Kuhonga: Kenya’s Mobile Corruption Reporting

*Cross posted from Sutradhar’s Market* 2/28/12
A little over a year ago, my weekly trip into the town of Embu, Kenya from my village would be unpredictable to say the least. Potential scenarios would include goats stuffed under my seat, precarious routes and speeds, and doors or mufflers falling off the vehicle while in route, but there was one constant: the daily bribe.

The whole process would involve a barricade placed on the scarcely paved road where the police would stop every vehicle and the whole bribery dance ensued: the conductor would hop out with a few shillings disguised in his hand, and discreetly pass it to the officer on patrol, then he would hop back in the (oftentimes moving) vehicle, and we would be on our way. At first I was shocked to see such open corruption and wondered how it became so institutionalized, but after the months turned into years, I understood all too well the loss of efficacy one feels in systems of corruption. But a tool to fight corruption and empower citizens to become whistleblowers might exist in the palm of their hands, through mobile phone technology.

Kuhonga, which literally translates to “bribery” in Swahili, is a platform for Kenyan citizens to report corruption from high-level political graft, to street-side brides. The platform encourages users to report corruption by posting on Twitter, or through the site directly. The hope is to draw constant attention to bribery in order to promote not only greater transparency, but to create a shift in governance and behavior in Kenya. But is the grip of corruption too tight to break?

According to Transparency International’s 2011 East African Bribery Index, Kenya’s corruption rate is 28%, yet only 7.1% of Kenyans reported corruption. Corruption also has serious economic consequences; the African Union estimates that corruption costs African economies 148 billion dollars each year. Those most affected by corruption are oftentimes the poor, due to the increased cost of public services, and overall lack of development in the country. With all of these reasons to oppose corruption, why have so few Kenyans reported it? The reason for this could be that corruption is such an intimate part of day-to-day life in Kenya; my experience with the Kenyan Police (aside from my initial shock) eventually became so normalized that I accepted it, and I only lived there for two years.

So far Kuhonga has not had much success, it’s Twitter page only posted seven tweets, and the website only has ten reports. Although, I would not count out Kuhonga just yet, the increasing prevalence of mobile phone technology mixed with awareness of these reporting tools could lead to an institutional shift similar to that of the Arab Spring. Kuhonga is still an innovative tool to loosen the grip of corruption.

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