Canadian diplomat joins attack on corruption in Kenya

National Post
February 15, 2005
Canada joined in a highly unusual diplomatic attack on Kenya yesterday as the top Canadian diplomat in the country told a local forum the government of President Mwai Kibaki lacked the “fire in the belly” to confront corruption.

Foreign donors have threatened to halt aid since the British High Commissioner launched an outspoken attack on the government two weeks ago and Mr. Kibaki’s handpicked anti-corruption czar quit.

“Yes, the fight against corruption is more than one individual. Yes, institutions and systems are important, and yes, they take time to create and mobilize,” Jim Wall, the Canadian High Commissioner, told a media workshop on investigative journalism in Nairobi.

“But what is most important, and what is apparently lacking, is political will, the fire in the belly necessary to ferret out and to expose the crooks, to put them on the defensive, to ask the hard questions.”

The latest furor was sparked by Sir Edward Clay, the British envoy and a long-time critic of Kenyan government practices.

Speaking at a journalism awards ceremony, he said he had underestimated the scale of corruption in the country.

“The evidence of corruption in Kenya [amounts to] vomit, not just on the shoes of donors but also all over the shoes of Kenyans . . . and the feet of those who can’t afford shoes,” he said.

Government sources immediately dubbed the British diplomat an enemy of Kenya and suggested his comments were prompted by his country’s loss of some Kenyan government contracts. Britain is one of Kenya’s biggest debtors.

Last Monday, John Githongo, Mr. Kibaki’s anti-graft advisor, quit. The respected journalist sent his letter of resignation from London, saying only he “was no longer able to continue serving the government of Kenya.”

But friends say he was frustrated by government officials who blocked his pursuit of people close to the President. They also asked for guarantees he would be able to return to Kenya in safety.

The following day, the United States suspended US$2.5-million earmarked to fight corruption in Kenya.

And on Wednesday, judges in the Goldenberg inquiry resumed proceedings. They are trying to discover how as much as US$3-billion disappeared from Kenya’s central bank during the rule of then-president Daniel arap Moi.

Goldenberg International, a gold and jewellery company, is alleged to have defrauded the state and taxpayers in the early 1990s through a bonus system created by the government to encourage exports. Mr. Moi and some of his ministers appear to have been the major beneficiaries.

The inquiry’s most riveting evidence has come from the firm’s owner, Kamlesh Pattni. He has told of a secret meeting with Mr. Moi at the fortified presidential mansion near Nairobi, at which he handed over a briefcase stuffed with US$70,000 in U.S. bills.

Mr. Moi strongly supported the export plan, he testified, suggesting it could bring in a minimum of US$50-million a year and enable Kenya to free itself from Western donors such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

About US$1-billion to US$1.5-billion, 20% of Kenya’s gross domestic product, was pumped into the scheme, although prosecutors say none of the exports ever took place.

International donors suspended aid to Kenya in 2000, tired of theft by the Moi government. They resumed lending in November, 2003, after Mr. Kibaki was elected on a promise to root out graft.

But there has been little progress. Observers say if anything corruption appears to have increased under Mr. Kibaki.

In 2004, Kenya ranked 129th (with Iraq, Angola and Pakistan) out of 146 countries in a survey of corruption by Transparency International.

After weeks of inaction, Mr. Kibaki sacrificed a key ally yesterday, seeking to prove to the public and donors he is serious about tackling allegations of high-level corruption.

His press service said Chris Murungaru, the powerful National Security Minister and one of Mr. Kibaki’s closest supporters, had been told to swap posts with John Michuki, the Transport Minister, a move regarded by many as a demotion for Mr. Murungaru.

Last week, Peter Kimani, a columnist in the Daily Nation, said people were so disenchanted with Mr. Kibaki’s broken election pledge they no longer expected decisive action from their President.

Using cancer as a metaphor for corruption, he wrote, “Surgeon Githongo gave his verdict: There is no point in opening the patient, she is too diseased, gone beyond redemption.”

Meanwhile, Britain said yesterday it had refused to grant a visa to a former top aide to Mr. Moi and warned current government officials could face similar bans.

An official at the British High Commission in Nairobi said Joshua Kulei, Mr. Moi’s personal assistant until the president retired in 2002, had been denied a visa because he has been implicated in numerous corruption scams.

Mr. Kulei is currently on trial for stealing US$1-million from a government-owned firm and has also been named in the Goldenberg inquiry.

Categories: Africa, Kenya, Odious Debts

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