Bribes and Justice Part 1: Lessons We Can Learn From Our Bribe-Taking Police Officers.

The Kenyan matatu industry has grown in leaps and bounds and naturally has a rocky relationship with Kenyans and our government.

In Kenya, therefore, traffic police officers perform an extra role: that of matatu management. This means in essence that they are tasked with ensuring these people adhere to relevant laws - mostly the Traffic Act - and enforce them where necessary, at the same time ensuring traffic keeps moving. They cannot take matatus off the road because we support and use them as Kenyans, and in fact as a nation of 42 different kingdoms, have even managed to develop a common matatu culture which we both revere and hate. On top of that, our government is very good at killing things so there is no way a public transport service run by the government will work.

As a result, to a Western, Non-African/Hindu/Bagladeshi/etc eye, there is a high level of madness and chaos on our roads.

Since matatus cannot all be taken off the road, police are hungry and Kenyans what to get wherever whenever cheaply, bribes lubricate the system of justice and ensure that even within the chaos, things keep moving.

The government on the other hand operates differently. When a business entity fails to pay taxes for example, they are shut down.Take Keroche Breweries for example. The company has been frustrated and closed by the government for "failure to pay taxes" and while that may be true, it may not be the right thing to do, strangely.

Since the company is wildly profitable, the better option would be to keep it running but take a good chunk of the net profit while keeping the taxpayers working in the company employed and paying taxes, ensuring business continuity and reducing collateral damage.

That measure is the simplest measure available and prevents the thousands of people depending on the firm from losing an income, keeps them paying taxes and keeps them away from the streets performing nyongolo on their fellow Kenyans. It can also be applied to other areas such as startups by the youth where tax holidays and business training or mentorship can be facilitated by the government at no present or future cost to them to increase the number of businesses operating successfully.

Lastly, reduce taxes. By doing this, businesses will have more money to manoeuvre and at the same time the money will pay more taxes when it is spent downstream on other things by them and other people who get into contact with that money. That is how the police bribe system works: by taking bribes,police officers breed resentment in motorists and at the same time create an incentive in them to behave when they are around. If you refuse to stuff the long fingers of the law, you will have to face the law itself. Either way, the law will catch up with you.


As with any other number of other things especially those dealing with human beings,this kind of arrangement requires extreme delicacy to balance because the consequences are terrible otherwise. Obviously these consequences involve death and I will not deal with the potential ways road users can die.In some cases of alternative injustice, some matatu operators have been dealt with with an excessively heavy hand by police officers for whatever reason, and a good number retaliate. Some police officers have had their limbs broken while others have died outright because of this, most of them by being run over.

Secondly, some things come with a curse, like taking a bribe to allow an unroadworthy vehicle on the roads which ends up killing people in front there. It should not happen but the reality is people would rather not go through the stress and expense of the bureaucratic justice system.