How Kenya sold her soul to cartels

We Kenyans love to apportion blame. If your kids are too dumb to pass a basic exam, you blame their favourite musician Prezzo for distracting them. If a young woman refuses to do anything meaningful with her life other than investing in expensive weaves and skin lightening creams, we blame her sponsors.

If your daughter starts twerking aimlessly, we blame television. If your car breaks down upon encountering a crater masquerading as a pothole on a national highway, you blame the politician you fawned over and voted in during the last election.

If your wife starts rationing sex, wearing head wraps and spewing bible verses, you blame her charismatic pastor. If your once sensible husband drinks all night and screws his liver and croaks, you blame the relatives for bewitching him.

For Nairobians, there is lots of blame to pass around. Especially if one claims to be middle class. The angst-filled Kenyan middleclass is amorphous. Anyone who drives a car or thinks they ought to be driving can recognise Kim Kardashians’ bottom in an identification parade and has a Twitter account qualifies as middle class.

Our shared frustration is a diminishing salary that hardly stretches the month and there is always someone out there who invested 100 bob in a football bet and came out a millionaire rubbing it in.

Hard work does not seem to return its highly advertised rewards. Honesty turns out to be a vice that keeps one in the pauper ranks and if you have never bribed before, it because you probably could not afford the price of convenience.

At least in Nairobi, we know who to blame for the overwhelming frustration of our arrested personal development. It is the city hall cartels. Even the governor says as much and the politicians would totally agree.

The cartels are composed of mystery nobodies who seem to have a hand in everyone’s misery. No one knows them but everyone in authority seems to be on their payroll. They are masters of scandal. Devising new ways to fleece the general public is what keeps them up at night.

Kenya is a country run by cartels, who operate with the audacity of mosquitos, dictating the pace, setting everyone up for another grumpy day. They operate in small shadowy teams, thrive on risk and never snooze in the face of opportunity. They are so efficient that they have devolved their functions to every part of country. Not one scandal goes down in this country without their blessings.

And they are everywhere.

The only thing that Kenya produces faster than financial fiascos is cartels to blame. Banking cartels, political cartels, youth fund cartels, land cartels, fuel cartels, education cartels, sports cartel, poaching cartels and the old faithful drug cartels who vanish into thin air in broad day light leaving the police with the hard work of destroying evidence.

The cartels maintain a large labour force and at times it seems like everyone in public service works for them. The dirty work is outsourced to the small fish, the foot soldiers kept ignorant and expendable.

They are the easy links to cut and thrown to the angry mob to satiate their thirst for justice. Every public servant starts their tenure with good intention but sooner rather than later, they fall short and blame it on the cartels.


The lifeline of every cartel operation is corruption. All cartel dons understand that deep down, Kenyans tolerate corruption as a way of life. It is a cultural thing. Everyone can be corrupted and it is only a question of degrees of separation.

The culture of stealing and pilfering public funds cuts across all tribes. One and all have a price point and in that enabling environment, cartels strive. The fight against corruption in Kenya, is pure rhetoric.

Cartels in this country are so profitable in their operations that they should be studied in business school. I suppose cartels thrive because they are better business men who make no pretence at observing ethics. No one or anything stands in the way of a good paid day.

They pursue profits relentlessly and by all means necessary. They use hard cash to subdue the stubbornly principled. Or violence to silence the snitches and the whistle-blowers. Fear works wonders. We love life and most people, given a choice will make a large compromise, stash some cash, plead innocence and blame the cartel.

But their most admirable quality is that they feel nothing for criticism nor have a shred of shame in their bones. No jail cell can hold them in. No court wants to get on their wrong side. It is smarter to take the money and weather the scandal. Who needs a clean reputation when you can be dirty and still smell rich?