It's Our Turn to Eat
The story of a Kenyan whistleblower
[pounds sterling]12.99 4th Estate ISBN: 978-0-00-724196-5
When Michela Wrong answered the doorbell of her London flat and found her Kenyan friend John Githongo and a mountain of luggage on the step, she may not have immediately realised just how important his unexpected appearance would become. She had got to know Githongo from the period she spent in Nairobi as a senior foreign correspondent covering African affairs for Reuters, the BBC and Financial Times, and now Githongo was taking up her offer of a place to stay whenever he was in London.
But why would a senior Kenyan civil servant, attached to President Mwai Kibaki's State House, need to stay with his friend? Surely, one of London's numerous five-star hotels would be the more usual accommodation choice? The fact was that Githongo was on the run. He was about to uncover a catalogue of fraud permeating his country's administration, with hundreds of millions of dollars being plundered from the public purse by top politicians.
Should he have taken a room, he could have easily been traced, as all hotels require the presentation of an identity document and usually a credit card, and he certainly did not wished to be tracked down--at least, not until his explosive disclosures were in the public domain. A large part of Githongo's luggage comprised documents and tape recordings that he had accumulated in Nairobi as he probed corruption at the highest levels of government.
That was in fact his job, for when the long-serving President Daniel arap Moi's administration was swept away in Kenya's December 2002 general elections, to be replaced by President Mwai Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government, he had been appointed the country's anti-corruption czar.
At first, the runes appeared positive. Kibaki announced: "Corruption will now cease to be a way of life." Furthermore, by inviting Githongo to become the Permanent Secretary in Charge of Governance and Ethics and lead the fight against fraud and sleaze, the new president had chosen a man uniquely qualified for the role. A former journalist, he had also helped revive the local branch of Transparancy International in Kenya, an organisation who, Wrong says, was founded by "his own father and like-minded businessmen disillusioned with Moi". Wrong says also that Githongo "as a journalist, had railed against two weaknesses he saw intrinsic to the continent's predicament: the extraordinary deference African societies traditionally show their elders, and their meek passivity when confronted by rulers ready to use violence to remain at the helm".
Despite the misgivings of Wrong, who warned him, "don't take the job, you'll lose your neutrality forever", Githongo accepted the position, assured by Kibaki that his door was always open to him.
It is difficult to understate the euphoria that accompanied Kibaki's election victory and the ending of 26 years of Moi's venal presidency. However, for Githongo, the fresh optimism did not last long. He was rapidly to discover that it was really a case of corrupt business as usual, just different snouts in the trough. Wrong writes: "John [Githongo] too had been hearing rumours of new graft, of dodgy procurement contracts and lavish spending by members of the NARC administration, who had been buying up large villas in Nairobi's most attractive suburbs ... [and] in the first 20 months in office government officials spent at least $12m on luxury cars." As Wrong notes, this money spent on new cars could have provided 147,000 HIV+ Kenyan patients with anti-retrovirals for a year.
Githongo was also to discover that the cooperation he received from Kenya's Security...