The Githongo Dossier – Kenya reacts to scandal

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 MPs…particularly given how aggressive the KRA has become about collecting taxes…where is it going. As Whispering Inn points out, it’s a bit foolhardy to be indignant about dog food offers when your government is spending Kshs 800 million on luxury cars (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, who knows what’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. Kibaki’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? Moi’s power came from knowing what was going on everywhere all the time in the country. Kibaki doesn’t know and doesn’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”?

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16 Responses to The Githongo Dossier – Kenya reacts to scandal

  1. nadyezhda says:

    Your colleague Rebecca is coming to speak next week at my school. Will you be coming, too?

  2. Ethan says:

    Sorry, Nadyezhda – not this time. I’ll be in California next week.

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  4. Kwasi Appiah says:

    I saw the BBC report too. I haven’t read the actual report yet. When one read and hears of such things one sometimes feels like Mark Twain when he said (my paraphrase), “If I had my way I would withdraw my membership from the so-called human race.” Such sordid behavior by a government pledged to reform and which came to power on the basis of correcting the wrongs of the previous government. Let’s see if something does really comes out of the commotion being caused by these revelations.

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  6. Kapsowe Robert says:

    Kiraitu Murungi is bleming the press for his woes on anglo leasing. Did he actually resign?

  7. robert nzulwa says:

    This exit is another conspiracy to defeat kenyan masses,to silence them.these gus (including the president) must have met and strategised who to resign first-check the reaction-if situation not changig-have a few other guys resigning-and the strategy goes on

  8. Opany Apollo says:

    Kudos to our true Kenyan compatriot who has the rare courage and outstanding honesty. With such people, our country would be assured of peace, harmony and prosperity.

    We request our leaders, led by the President and the clergy. Most of them are dishonest and need to change.

    Long live people of goodwill.

  9. Reality says:

    So we nearly all concur! Githongo is our hero.

    Githongo for president come 2007! No this is not a suggestion. I think the man is infact obliged to run!

    It is nice for all of us to make a furore about this but when challeged to offer alternative leadership … Oh well Im not the political type. I can not work in the public domain!

    If you cannot or do not want to serve the public, dont talk about those who are ready to loose their privacy, to have to entertain villagers and the press and God knows who else daily!

    I am challeging Githongo and the rest of you bloggers and the media to do what Bisige is doing in Uganda!

  10. Gilbert Kirui says:

    Corruption is a vice. Done in statehouse or in the roadside. Let he who has no sin cast the first stone. This doesnot mean I support corruption. My challenge to us all is if you were in the position of the mentioned, what would you have done. Am sure some people are blameless since they cannot access the “pot” otherwise they are more or less the same. Githongo Kudos for the whisle!

  11. The problem with kenya is the laws.steal a chicken {for the poor souls} and you will languish in jail.Be connected politicaly and steal billions,you will be requested to state whether you stole or not.the story for you ends there-continue enjoying your loot.

  12. Reality says:

    I want to imagine that most the participants in this forum work out of the country. How many of us pay their taxes as the law says you should? Just what difference is there between stealing before the money is paid in to KRA or before?

    Are we proud to call ourselves Kenyans? Shame on us. I suggest we resign!

  13. Truth says:

    Since independence Kenya has been ruled by thieves. Kenyatta stole not only land but had the audacity to mastermind a chain of bank robberies Kenya has never experienced…yet he routinely ordered trucks full of bank-notes from the CBK to State House. By the time he relinguished power through an act of God, he was the richest man in Africa, the largest land-owner in Africa… name it. We won’t get anywhere unless we address the injustices from 63 onwards. Everyone knows Kibaki is a thief. Why shouldn’t he steal when all his predecessors stole?

  14. Githongo Jr says:

    I have noted that every time ODM Kenya is under fire, Githongo through his paid Media House the “Standard Newspaper” goes wild with these allegations of corruption. This round, ODM was not satisfied with the legal responsibility of the President Kibaki and instead of facing the President through civilized and honorable way – they unleash their “pitbull” Githongo. It is unfortunate that a man who was trusted with State secrets thorugh an oath of office can hide his face in a foreign country and tarnish the name of his country – Kenya. How clean in Mr. Githongo? How much has ODM Kenya paid him? Can they come clean and tell the Kenyan the truth about how much they have paid the Standard Newspaper to cover their stories everytime? Githongo has been promised a big post if ODM wins the elections.
    Therefore he has to play his game by trying to tarnish the government’s image!!

  15. Dedan kimathi says:

    Githongo Jr Says:
    January 24th, 2007 at 1:25 pm
    I have noted that every time ODM Kenya is under fire, Githongo through his paid Media House the “Standard Newspaper” goes wild with these allegations of corruption. This round, ODM was not satisfied with the legal responsibility of the President Kibaki and instead of facing the President through civilized and honorable way – they unleash their “pitbull” Githongo. It is unfortunate that a man who was trusted with State secrets thorugh an oath of office can hide his face in a foreign country and tarnish the name of his country – Kenya. How clean in Mr. Githongo? How much has ODM Kenya paid him? Can they come clean and tell the Kenyan the truth about how much they have paid the Standard Newspaper to cover their stories everytime? Githongo has been promised a big post if ODM wins the elections.
    Therefore he has to play his game by trying to tarnish the government’s image!!

    Yaani you can find any better research to do and pull our legs.Thats your view and it remains exactly that yours.

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