The dust over the Wikileaks cables calling Kenya a ‘swamp of flourishing corruption’ has yet to settle in the nation’s capital Nairobi. Observers say published memos between US diplomats in the country reveal a sense of unease for what is seen as continuing tolerance for financial mismanagement by Kenya’s politicians.
Kenya government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the comments are “malicious and a total misrepresentation of Kenya and its leaders.” However anti-corruption crusader John Githongo called them “quite accurate.” Githongo investigated domestic bribery and fraud as a journalist, and later as Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics of Kenya under the presidency of Mwai Kibaki.
Githongo’s high profile fallout with the Kenyan government is documented in last year’s book by British author Michela Wrong entitled, “It is our turn to eat.” Githongo exposed contracting scandals and corruption by high ranking politicians, many of them close to the president.
He says that even though Kenyans have been talking about the leaks, few are surprised at the contents.
“There is no news there,” he says, referring to the high profile corruption cases making news as recently as last month, when a top Kenyan foreign ministry official stepped down following allegations of wrongdoing. Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Thuita Mwangi submitted his resignation to President Mwai Kibaki after a report alleging foreign ministry officials cost Kenya millions of dollars in property deals involving the country’s embassies. The report also called for Mwangi and Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula to stand trial on corruption charges.
Kenya has been plagued by widespread corruption despite repeated government vows to crack down on the practice. Corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Kenya 154th out of 180 countries in its 2010 corruption perceptions index.
Githongo suspects few Kenyans would disagree with the characterization in the memos “unless they themselves are the primary perpetrators.”
Still, he says, the memos have had an effect among Kenyan politicians many of whom fear that they will now come under close scrutiny.
“I have not seen this in many other countries,” he says, “where the elite have been quite shaken up by something…”
Githongo says the memos will not affect the relationship between Kenyans and the US.
“Kenya,” he says, “is an old friend of the United States going back several decades. [It] occupies a fairly unique geopolitical space and that relationship is solid…”
Since leaving office as Kenya’s anti corruption czar, Githongo has continued working in grassroots advocacy. He is the head of Inuka—a grassroots social movement “dedicated to inspiring Kenyans at every level to take charge of improving their own lives…”