The Times – It’s called ‘eating’. But bribery is devouring the heart of Kenya From the top of government to the petty official, everyone is on the take. The West cannot treat corruption as a sideshow, by Michela Wrong (whose book, It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower, is published this week (but June here))

Each morning Wambui Kamau, the personal assistant to a Nairobi-based entrepreneur, boards a matatu taxi bus to get to the city centre. This morning, like every other, it is flagged down at a police checkpoint, where the driver hands an officer 100 shillings.

At lunchtime, Wambui heads to the Ministry of Immigration to pick up a new passport. It miraculously surfaces when she offers the clerk 100 shillings. Heading home, the matatu is stopped at the same checkpoint and another bribe paid.

Bad news awaits. A deed allowing the family to sell part of a plot has not materialised. The certificate costs 500 shillings, but Wambui has spent six months and paid 10,000 shillings in bribes trying to extract it from Nairobi city council. “You go to the office and it’s always ‘so and so has the file’. It’s an endless chain of people wanting to ‘eat’.”

Wambui (not her real name) pays up to five bribes a week. The anti- corruption group Transparency International reports that kitu kidogo (a “little something”) features in 54per cent of the average Kenyan’s dealings with institutions.

Oh, blargh. I really hate bribery. I find it very upsetting. I suppose I’m just very American. But 54%??

What the election crisis proved is that Kenya’s “eating” culture, whether manifested in daily palm-greasing or the grand looting of the elite, does more than pour sand into the economy’s workings and blight the aspirations of millions. It represents a fundamental rejection of the concept of the state as expression of the common will. In that cynical lack of belief sprout the seeds of civil war. Corruption destabilises societies. This is a lesson that the country’s Western donors have yet to digest. Determined to keep aid flowing, increasingly anxious to find reliable regional partners, too often they minimise corruption, seeing it as a troublesome distraction.

Kenya was never the sepia-tinted paradise of colonial clubs and golden savannah that its Western visitors fondly supposed. Today it stands on the verge of a precipice.