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Tale of an African whistleblower

February 22, 2009

A new book on corruption in Kenya is considered so explosive there that copies are only being sold under the counter in Nairobi by some book sellers too nervous to display them openly.

“Within these pages, we stand eyeball to eyeball with corruption. The book is an ironclad tell-all that mercilessly bares all to the light,” said the local Sunday Nation newspaper in a review of Michela Wrong’s book. “It feels dangerous to just read, let alone write.”

Just published, “It’s Our Turn to Eat” tells the story of Kenyan anti-corruption whistleblower John Githongo, who uncovered details of one of the country’s biggest scandals, the $750 million Anglo Leasing affair involving inflated security contracts.

At the heart of the book is a portrayal of an ethnic clique intent on enriching itself and holding on to power – a picture familiar to many other African states.

We are told that, as Githongo’s investigation deepens, the circle of suspects widens to include many senior officials, members of the Kikuyu tribe, Kenya’s biggest, to which Githongo and President Mwai Kibaki belong. When he made his findings public in 2006, Githongo was vilified by critics for betraying his tribe in exposing “Africa’s Watergate”.

“The title of the book is an appeal Githongo’s colleagues made to him: ‘It’s our turn to eat, John. Don’t rock the boat’,” said former British envoy, Edward Clay, who once equated the Kenyan government’s tolerance of grand corruption to vomiting on the shoes of the donors who provide aid. “For the corrupters it is a sweat provoker,” he said at the book’s launch in London.

Wrong’s book is being serialised in Kenya’s biggest newspapers, The Nation and The Standard, at a time when the government is again tainted by scandal.

Since Kibaki’s disputed re-election set off tribal-based clashes that killed at least 1,300 people last year, a unity government bringing in leaders from other ethnic groups including the Luo and Kalenjin, as well as Kikuyu, has been accused of foul play over everything from the sale of a hotel to fuel and maize supplies.
Even for a nation used to hearing about corrupt practices, the scandal involving the mismanagement of maize reserves has stoked anger at a time 10 million Kenyans face starvation.

“People are really mad because politicians used a system devised to bring down maize flour prices to enrich themselves,” said one Kenyan professional in Nairobi. “The flour is still expensive, inflation is up and drought is threatening lives. People are baying for blood.”

For many kenyans, it seems Kibaki’s promise to end graft, the pledge that first brought him to power in 2002, sounds as hollow as ever.

So, what can be done?

Wrong argues that the key to fighting graft in Africa does not lie in fresh legislation or new institutions.
In Kenya, as in many other countries, the anti-corruption body is “part of the grand corrupters’ game, providing them with another bureaucratic wall behind which to shield, another scapegoat to blame for lack of progress,” she says.

“Rather than dreaming up sexy-sounding short cuts, donors should be pouring their money into the boring old institutions African regimes have deliberately starved of cash over the
years: the police force, the judicial system and civil service”.

Donors, she said, “would do better to target the Western companies, lawyers’ chambers and banks which make it possible for crooked African leaders to spirit hundreds of millions of dollars out of the continent each year.”

Do you think that would help? Do Githongo and other whistleblowers make a difference?


The whole world has been blowing the whistle on Robert Mugabe for years and he is still the President despite not even being democratically elected.

Morgan Tsvangerai is now being sent to beg for 5 billion US dollars to bail Zimbabwe out while Mugabe spends 5 million dollars of stolen money on a new house for himself in Hong Kong.

Here is the whistleblowing – is anyone listening?

Posted by limnothrissa | Report as abusive

When Githongo came to Kenya for the first time after he went into exile, he had a press conference which i attended.

I listened as speaker after speaker glorified the Anti Corruption czar.
I do not have a problem with John Githongo. It’s a good thing we now know that Anglo leasing happened.

Unfortunately, that’s where it ends.

Whistle blowers are vilified by the ruling class, that’s same class that’s responsible for setting the record straight. It’s their turn to eat, and we can talk all we can, they make, bend, and even twist rules

David Munyakei( Goldernberg whistleblower)died a poor man who even changed his religion, John Githongo was lucky to hide in European bliss.

Whistle blowers serve only to bring the news.

The civil society in Kenya has a mouth, it can speak, but that, unfotunately is where it ends. At the end we talk about Anglo leasing & Goldenberg like it was fiction.

Posted by TC | Report as abusive

Fascinating stuff. What happens to the whistleblower? Are any of these allegations going to lead to an investigation or a trial? I wonder about the “So what can be done?” part of Wrong’s book. Are we to understand that creating more institutions to combat official corruption is not the solution, but funneling in more cash from foreign donors is? It seems like the issue in Kenya has more to do with the people in charge of distributing the money — the Kibaki kats — as well as the government that keeps them there. Then again… what do I know!

Posted by nvinocur | Report as abusive

The world needs more guys like him. Brush out those so called “political elites” that enrich themselves! Good work!

Posted by Mark Spencer | Report as abusive

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