NAIROBI — Everyone in Kenya knows the phrase “kitu kidogo.”
It means “something small” in Swahili, and it refers to the bribes Kenyans pay minor bureaucrats, such as policemen and utility company employees, to make life easier. For decades, Kenyans had only their relatives and friends to complain to. Until now, that is.
A new Web site — I Paid a Bribe – is allowing Kenyans to share their experiences with bribery. Activists say the site could become a potent weapon in the fight against graft in one of the world’s most corrupt nations.
“It brings a human face to corruption,” said Samuel Kimeu, executive director ofTransparency International-Kenya, an anti-corruption watchdog group. “When people tell their stories the way they do on the Web site, it has the potential to catalyze action.”
Drawing some inspiration from the Arab Spring uprisings, activism appears to be on the rise here and in many other corners of sub-Saharan Africa. Last year, protests erupted in Uganda and Malawi over bad governance and other issues. More recently, Nigerians have demonstrated against corruption and rising fuel prices, and activists in Senegal have rallied against President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third term.
“I’m calling what’s happening in Kenya the ‘Bribe Spring,’ ” said Antony Ragui, the Web site’s 36-year-old founder. “People are fed up with corruption and the government. The real goal of I Paid a Bribe is to harness the collective energy of Kenyans. I am trying to create a network of Kenyans who are anti-corruption-minded.”
Ragui, a financial services consultant with an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley, said he returned to Kenya in 2007 to find a society that revolved around corruption. Out of 182 nations, only 28 are more corrupt than Kenya, according to Transparency International.
“I was tired of people whining about corruption. I wanted to do something about it,” Ragui said.
One day, Ragui read a magazine article about an Indian Web site — Ipaidabribe.com – that was fighting corruption. He contacted the site, which agreed to provide the software to start a similar effort in Kenya, its first spinoff.
Launched last month, Ragui’s site is divided into three sections. One part collects stories about bribes paid, listing the amount as well as where and when the incident occurred. Another section collects details about people who refused to pay bribes. And the third provides a forum for instances of honesty, when a bribe was not required.
More than 400 bribes have been reported; the total amount paid is nearly 9 million Kenyan shillings – or about $110,000.
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