in slums and thanks to corruption they will continue to do so.
In Africa corruption is so normal that once one gets a little power it’s expected that they will use it to exploit those weaker than him. If you have the full force of the law behind you, it can be very profiteering. Samura notes in this documentary that to operate public service vehicles (matatu) in Kenya one has to routinely bribe the police. Steven, a matatu driver shares his frustrations with Samura. He says they sometimes take home as little as 100 shillings. He claims they pay 200 shillings to police at Nairobi’s GPO and a further 500 for the vehicle to be allowed into the city center. A failure to do this means Steve would be arrested and pays even more. He says the errand men who collect the bribes on behalf of the police disguise as newspaper vendors.
Corruption in Africa appears to have been endorsed by its leaders, Samura notes in the documentary. He says no one knows how much foreign aid comes in and where it’s spent because it still comes anyway. Sierra Leone has been receiving this budget support from western donors for over a decade. But as Samura observes in this documentary it has not worked. One again the country is on the brink of disaster. Samura goes to Sierra Leone where he will be living with Mama Queen and her 10 children. He is going to show us what happens when corruption is allowed to grow; it starts wars. As in Kenya low level corruption bites the poor the hardest. Mama Queen tells this documentary that only those who bribe receive electricity. She has to use a paraffin lamp because she is too poor. Like most Sierra Leoneans Mama Queen lost 2 relatives in Sierra Leone Civil war in the 90s. The root of this conflict Samura says grew in the classrooms of Sierra Leone. He recalls he was only a teenager when the corrupt government announced education was no longer a right but a privilege. After this, disillusioned schoolchildren were recruited as soldiers. Tens of thousands were murdered. Hundreds of others had their limbs amputated as we can see from the documentary. When the war ended in 2002, Samura notes hundreds of dollars of foreign aid came in. but where has the money gone. The situation looks even worse than it was before the civil war.
As we can see in the documentary Mama Queen gives her son Bala some money. Bala says their teachers always ask the children to bring them items such as toilet rolls, scented soap, sugarcane and flour. Additionally they ask for 3000 Leones. This is about I dollar, a significant sum for a poor family. Bala is getting the same lessons in corruption that Samura had in this country more than 10 years ago. This morning Samura heads to school with Bala to see for himself what is happening. Samura informs this documentary that a proportion of aid from World Bank and EU is given to Sierra Leone government to pay civil servants. Despite this teachers go without pay. Samuel Toure the headmaster of Bala’s school speaks to Samura. He says in order to receive his salary he has to bribe officials in the Ministry of Education. Everyone knows how important education but it’s polluted by corruption all the way from the ministry to the schoolchildren. The headmaster reveals to this documentary another shocking fact. When teachers give assignment to students, they receive bribes of 2000 or 3000 Leones to award free marks even when the child has not understood anything.
Samura observes that Africans are teaching their children to be corrupt. He regrets that when he was a prefect in school corruption was perfectly normal for him too. He notes that it was this corrupt education system and massive unemployment which sent millions of angry youth to the streets as soldiers in the civil war. In Sierra Leone 375000 children do not attend school. Today Bala is one of them as we can see in the documentary. He has been sent home for 3000 Leones to print mid-term examinations. Over the last 5 years Sierra Leone has received 118 million dollars from western donors. All donors support efforts to audit the spending of these monies but following it has proven impossible. In July 2007 so concerned was the British government that they considered freezing their financial support. Now they say they have found no evidence of fraud.
One of Samura’s old friends was the head of investigations at Sierra Leones Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). He tells this documentary that in Sierra Leone people in charge of foreign aid see it as an avenue to get rich. He says the commission tried to introduce asset declaration but it was rejected. What’s more, when he began to investigate on minister he was sacked and accused of corruption himself. The investigations died just like that. The president then demanded his son in law takes up the job at the ACC. 10 million dollars in aid later; according to the audit report by ACC they had convicted 12 of corruption. The report recommended that funding should be stopped. The former Lead Investigator criticizes the manner in which representatives of foreign development aid agencies do their work. Most of them just keep silent and steer clear of such controversies as corruption. Owing to this fact, about a ¼ of Africa’s GDP (148 billion dollars) is lost to corruption every year. As Samura notes in these documentary western countries aid and abet these crimes. Ex-Zambian President Fredrick Chiluba stole 46 million USD which was laundered through British law firms. Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko used private banks in Switzerland to stash away over 5 billion USD he stole over 30 years. Sani Abacha of Nigeria allegedly stole 5 billion dollars ¼ of which went through UK bank accounts.
In September 2007 a new president was elected in Sierra Leone. He has vowed to end corruption. Samura can only hope that he remains to be true to his word. Corruption is killing the country once again. But as Samura observes in this documentary corruption is not just an Africa phenomenon. The western countries must take blame for it too. Billions or corrupt dollars leave the continent for secret bank accounts in western countries. What comes back in foreign aid is destined to be corrupted again through poor partnerships between African states and western donors. As this continues, the gap between the rich keeps widening. Samura concludes that if Africa is to make poverty history in the continent then everyone must first work to end corruption.

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