Kenyan activist launches anti-bribe website
NAIROBI, Kenya—One Kenyan had to pay a $24 bribe to a traffic cop for speeding — but then successfully argued that $8 of it should be returned so he could have something left to pay bribes farther down the road.
Another resident said policemen only released her husband from a traffic stop after she hopped out of the car while breastfeeding her child.
“We wasted about 10 min and I became furious as it was already past 9 p.m. at night. I was breastfeeding and came out with my baby still on the breast and without shoes,” she wrote. “The traffic officer was so embarrassed.”
Requests for bribes are so frequent that Kenyans like to trade their favorite tips for dealing with them, and now one man fed up with the country’s pervasive corruption has launched a website where people can share their stories.
Already the site has collected more than 300 stories in less than three weeks, said its founder, Anthony Ragui.
A spokesman for Kenya’s government-funded Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission said officials would welcome the information being gathered online at www.ipaidabribe.or.ke.
“The fight against corruption calls for concerted efforts from everyone. This kind of initiative is something that would be most welcomed but it is important the information is carefully analyzed,” said Nicholas Simani. “It is a noble initiative.”
Almost every Kenyan has a bribery story to tell. Some are punchlines to jokes about the country’s corruption. Others, like officials taking bribes to grant licenses to dangerous drivers, have more serious consequences.
Ragui, the website’s founder, returned to his native Kenya in 2007 after working for the American bank Wells Fargo.
“I saw a system that works, where you pay your taxes and get services in return,” said the 37-year-old, his eyes shining behind his glasses. “I came back and everyone was complaining about corruption here. But no one was doing anything about it. So I decided to take the first step.”
Ragui’s website uses software from an Indian site — also called ipaidabribe — that has collected information on more than 15,000 bribes since it was put up in 2010.
The Kenyan site, which Ragui and some web designers are funding themselves, is the first spin-off from the Indian site. But T.R. Raghunandan, who administers the Indian site, said he had had inquiries from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Russia, Nepal and the Philippines.
The software blocks out the names of payers or receivers of bribes to avoid the service being abused. But Ragui hopes the information he collects will identify where and why bribes are most commonly paid.
The site has three main sections. One part collects details on bribes paid. Another part records ways people have avoided paying bribes. And a final part asks readers to send in positive stories about honest officials or services freely and quickly provided.
“I want to show the good as well as the bad,” Ragui said. “I want to create competition between departments and regions, so that leaders want to be rated in the top five and not the bottom five. Not everyone in the system is corrupt.”
Kenya is ranked 154th out of 182 nations by anti-corruption campaigners Transparency International. Requests for bribes are so frequent that Kenyans like to trade their favorite tips for dealing with them.
Environmentalist Brian Harding, a former Nairobi resident, said he kept a stack of tea bags in the car to give out whenever the inevitable request came to buy police ‘a cup of tea.’
But more frequently, the police get their way. Ben Loyseau was stopped last year for speeding although the police speed gun was broken. When the shirtless Loyseau challenged his fine, he said they fined him $5 instead for driving “naked.”
Stories on Ragui’s website also detail police confiscating driving licenses and demanding payment for their return, or describe police asking for money to blame an innocent party for an accident.
“This traffic cop wanted 300 shillings because I hit the car behind me while reversing so as to charge the other guy with the offense,” one entry read.
Ragui says humorous stories often hide the fact that even petty corruption costs lives. Criminals pay bribes to walk free and drivers pay to get their licenses, then cause fatal accidents.
Kenya’s driving test requires participants to drive a short distance, often just few hundred feet (100 meters) and then push a toy car around on a board with their fingers, calling out ‘checking mirrors or ‘indicating’ to instructors.
When Alice Leslie did her test, she said applicants who went through a driving school passed no matter how badly they did but much better drivers who did their tests independently from a driving school failed.
She paid a driving school to book her test but lost control of the car going around a corner and again by hitting a speed bump.
She passed anyway and was told: “You’ll be a good driver one day.”