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Friday, February 27, 2009

How to ruin a country

John Githongo fought the corruption that is destroying Kenya but was defeated

From The Economist print edition

THIS is the tale of the tragic failure of a brave and honest man appointed to expose corruption by a new Kenyan president who came to power on a wave of high-minded enthusiasm in late 2002, claiming to be a clean-handed reformer. Within a few years the brave man, John Githongo, is betrayed by the president, Mwai Kibaki, and by most of the big man’s closest colleagues, many of whom prove themselves to be patently corrupt. Mr Githongo is at first intensely loyal to Mr Kibaki, who gives him an office down the corridor in State House. But the whistleblower comes to realise that the president acquiesces in corruption of the grossest kind, and flees for his life into exile.

There is far more to this gripping saga than that. It is a down-to-earth yet sophisticated exposé of how an entire country can be munched in the clammy claws of corruption. It is also a devastating account of how corruption and tribalism—the author prefers the grander term ethno-nationalism—reinforce each other, as clannish elites exploit collective feelings of jealousy or superiority in an effort to ensure that their lot wins a fat, or the fattest, share of the cake. Hence the book’s title: “It’s our turn to eat”.

Mr Githongo, who reported for The Economist (among other journals) in the 1990s, is portrayed by the author, an outstanding former Financial Times journalist, to whose house in London he fled, as a complex character: jovial, moody, dogged, ingenious and understandably obsessive. Through his prism, the author describes Kenya’s history over the past two decades, “probing the roots of a dysfunctional African nation”.

After independence in 1963, Jomo Kenyatta and his mainly Kikuyu inner circle steadily plundered the country, ensuring that their fellow Kikuyus and closely related Meru and Embu groups, together comprising some 28% of Kenya’s people, acquired an ever-larger slice of the land. After his death in 1978, his successor, Daniel arap Moi, who hailed from the much smaller Kalenjin-speaking group of tribes, reckoned it was their turn to eat—and how. Eventually, in 2002, in what looked like a pan-ethnic revolt against Mr Moi’s lot, Mr Kibaki, another Kikuyu, won a multiparty election amid hopes that Kenya would at last have a decent, reasonably clean administration in which merit rather than tribe would be the way to advancement. Mr Githongo’s appointment as the government’s anti-corruption tsar was hailed as a happy sign of intent.

No such luck. Mr Githongo almost immediately spotted a massive scam, to be known after a murky company called Anglo-Leasing, that creamed off some $750m mainly by overbilling the state—with ministerial connivance—in some 18 projects. He noted that more than half of these scams had originated in Mr Moi’s era but had deftly been carried over into the new and supposedly clean one. It soon became clear that not only were some of the most senior ministers in the government involved but also that the president was unwilling to do anything about it.

Moreover, as Mr Githongo made secret tapes of conversations with these villains, two more things became equally clear. The main perpetrators, bound by a tight code of ethnic solidarity, flagrantly appealed to him, as a fellow Kikuyu, to be loyal to his tribe. He also realised, even after he had fled into exile, that this so-called “Mount Kenya Mafia” was determined to use some of its ill-gotten gains to fill its party’s coffers in an effort to win the general and presidential elections due at the end of 2007. This group would stop at nothing to hold on to power.

In the event, when it seemed that Raila Odinga, the populist presidential candidate whose campaign was full of anti-Kikuyu innuendo, was winning the race in late 2007, the old guard around Mr Kibaki set about fiddling the result, prompting riots and ethnic massacres around the country in which some 1,500 perished and at least 300,000 were displaced. After two months of turmoil and political paralysis, a shabby and unwieldy compromise was reached under the aegis of the UN’s former secretary-general, Kofi Annan, whereby Mr Kibaki held on to the presidency while Mr Odinga became prime minister.

Kenya, meanwhile, had been torn apart as never before. Mr Odinga, like President Barack Obama’s father, is a Luo, Kenya’s third-most-populous group, which fiercely considered that it was its “turn to eat”. It had grievously missed out under two Kikuyu-dominated administrations and under Mr Moi’s Kalenjin one.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the book is the dismal performance both of the World Bank and of Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID). The bank has been indulgent towards Kenya’s leaders and inept when it tried to do something about their corruption. There was a “dangerous cosiness” between the bank and Kenya’s government.

For the current British government, the book is even more disturbing. A flagship of Tony Blair’s New Labour, DFID was a new ministry no longer subordinate, as its predecessors had been, to the Foreign Office. It disbursed cash for aid far more abundantly than ever before and with fewer strings, betokening a determination to “end poverty”. As Michela Wrong puts it, the amount of money which it disbursed became “the only solid yardstick of progress, hardly a situation likely to encourage discrimination amongst officials responsible for approving projects”. When Britain’s then high commissioner to Kenya, Sir Edward Clay, one of a small band of righteous heroes in the book, spoke out courageously against corruption, his DFID counterparts did their best to undermine him.

A year after the corrupt election fiasco of late 2007 and early 2008, nothing fundamentally has changed. Almost all the top ministers and civil servants fingered by Mr Githongo are still in office; so is Mr Kibaki. Even if Mr Odinga were president, as the majority of voters almost certainly intended him to be, few Kenya-watchers would be confident that the basics would have changed, except that a new elite would be “eating” better. The mixture of greed and ethnic exploitation is as potent and combustible as ever: a sorry state of affairs.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bushism stuck with us

"President Bush has asked all the major networks for 15 minutes of air time on Thursday to give his farewell speech to the nation. Well, the White House says he's going to use part of the time to list his accomplishments. No word yet what he's going to do with the other 14 minutes." --Jay Leno

"But I think everybody has warm feelings for George Bush now. He held his final press conference yesterday. He admitted - it takes a big man to do this - he admitted that a couple things didn't go according to plan. A couple of things went haywire. His first term and his second term. Those two things." --David Letterman

"But President Bush did take credit for a couple of things. He said, you know, Dick Cheney hasn't shot anybody in a couple of years. So that's always good, right?" --David Letterman

"But it's nice to know that there is one person untroubled by the Bush presidency that is George Bush himself. He says he gave the presidency his 'all' for eight years and he didn't 'sell his soul for the sake of popularity'. You didn't need to! You sold ours." --Jon Stewart

"In an interview that was taped yesterday, President Bush said that the biggest disappointment of his presidency was the people who expressed bitterness about his leadership. And that was just at the Christmas dinner with his family." --Jay Leno

"President Bush had his final press conference today, and it went pretty well. Only three shoes were thrown." --David Letterman

"After eight years, it is kind of sad President Bush had his final press conference. And you know what that means for us here at the 'Late Show.' We're going to have to start writing our own comedy again." --David Letterman

"Barack Obama promised his kids he would get them a dog when they moved to the White House. But President Bush is nervous. When he heard dog in the White House, he thought, 'Uh oh! What if he digs up all those Al Gore ballots in the back?'" --David Letterman

"And you know, I think he's trying to struggle to come up with some accomplishments. They're trying to make him look good, you know. Like today, he took credit for ending the drought in New Orleans." --Jay Leno

"It was an historic day in Washington, as all four living presidents and our president-elect had lunch together at the White House. Presidents Clinton, Carter, both Bushes, and Barack Obama sat down to share a meal. President Bush was especially excited. It's his place, and when the guys all walked in, he said, 'Hey, you're the guys from the paintings in my office!" --Jimmy Kimmel

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Over 100 Killed in Kenya Fire Tragedy following fuel tanker Accident (warning - image may be disturbing)

Over 100 Kenyans died following a fire accident involving a fuel tanker. Some of the people who perished were part of a group that had gone to the site of the fuel tanker accident to collect fuel using jericans. unconfirmed Eye witness reports say that one of the people who was disgruntled by the way the police were handling the accident scene lit a match stick to start the fire.

The whole place was immediately engulfed in the fire burning everything in its wake including the people - some of whose clothes were covered in oil.

Nearby Cars, motor bikes, plants and animals also went up in smoke.