#Article (Archive)

It's Our Turn to Eat:

Jun 5, 2009, 9:00 AM

Michela Wrong

The story of a Kenyan Whistleblower, Fourth Estate, 2009

Michela Wrong, a seasoned Africa correspondent for the respected London Financial Times, writes about the struggle of one Kenyan Man, John Githongo, to fight corruption in his country. A personal friend of Githongo, Michela uses her access to the anti corruption czar to bring out the most intimate details of how Githongo battled vested interest and powerful 'Big Men'. Githongo was appointed as the new Kenya anti corruption hit man in 2003, soon after the downfall of the kanu regime, which was notorious for corruption and human rights abuse. Kenyans were so expectant for change under the new NARC coalition government that most expected an end to graft and bribery.

Indeed, as Michela rights observe taxi drivers in Nairobi started refusing to pay bribes or kituku kidogo to the traffic police officers. Office staff reported their senior for past corrupt activities. The two leading dailies were full of stories of individual Kenyans who publicly rejected bribes. Above all, there was John Githongo, 37 years old and a known crusader against corruption as the head of the anti corruption department. People flooded his office with reports of corrupt cases and he lost no time in following on them, p.34. The international press and missions in Nairobi lent their support so did the new government. All seem set for a new phase in Kenyan politics- accountability and clean government.

did not last long. First, Michela reveals that Githongo started coming under pressure from his own  people, the Kikuyu, who would tell him that 'it is our time to eat the national cake, so do not spoil the show for us, after all you are our kith and kin', p.97. Here Michela reveals the ethnic tightrope that people fighting against corruption in Africa have to toe. Next, the very Big Men in government, the political arrivistes newly elected wanted to start eating also, for they believed it was their turn to eat as the new government people. Next, he started to receive death threats as he tried to unmasks some filthy corruption rackets like the Goldenburg scandal worth tens of millions of dollars in 2003.

Yet, Githongo struggled on sustained by his profound convictions about corruption, and by a supportive media and civil society. He received endless invitations to forums to explain his work and challenges. But the Big Men wanted his head. And the dead threats continued.

Thus in early 2005, he fled Kenya, p.21. But before he threw in the towel, he had gathered a lot of evidence against his tormentors, the new corrupt elite. He had the habit if recording their discussions and private chats. It is this damming evidence that he made available to Michela to write this damning book.

With his flight, the anti graft crusade in Kenya died. Once more the eaters and gluttons have their time to eat, eat and eat at the expense of the poor masses of Kenya. Michela rightly blames corruption for the ills of Kenya. Corruption has impoverished the people and has made them so inward looking that tribalism was easily rekindled in the last disputed elections in which 1500 people died, before a shaky government was cobbled together

This is an excellent book written from a perceptive and penetrating angle. The author sides with the people, and condemns the looters of coffers, those who feed on caviar and champagne while the masses starve.

John Githongo recently returned to Kenya and has vowed to continue his fight.

Available at Timbooktoo. Tel. 4494345