A new book about corruption in Kenya
has triggered a storm of debate and controversy in the country, even though
many book stores are refusing to sell it.
book – It's Our Turn to Eat – is
written by Michela Wrong, a correspondent, who has written at length about
Africa. The book centers on Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics John Githongo's failed attempts to curb corruption in Kenya, causing
him to go into exile. And later resign.
London, Wrong spoke to VOA about her book and why she chose the title: It's Our Turn to Eat.
our turn to eat is a phrase you hear a lot if you're living in Kenya. And
people use it to mean it's our ethnic community's turn to eat. And when they
say eat they mean to dig into state resources, to benefit from the patronage
possibilities," she says.
possibilities arise when a member of a particular ethnic group is elected or
appointed to a key government job.
got your guy in state house and he's going to make sure that your ethnic
community gets jobs for the boys…that your constituency gets investment in
infrastructure and that all the public contracts go to people from your ethnic
area," she says.
lived in Kenya for four years and continued to report on developments there
even after leaving the country.
If patronage is widely known, why write
was…just sort of wondering where does this problem with corruption come from?
Why is it so ingrained? And then the story of John Githongo came along and he
was an old friend… He went into anti-corruption campaigning. He joined Transparency International and
finally he ended up in government as an anti-corruption czar," Wrong says.
However, she says Githongo
soon ran into problems.
had basically come across a major corruption scandal called Anglo Leasing. And
he discovered his key colleagues in government, key ministers, who were
supposed to be backing him in the fight against corruption, were actually
involved in it," she says.
living in London at the time, offered to help.
said to him…if you need somewhere to stay, if you're in trouble, you can always
come and stay with me in London. And very soon after that he took me up on my
offer and basically went into hiding," she says.
calls his story "fascinating," adding, "It told us so much about modern Kenya."
says the Kenyan government has not made an official statement regarding her
book, but has made clear it is not banned.
But buying a copy was difficult.
seems to have taken place behind the scenes, I think there has been a level of
intimidation applied. Because what we saw was that very soon after the book
came out, the book sellers of Nairobi began to cancel orders for the book and
you couldn't buy it anywhere," she says.
says the book sellers claimed they were worried about being sued for libel.
nothing in my book that Kenyans don't already know because the scandal…was
already very, very familiar to Kenyans.
It had been widely covered in the newspapers at the time," she says
More than one way to sell a book
in the last week, we see this very interesting project, which I think is a
testament to the extent to which Kenyan civic society is exasperated with the
situation in Kenya – the continuing level of corruption, the failure of their
new coalition government to deal with the problems," she says.
in Kenya are discussing the book. Some local radio stations are giving away
copies and a newspaper is offering it to its readers. The book is even being
sold at traffic lights.
these people have got together and said this is a book, which confronts the
problems that are dogging our society," she says.
says many Kenyans believe these problems will result in a new wave of violence
similar to what occurred after the 2007 elections. More than a thousand people
US backs book distribution
"The coordination behind to project is
from USAID (United States Agency for International Development)… They made sure
that the books came in in a big consignment into the country and were cleared
through customs. I was very afraid they might be seized at that stage," she
Wrong says she's "impressed"
by the role USAID played.
think this is something very different for a development agency to be doing and
very imaginative," she says.
soon visits Washington, DC to promote the US edition of It's Our Turn to Eat. She calls on donor nations to pressure Kenya
on corruption and not be sidetracked by its potential for economic growth.
"We've really got to
stop fooling ourselves. Corruption is a massive issue in Africa… Corruption can
lead to political instability… Kenya…is now teetering on the abyss. People are
very, very worried about the future there. And by turning a blind eye to
corruption, donors can actually make those scenarios more likely," she says.
The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission
is disputing the contents of the book and [the allegation that the government
is not doing enough to] fight corruption.
The commission's public relations
officer, Catherine Wambui, describes what she calls an all-out war against
corruption in the country.
"We fight corruption in three ways. Number
one is investigation and asset-tracing…. We also fight it through preventive means
and also through education," she says.
Wambui says when people are judging
the efforts, they should look at all three fronts… But obviously we are putting
our best foot forward."
Kenyan anti-corruption information is
available on the government website (www.kacc.go.ke).
"You will see the results of what we
have been doing," she says.
The commission has not
been pressured by government officials to tilt its investigation one way or the
other, says Wambui.
"We investigate corruption big
and small; we investigate corruption in government and out of government…. We have not had an instance where we have got
a call from State House telling us don't investigate so and so… I think the government has been pretty
supportive," she says.
No tolerance for corruption
is bad whether it is big or small…. You can imagine how many years of
corruption we are trying to undo…. The fight is gallantly on, we are certainly
doing a good job."