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Websites allow Kenyans to report bribes and battle corruption

Ask a Nairobi resident to name the most frustrating part of living in Nairobi, and they’re likely to answer: bribing a cop.

Well, now Kenyans have a way to combat corruption, by text messaging, emailing, or even tweeting an incident to a website called Hatari (which means danger in Swahili), is just one of several private anticorruption initiatives aimed at fighting corrupt practices that cost Kenya as much as $1 billion a year.

Kenya, a country where scandals make daily headlines and where public opinion polls show a declining trust in political leadership, has made small strides this year in bringing down corruption in government institutions. A Bribery Index published by Transparency International in October 2011 found that the prevalence of bribery had actually dropped slightly, making Kenya the fourth rather than the third most-corrupt nation in East Africa. Even so, Kenya’s police remained the most corrupt institution, the survey found.

Kenyans are used to multimillion-dollar scandals such as Anglo-Leasing, in which government officials paid five times the market price for a foreign company to import and install passport printing machines, and Goldenberg, in which Kenyan officials used Kenyan currency reserves to subsidize gold exports, paying well-connected exporters 35 percent more per kilo than the estimated value of that gold at taxpayer expense.

But for many Kenyans, bribery is personal, and it occurs on an almost daily basis. One survey by Transparency International estimated that Kenyans pay an average of 16 bribes each month, even though the majority of Kenyans live on less than $1 a day. At police checkpoints, police may demand a bribe in lieu of writing a ticket for a traffic violation. At government offices, a bureaucrat may demand a bribe in order to speed up a lengthy procedure, such as registering a business.

Before, citizens would only be able to talk about a bribe over the family dinner table, or at the local pub. But now, they can broadcast it over websites can gather up that data of other bribes, and warn other Kenyans in real time, where cops or government officials are asking for bribes. This same data can also serve as a notice to anticorruption officials within the government of where anti-bribery laws are being broken.

Some sites, like Hatari, give a visual “crowd map” to allow Kenyans to know where bribery incidents have occurred, giving them the option of choosing alternate routes. Other sites, such as Kuhonga and I Paid a Bribe allow Kenyans to write out and share their experiences, anonymously, in written form.

Kenya is by no means the first nation to make use of crowdmapping to report on crime incidents. In the American city of Atlanta, citizens can track crime hotspots over a crime mapping website called MapATL. In Johannesburg, an anonymous twitter user sends out tips to drivers about police checkpoints through a service that is rather uncharitably called PigSpotter.

But in a country where bribery is considered endemic, and where a 28.8 percent prevalence rate is considered an improvement, websites like Hatari, Kuhonga, and I Paid a Bribe can be empowering. Knowledge about the government scandals involving key Kenyan officials, as well as the alleged organization of mass violence after the 2007 national elections are one of the reasons why at least one October poll by the IpsosSynovate polling firm found that 59 percent of Kenyans support the notion of extraditing some of their own Kenyan officials to face trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

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