Today, the world faces numerous ethical challenges; abortion, drug testing on animals and euthanasia among others. Varying opinions are exuded as to what the greatest could be. Why don’t we analyse one quite major but often side-lined, deeply inaugurated into our day to day lives; the favour bank.

What is the favour bank? To illustrate, travel with me if you may; Maria, with all necessary qualifications to be a university lecturer, in fact, more qualified than some already employed in universities, had been jobless for quite a while. In spite of her qualifications, somehow, all her applications bore no fruit. This was very frustrating for her as she had put in so much effort in her studies, having believed throughout that with the right qualifications, getting a job would be a breeze. She had not been always been jobless though. She had been a lecturer at a local university. However, the university had been closed due to credential issues. After this, she had applied relentlessly to other universities to no avail. One fateful afternoon, she ran into her old dear friend, Andrew, who was doing extremely well in life with a successful company and an enviable network, and their old friendship was quickly rekindled. They met several times after and she soon opened up about her major problem. Andrew, after listening keenly, informed her that he had a tight friendship with the head at a prestigious university and that the latter owed him a favour anyway, and he could request that she be hired. Important to note that she had already attempted to get a job at this institution of higher learning to no avail, as the job had been given to the dean’s friend. True to his word, Andrew recommended her and she was quickly hired as a lecturer. She knew how greatly difficult it was to get a job. As such, she worked harder than the rest as she didn’t want to give any sort of excuse for her to be sacked. Eventually, she climbed ranks and became Head of her Department through her hard work and merit. Eventually, she was employed vice chancellor and after ten years, the time came for the chancellor to retire. It was unanimously decided that she take up the position. Then one morning, Andrew walked in, seeking a position in the school for his son. His son had a below average GPA and his application had already been rejected by even average universities. Therefore, a position in a top institution by merit was even ridiculous to fathom. However, Andrew was here seeking for a favour, a favour in return. Accepting this, would mean that a student who worked hard all through high school and truly deserved the coveted spot would miss out. However, she owed Andrew for her current situation, as he was the stepping stone that set her on that path. What would Maria do? She who had always been moral, giving spots on merit, never on favour.

This brings us back to the favour bank which often goes unsaid, but is crystal clear to both parties. The basic concept is that 'you scratch my back I scratch yours'. One party ‘pulls strings’ for the other and as such, will have deposited into the latter’s account. It goes unsaid but the latter knows that one day, the former would come ‘withdrawing’, in form of a favour in return. If the favour is repaid then the two parties are back on a clean slate with a new found bond, and the latter can be introduced to others in the former’s network as they are now deemed reliable. Thus, networks grow. If the favour is not done in return, everyone knows and no one pulls strings for the ‘traitor’ anymore.


Most term it as networking or the benefit of knowing people. However, when does it cross the line to nepotism? To corruption? Is it just or is it a more complex form of accepting bribery? Is this preferential treatment, paying back favours for favours, really just?


It has become so common that we rarely consider what the consequences could be. Think about it. When we award an opportunity to ‘a friend’, aren’t we robbing the one that toiled day and night and rightfully deserves it by merit? Aren’t we lowering the quality of work of output expected from these positions?


There are many other ways that the so-called corruption isn’t directly justifiably wrong. Take this for instance, if the one dearest to you was ailing and close to their deathbed and you have exhausted your funds and all other means bore no fruit. Then, as a judge at a law court, a criminal comes to you offering to cover all the medical expenses if and only if you acquit them. Would it be just to let just this one crime slide and leave the person unpunished with the possibility of saving your loved one’s life or would it be right to act according to the law, noting that if your dear one does not get the medical care they need, they will definitely pass on? Would this be equal to taking a life, considering you were the only one in a position to be of help?


Undeniably, the favour bank provides an unfair advantage to the majority. It is unfair to the ones that work hard aiming to attain the position, the ones that rendered the responsibility and position to you and the ones you are serving. Be it in the political aspect, the education field, business sector or any other arena. Often, it results in lowering of quality of results expected from an organization. For one like Maria, it is probably such that denied her a job all along, and without connections, she would have stayed jobless all along. It is tricky though to decide when it is fair and when it isn’t. For the life and death situation, yes taking a bribe is wrong. However, this particular bribe is to save a life, therefore, can we say the bribe is unfair?


It is my belief that people need to learn how to critically analyse situations to ensure the best results for everyone. There is a great disadvantage in hiring only family and friends to positions they are underqualified for. This often results in a companies’ lowered quality of work, of which the rest carry the persons weight and you keep covering up for their errors. It at times creates resentment in the work place too, making it an unsuitable working environment, demoralizing to say the least. For leaders in the government, as we have often seen, it ends up in half-baked projects, particularly development projects that end up getting damaged in a very short time.


In conclusion, there are several ethical challenges facing the world today. However, this could be the greatest one of our time. The one of corruption, in all its forms. We have become so used to pulling favours that somehow, we failed to recognize the thin line that crosses over to corruption. Is it really fair for someone more deserving to lose an opportunity simply because they weren’t born or raised in an influential family or failed to get the opportunity to be around the so-called right people? However, when a person that once did you a major favour comes for one in return, wouldn’t it be unfair to them to deny them their request, considering that they came through so greatly for you? Would you be selfish? Or if someone wants to do you a favour on account of knowing each other and not merit, is it actually possible to turn them down? It takes each one of us individually to actually consider the huge responsibility given to us and think critically before just handing out positions out of favour. Favour with merit may be justifiable. However, what is the point of favour without merit? We each first need to identify the grand problem the favour bank presents. Only then can we see a change.

By: Gail Beryl, undergraduate at University of Nairobi 

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