/ Corruption on the Agenda / Getting Started / The Way We Talk
Corruption is in many countries a condition so deeply integrated into people’s everyday lives that it has got its own language. The way we talk about corruption says something about the way we deal with it.

 Photo by Pernille Bærendtsen





















Photo: The photographer has just insisted on paying the full price and getting a receipt for a speeding ticket acquired on the road in Tanzania - in stead of responding to the traffic police officer's discrete offer of a discount in return for not taking a receipt.


The chorus of the Kenyan musician Eric Wainaina' probably most famous song goes: ‘Nchi ya kitu kidogo ni nchi ya watu wadogo‘ - ‘Land of the small things. A land of small people’. See full text here. Wainaina is tired of corruption, and in his song he makes a list of examples of how corruption occur in everyday life in his home country Kenya.


The term 'usitoe hongo' - 'say no to bribery' – has been a well-known parole in many anti-corruption campaigns in East Africa. However, the glossary grows together with development, and in 2008 Tanzania had to borrow new words from Kenya. There simply was no word sufficiently covering the new level to where the corruption had reached. People committing big, ugly corruption on a level which most common people found hard to imagine, were labeled ‘wafisadi’, and is currently one of the most derogatory terms you can use for a corrupt person in East Africa.



Kitu Kidogo - a little something

The most common everyday way of labeling corruption is, however, still the Kiswahili term ‘kitų kidogo' - 'a little something'. It is frequently used by the traffic police when offering to ignore that you might - or might not - have committed a minor crime in return for a little something. In similar situations you might experience people ask for ‘soda’ or ‘chai’ (tea), or simply state ‘I’m hungry’ while pointing at one’s stomach. In fact, in Tanzania, an 'mlarushwa' ( 'walarushwa', pl.) - 'a person who eats’ – is also the nickname for a person who feeds on corruption.


It's Our Turn to Eat

The concept derives from a general understanding that a thick stomach is identical with prosperity - a rather tangible explanation if you live in a country where the majority of the population every night go to bed on an empty stomach. The concept was also used in by the British journalist Michaela Wrong, who wrote the book ‘It’s Our Turn to Eat’ about John Githongo, the Kenyan whistleblower. In her book she explains the fundamental reasons for what makes corruption thrive in a country like Kenya.

The book also illustrates that corruption is not only about money, but also about power, influence, governance, elections, and culture.


We’re sick and tired of hearing these lies, games and tricks

Takrima is a Kiswahili word meaning 'election hand-outs', which officially was banned in 2006 in Tanzania. However, it is no secret that there are alternative ways to treat your voters nicely. You can arrange 'meetings' or 'celebrations' where your (potential) voters are offered posho usafiri (travel allowance), posho chakula (food allowance) and posho mkutano (sitting allowance) - but also soap, t-shirts, kangas or kanda mbili (flip flops) are nice treats.


Photo: Poster from the elections in Tanzania in October 2010.


In Tanzania the young singer Nakaaya Sumari - partly in reaction to this - wrote a song in 2008 called 'Mr. Politician', where she refers to politicians making promises during elections, but forgetting later:

‘We stand for the 30 million walking these roads you never fix,
We’re sick and tired of hearing these lies, games and tricks
Instead of looking up to these fake ones for hope'


The song quickly became a hit, not only in Tanzania, but in all of East Africa. Like Eric Wainaina in Kenya, Nakaaya is an interesting example on how young people express a will to fight corruption. Watch Freemuse's interview with Nakaaya here.


Read between the lines

Kiswahili, which is spoken in East Africa, offers a colourful variety of gloses used for explaining different acts of corruption, and it is worth looking out for it, as it says something about how people deal with corruption - or rather - how they don't deal with it.


Photography by Pernille Bærendtsen ©

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