Daily Telegraph (UK)
February 23, 2005
Nairobi: Relations between Britain and Kenya plunged to their lowest point in decades yesterday after a senior minister in President Mwai Kibaki’s government threatened to arrest the British high commissioner on charges of theft and corruption.
In an outburst reminiscent of an angry tirade by Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, Kenya’s lands minister, Amos Kimunya, claimed that Sir Edward Clay had used stolen government files to prepare a controversial dossier alleging corruption in the cabinet.
Sir Edward has become the bane of Mr Kibaki’s administration since he began a crusade against top-level corruption last year. This month he accused ministers of “massive looting” and said he had handed over details of 20 major scandals to the president.
The government was quick to brand Sir Edward “an incorrigible liar” and “an enemy of the state” but was alarmed by the overwhelming support he received among Kenyans.
In what amounted to the first tacit admission that Sir Edward’s allegations were true, Mr Kimunya said senior civil servants leaked the details that formed the basis of the dossier. “The information was corruptly obtained,” Mr Kimunya said. “He should be taken in.”
Mr Kimunya is seen as one of President Kibaki’s closest allies. Both men are members of the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe. A cabal of Kikuyu ministers is accused of cashing in on a series of procurement tenders, costing Kenya up to –à500 million half the government’s annual budget since Mr Kibaki came to power two years ago.
It is unlikely that the government would be rash enough to fulfil its threat and breach diplomatic immunity by arresting Sir Edward. But there are signs that Nairobi is prepared to ignore international condemnation and assume a policy of defiance similar to that practised by Mr Mugabe.
In a worrying sign of a return to the repression that characterised Kenyan politics in former years, Mr Kimunya announced that all civil servants who leak information on corruption to foreign diplomats or the press would be charged with treason, a hanging offence.
The move is seen as particularly targeting the former head of the anti-corruption unit, John Githongo, who resigned this month and fled the country. His departure prompted the United States, Britain and Germany to suspend aid.
The British High Commission has ignored Mr Kimunya’s threat but there is growing concern among the 30,000 British residents in Kenya that they could become victims.
Kenyan ministers claim that the British Government is behind all corrupt deals in the country and there have been veiled threats against British business interests.
There are fears that Mr Kibaki could seek to deflect anger among Kenyans by demanding the redistribution of white-owned farms, as has happened in Zimbabwe.