John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Guest Post: IPaidABribe in India and Kenya

by John Campbell
March 8, 2012


This is a guest post by Asch Harwood, the Council on Foreign Relations Africa program research associate. Follow him on Twitter at @aschlfod.

My attention was recently called to a neat online anti-corruption tool— (h/t Debbie McCoy). As the name implies, the original founders set up a crowdsourcing website to report and track corruption in India.

It is probably too soon to judge whether the site has had an impact on corruption (an oft cited success is an invitation to the founders from the Indian transport commissioner to brief her staff on corruption in the transportation department).

However, despite the difficulties of actually measuring corruption due to its illicit nature, Ipaidabride has successfully gathered a wealth of data, including fairly concrete numbers of how much money is going towards bribes. Most striking is that the police demand bribes almost three to one over other public agencies.

What does this have to do with Africa? A group in Kenya has also set up an website. It has received far fewer reports than its Indian predecessor, although it was only established just over a year ago. Nevertheless, of the 252 reports of paid bribes, 56 percent went to the police. This figure corroborates a Transparency International study from 2009 that asserts that the Kenyan police is not only the most corrupt agency in Kenya, but also in East Africa.

I really hope this catches on, in Kenya as well as other parts of continent. The challenge will not only be getting the word out that this resource exists but showing people that reporting their experiences is worth the time. This means addressing a culture of impunity by holding perpetrators accountable. Without it, people likely will become more apathetic, akin to recent findings that knowledge of a politician’s corruption leads voters to withdraw from participating. Or even worse, they will lash out, as has been the case in Nigeria.

That the police, supposedly there to “protect and serve,” are so deeply involved, in both India and Kenya (not to mention Nigeria), highlights the challenges of overcoming such impunity.

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by Maduka

    All the anti-bribery websites in the World will not change a thing unless the conditions of service for the police (at least in Nigeria) are drastically improved.

    Bribery is not only a symptom of poverty but of insecurity. If a public official understands that his/her take home pay is not sufficient to cover his /her needs (pay the children’s school fees, pay the bills, cover the rent), then no force on earth can stop him/her from taking bribes.

    I take a couple of drinks occasionally with Nigerian policemen and they tell me that they are poorly paid. (This was corroborated by El-Rufai’s discovery that a police constable was paid as little as N7,000 or a little less than $50 a month in 2006!).

    Since then, the conditions of service haven’t improved considerably and I suspect that a similar situation exists in Kenya and India.

    A few weeks ago, the Nigerian police chief directed that all roadside checkpoints be removed. This directive was openly flouted because (a) the check points are an important source of extra income and (b) I hear that police salaries have not been paid in a timely manner.

    I think we should concentrate on improving conditions of service for police and civil servants.

  • Posted by Constance J. Freeman

    I lived and worked in Kenya for 15 years out of the last two decades, first at the US Embassy and then as Regional Director for the Canadian IDRC. During that time, especially in the early 1990s and then just after the epic elections of 2002, there were endless exposes of corruption of all kinds — big and small. Notable among these is Wrong’s book “Its Our Turn to Eat.” The Kenyan Government basically just ignores these exposes and goes about its business.
    Under the current coalition government, class rather than ethnic divisions are the critical markers — the government elites are set upon self enrichment while they have the opportunity and basically ignore anything which gets in their way.

    I believe that tools such as IPAIDABRIBE continue to be important tools in changing people’s mindset — but to expect rapid results is to court disappointment.

  • Posted by aharwood


    Thanks for your insight. The hope is that lots of little innovations like these will chip away at a culture of impunity.


  • Posted by aharwood


    I couldn’t agree with you more.


  • Posted by Maduka

    I really need to talk about Constance’s comment.

    Most embassy staff and NGO employees are extremely well paid (by local standards). So they tend to be blissfully unaware of the circumstances that lead to corruption in most developing nations.

    First and foremost, election campaigns cost a lot of money. Where exactly do you think that money is going to come from? It can’t come from foreign governments and it cannot all come from multi-nationals.

    For most African politicians to be politically relevant, they have to steal and steal a lot of government money. To mount an election campaign in the country the size of Nigeria or Kenya, you need to be extremely well funded. Even the wealthiest business people in these two countries will find it extremely difficult to fund a successful campaign and still remain solvent. So corruption continues.

    Democracy is a bit of a problem.

    Secondly, I haven’t come across a policeman or civil servant who thinks that bribery is a good thing. They are forced to take bribes because there aren’t any alternatives. Spend time and talk to pensioners in Africa – all government employees know that when they retire, they are on their own, so they have to steal enough to take them through retirement.

    I had a discussion with a Nigerian policeman and he told me that if he had an opportunity to steal a large sum of money, he would. And he would gladly go to jail since as he reasoned, his children would have enough to put them through any school in the World. (The children of the biggest kleptocrats tend to have degrees from Oxbridge or Ivy league and hence greater earning power).

    Our wonder “Wold Bank compliant finance minister” (she is a rock star at the WEF and TED – gatherings that have little relevance to the average African/Nigerian) is going to oversee the retrenchment of 25,000 civil servants next year! What exactly do you think is going through their minds? And what exactly do you think they will be doing – knowing that (a) they don’t have marketable skills and (b) their pensions will not be forthcoming.

    We have to do away with a shallow understanding of the problem of bribery and deal with its complex roots – the psychological impact of job insecurity. As I write, thousands of bank employees are being laid off every other month in Nigeria with no recourse to benefits or even support from trade unions.

    Who are we to insist on Western moral standards on decidedly non-Western societies?

  • Posted by Seth Kaplan

    If this is such a success, where is the international organization creating a whole platform for these types of websites to be set up all across the world?

    It would seem a great opportunity for someone with the entrepreneurial sense and business acumen who wants to help the world.

  • Posted by Ravi

    “Who are we to insist on Western moral standards on decidedly non-Western societies?”

    Great point. As an aid worker, I’m constantly turning this question over and over in my head. Who am I to expect rigid moral standards from my colleagues when I am a) provided with health insurance from employers and b) not responsible for the financial upkeep of countless family members and distant relatives?

    The reality for those who work on the bottom of these institutional pyramids is different. Whether they be policemen or entry level NGO workers, their salaries are often subject to the occassional or regular skimming by their bosses. They have no interest in a legal response in a society that offers so few job opportunites. And, unfortuantely, once a pattern is set, it’s hard to break.

    I support the initative of IPaidABribe but am realistic about the speed of its effects.

    It’s a fascinating subject though. Does anyone here have any thoughts on whether the “gift-giving” culture in W Africa might have given extra impetus to the rise of bribery? It’s my experience that gift giving is an often necessary cultural custom in much of W Africa and would seem to naturally mirror bribery — essentially appeasement or recognition of authority. Am I completely off-base? What do you all think?

  • Posted by Maduka


    I’m not sure that the gift-giving culture might have given extra impetus to the rise of bribery. One thing I know is that from the colonial era till date, Africans have generally been poorly paid and poor remuneration is a sure trigger for corruption.

    In circumstances where Africans are well paid and adequate controls are in place, corruption is reduced to the barest minimum. But you cannot expect an extremely well qualified local graduate on a two-year contract to be as squeaky clean as his counterpart from the West who is paid ten times more, has better job security and has a full range of benefits.

    As I said earlier, a solution to the problem of corruption needs to be multi-pronged and home grown. IPaidABribe will only be as useful as the Kony campaign (not very useful), if we don’t understand that you cannot deal with corruption without improving remuneration, tackling unemployment, growing the economy and reforming the legal system and the police.

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