If you’re an American frustrated with your ability to get your chief law enforcement officer to answer questions about the National Security Agency’s warantless wiretapping program, like Senator Patrick Leahy, allow me to suggest taking a close look at the Anglo Leasing scandal that’s unfolded over the past two years in Kenya and the recently released “Githongo Dossier”.
It’s not that Kenyan politics are exemplary and a model that the US should follow. Kenya’s long been percieved as one of the most corrrupt nations on the planet, as reported in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index. When President Mwai Kibaki took office in 2003, promising to address the problems of widespread corruption in Kenya, one of his key appointees was the former director of Transparency International’s Kenya branch, John Githongo. Githongo attracted Kibaki’s attention, in part, with his role in producing the “Kenya Urban Bribery Index”, a survey of urban Kenyans which revealed that the average Kenyan paid 16 bribes per month – paying a bribe in two of every three encounters with a Kenyan public servant.
Githongo’s attracted a great deal more attention since joining – and then resigning from – Kibaki’s government. According to a dossier produced for Kenya’s president in November 2005 (now widely circulating on the Internet), Githongo’s investigations into a contract for a tamper-proof passport system awarded to a non-existent company, Anglo Leasing, revealed a morass of illegal deals, involving up to $700 million USD.
According to Githongo, most deals involved paper companies which were little more than a name and a lawyer somewhere in Europe. These companies won enormous contracts from the Kenyan government for services ranging from building crime labs to launching and maintaining communications satellites. These contracts would receive payment from the Kenyan government despite the fact that no labor was produced – the money would be funnelled through European banks and a percentage would be returned to the ministers who’d approved the transactions.
What’s most fascinating about the story told in Githongo’s 22 page letter to President Kibaki is what happened as Githongo started unravelling the Anglo Leasing case: the money started to come back. Evidently Ministers started calling their partners and told them to return the funds. Then Ministers would pressure Githongo to drop his investigations as the money was no longer missing. In the process, Githongo was able to trace several of the shell companies to the Kamani family, a wealthy Kenyan family with interests in the UK, India, Dubai and kenya.
Githongo’s investigations have already forced the resignation of Finance Minister David Mwiraria and may cost the careers of Vice-President Moody Awori and Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi, as well as previously sacked Transport Minister Chris Murungaru. They’ve also forced Githongo to get the hell out of dodge. Githongo’s November 22nd, 2005, report was sent from St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, and the anti-corruption czar has been in self-imposed exile from Kenya since shortly after his February 2005 resignation.
In the cover letter to the report to Kibaki, Githongo notes, “As you may remember from our meeting of the 3rd of February 2004 that took place in the evening in your room at State House I adopted the practice of regularly keeping a record of key meetings I was involved in. I am in a position to conclusively substantiate the claims made in the attached report by means of incrontrovertible material evidence.” Just what’s meant by that elegant pair of sentences became clear yesterday, as Githongo appeared on the BBC with a videotape of a conversation with Minister Kiraitu Murungi. The videotape features the Minister suggesting that a businessman who loaned money to Githongo’s father would “go slow” if Githongo’s investigation would slow down. In other words, stop this line of inquiry and we’ll let your father off the hook for the loan.
Kibaki’s government has subsequently requested the tape – to check its authenticity – and Kenyan MPs are enroute to the UK to question Githongo regarding the contents of his report. The BBC, in the meantime, is celebrating Githongo as “A fearless Kenyan whistle blower”.
What’s exciting to me about the Anglo Leasing scandal and its side effects is the extent to which it’s mobilizing demands for increased transparency in Kenya. Not only have bloggers been all over the Githongo dossier, they’re now blogging other reports of official excess, like the $4m of government funds spent on 57 Mercedes Benz cars for Ministers, assistant ministers and their personal secretaries. As Ory “Kenyan Pundit” Okolloh notes:
Kenyans need to question their government more either as individual citizens or through their MPsâ€¦particularly given how aggressive the KRA has become about collecting taxesâ€¦where is it going. As Whispering Inn points out, itâ€™s a bit foolhardy to be indignant about dog food offers when your government is spending Kshs 800 million on luxury cars (and thatâ€™s just the tip of the iceberg, who knows whatâ€™s going on in travel, allowances, cell phone bills etc.)
Daudi at Mental Acrobatics is concerned about the fact that the most recent Githongo revelations have come out in the British, not the Kenyan press:
Why the BBC? Why not The Daily Nation, East African Standard, KTN. KBC or one of the numerous FM stations in Kenya? In my opinion the answer is simple. Kibakiâ€™s government not only does not care but DOES NOT KNOW what is going on in the country of Kenya. How else do you explain a government which 24 hours before a national referendum thinks it will win convincingly and when the results come out finds out that 7 out of 8 provinces voted against it? Moiâ€™s power came from knowing what was going on everywhere all the time in the country. Kibaki doesnâ€™t know and doesnâ€™t care.
Want to know more about what Kenyans are saying about this scandal which could topple the government – check out Kenya Unlimited, an aggregator of blogs from around the nation and from Kenyans around the world.
It’s unfortunate that Githongo’s needed to leave his home to offer this difficult look inside official corruption in Kenya – but, ultimately, the story has been told and Kenyan bloggers and journalists can now follow up leads, ask hard questions and try to ensure the whole story gets told. With our current administration in the US, we’re having a hard time getting any answers even when Senators are asking the questions. Perhaps someone needs to offer Alberto Gonzales a fellowship at Oxford so he can tell us what really happened with NSA wiretapping. If we flew him to the UK to meet with the BBC, would that qualify as “extraordinary rendition”?