A Corruption Fighter-in-Exile Rocks Kenya From Afar
By MARC LACEY, New York Times, February 11, 2006

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb. 10 - Corruption is not news in Kenya, but a new insider account that reads like a thriller has captivated the people here as never before with accounts of death threats and secret meetings, shell companies and huge, illegal budget outlays, and a cast of characters as colorful as any novelist could create.

The exposé, which details just how devious politicians have been - even those in a government that came to office in 2002 pledging to put an end to the rot - was the work of John Githongo, who until January 2005 was the anticorruption czar of President Mwai Kibaki. Before he signed up as a presidential aide, Mr. Githongo had been an anticorruption activist and crusading journalist. He clearly never lost his activist ways.

Within months of moving into the presidential mansion, he began tracking suspicious deals. He says he encountered opposition from some of the president's most loyal aides. It did not take him long to conclude that corruption was rife among those who were vowing to wipe it out.

Mr. Githongo eventually fled the country for England, convinced that the repeated warnings he received that his life was in danger were serious. From Oxford, where he is now a fellow at St. Antony's College, Mr. Githongo has been continuing his effort to root out graft.

He sent a letter to the president in November along with a blow-by-blow account of his interactions with some of the president's men. Last month, it managed to make its way onto the front pages of Kenya's newspapers, where readers have been following the details of the frauds with outrage.

"This government has let us down," said Stella Kapsoot, 22, an airline employee who has been watching the twists and turns of what has become known as the Anglo Leasing scandal. "They are as deep into it as the last one."

The last government was regarded as rotten to the core. Government, it seemed then, was little more than a get-rich-quick scheme.

But when Mr. Kibaki succeeded Daniel arap Moi after Mr. Moi retired at the end of 2002, things were supposed to have changed. A onetime vice president to Mr. Moi, Mr. Kibaki had parted ways with him more than a decade ago over the former president's autocratic leadership style. As a sign of his new approach to government, the president put Mr. Githongo in charge of sniffing out graft.

It was not a difficult search. Mr. Githongo describes how he uncovered a trick in which a fake company invented during Mr. Moi's tenure, Anglo Leasing and Finance Ltd., was granted millions of dollars in public money by Mr. Kibaki's administration for various security projects, like producing tamperproof passports and building a police forensics lab.

Inflated prices were charged and little or no work was performed for the checks the phantom company received, Mr. Githongo found. He tried in vain to track down ownership of the company, which listed various European addresses as its headquarters, but nobody seemed willing to step forward and claim it.

As Mr. Githongo pushed, top-level presidential aides began pressing him to back off. As he continued, the money that had been given to Anglo Leasing and other shell companies began mysteriously reappearing in the Central Bank - $300 million in all. The top-level aides returned to Mr. Githongo and said there was now no reason at all for him to continue pursuing the matter.

Mr. Githongo described how cabinet ministers acknowledged that the scheme was a way to funnel taxpayer money into political campaigns. Nobody admitted pocketing any money, although politicians here are known for their vast wealth, even those who were mediocre businessmen before taking office.

Throughout it all, Mr. Githongo recounted how he briefed Mr. Kibaki, with little effect. The president asked his corruption crusader which of his aides were dirty but never acted on what he was told, Mr. Githongo said.

As Mr. Githongo's account has been devoured by Kenyans, the impact has been immediate. David Mwiraria, the minister of finance and one of those accused of meddling in Mr. Githongo's investigation, resigned this month, to devote his attention to clearing his name, he said. Another person mentioned, Chris Murungaru, the former minister of national security and a close presidential ally, angrily suggested this week that Mr. Githongo might be guilty of spying because he released state secrets while in Britain.

Mr. Kibaki recently dropped Mr. Murungaru from the cabinet after both the British and American governments refused to grant him visas, citing laws that restrict travel for corrupt officials. Mr. Githongo secretly tape-recorded his colleagues. In one tape that he played on the BBC this week, Kiraitu Murungi, the former justice minister and current energy minister, is heard telling Mr. Githongo that a loan that Mr. Githongo's father owed to a politically powerful businessman might be forgiven if he backed off on his corruption inquiry.

The investigation by Mr. Githongo did not directly implicate his boss, Mr. Kibaki, but he did find the vice president, Moody Awori, connected to the fraud.

As the Anglo Leasing mess continues to boil over, another scandal has reappeared on the scene.

The biggest fraud in Kenya's history is the so-called Goldenberg case, in which the government lost an estimated $1 billion by giving financial incentives to a company for exporting gold and diamonds that did not exist. The matter has been looked into repeatedly with no concrete results.

Mr. Kibaki, upon taking office, began yet another Goldenberg inquiry. An investigative commission took months of testimony, but when it was ready to release its report last year, Mr. Kibaki appeared in no hurry to see it. Commissioners began complaining of a cover-up.

Then, in the midst of the Anglo Leasing scandal, Mr. Kibaki's government ordered the Goldenberg report released, which many see as an attempt to deflect attention away from the current brouhaha and toward the previous one.

The report recommends further scrutiny of Mr. Moi's role in the scandal and it implicates, among others, George Saitoti, then the finance minister and now the education minister.

The turmoil has left Kenyans as angry as ever at their leaders, past and present.

"We are not happy," said James Kamau, 34, a part-time salesman. "These big men have been misappropriating our money. Our living standards have been affected."

That is a complaint heard often in this country, where the infrastructure is crumbling and jobs are hard to find, yet officials seem preoccupied with feathering their nests.

Further fueling the outrage is a drought in northern Kenya that has put an estimated 3.5 million Kenyans in need of emergency food relief.
"People are dying of hunger, and our leaders are embezzling funds to fatten themselves," said Geoffrey Kimani, 24, an activist who was scanning the headlines at a newspaper stand the other day. "They don't get it. They really don't."