President Mwai Kibaki, currently campaigning for a second five-year term, won an election five years ago by a landslide on the basis of an anti-corruption ticket. He made the bold move of appointing the country’s head of Transparency International as his anti-corruption tsar and included him as part of the Government. His name – John Githongo.
A journalist by profession, John Githongo was first introduced to anti-corruption work by his father who was one of the founders of the Kenyan chapter of Transparency International.
But in his high-prestige post in the new Kibaki government Githongo junior committed the ultimate sin: he was just too good at his job. He uncovered a $200 million scam that ultimately led to the heart of government itself.
It began when John Githongo received information that prompted him to investigate a contract with a company called Anglo Leasing and Finance to provide the Immigration Department with a new tamper-proof passport system. A commitment fee had been paid but no work appeared to have been done. Furthermore, no one who should have known seemed to know exactly what Anglo Leasing was.
He investigated further and, almost miraculously, the money paid out to Anglo Leasing started coming back. Not just a trickle either – it poured. Obese cheques – one for 4.7 million dollars – arrived at the Kenya Central Bank.
‘I have to admit, I got carried away. I thought: wow... here is somebody returning all this cash and not suing us. If someone is forced to pay back half a billion shillings on a contract, they have to be out of pocket in a big way and should go to court. Now this is the real business... this is the real fight against corruption... this is half a billion which can now perhaps be spent on something more worthwhile. Recovery of money on this scale had never happened before.’
But, he recalls with a wry smile, ‘my colleagues did not share my enthusiasm. No celebratory atmosphere developed. No champagne bottles were popped. There was something odd...’
Senior officials told him to back off now. The Anglo Leasing sandal was not a scandal, he was told, as the money had been repaid.
But he did not follow their advice. He carried on and found that there were other Anglo Leasing type companies and contracts for various projects – a forensic laboratory for the police, ships for the navy, a telecommunications system.
The pressure on him to ‘take a back seat’ from the investigation became more intense.
He was determined to find out who was behind this massive network of scams so that they could be prosecuted. A combination of naivety and optimism kept him going, says Githongo. ‘I had no idea my inquiries would reach so high.’
Githongo kept his boss, the President, informed at each stage of his investigation. Finally, though, his position became impossible. He received warnings from friends. People in high office wanted him dead. He escaped to
In January 2006 he issued a damning dossier which implicated and named four high-ranking Kenyan government officials in corruption on a massive scale: David Mwiraria, finance minister; Kiraitu Murungi, energy minister; Vice-President Moody Awori; and Chris Murungaru, former national security minister. The main purpose of the corruption, the dossier alleged, was to raise party funds with which to fight elections by siphoning off government money into non-existent companies.
Since the report was published three of the ministers concerned were fired from the cabinet and Kibaki’s fragile Rainbow Coalition has collapsed. Two of the fired ministers have since been re-appointed but interestingly there have been no high-level prosecutions to date and the accused ministers continue to deny wrong-doing.
John Githongo thinks there are some people in government who still support him and his anti-corruption drive but they are ‘not a critical mass’. As he says: ‘The fact that I am here [in
The Government has made other attempts to put the lid on the scandal. The lead investigator in the Anglo Leasing Affair has been fired. Meanwhile Justice Aaron Ringera, head of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, has been accused by Githongo and others of ‘shielding the culprits’ until after the 2008 general election.
Thousands of demonstrators have been taking to the streets of