Monday, 21 March 2011
IT'S OUR TURN TO EAT by Michela Wrong
A friend kindly lent me this as I am moving to Kenya. It tells the true (as far as that's possible) story of one John Githongo, who famously decided to blow the whistle on corruption in the Kenyan government.
Kenya used to be run by Daniel arap Moi, who presided over a fairly corrupt administration. (A contemporary joke was: l'etat, c'est moi). Eventually, he was voted out of power (and actually went – take a tip, ZANU), and replaced with Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki promised an end to the corruption, and hired John Githongo to head a special anti-graft unit. There was much hope throughout Kenya that a new dawn was genuinely on the horizon.
Githongo was a well-educated young man, a journalist who had worked for Transparency International, and he set to work with a will, believing that Kenya really could change. He uncovered a massive government scam, which became known as the Anglo-Leasing (or Anglo-Fleecing) scandal. He slowly realized however that neither President Kibaki, whom he had believed in so whole-heartedly, nor any of his ministers wanted the scandal uncovered, primarily because they were its' main beneficiaries.
He taped incriminating conversations, and kept incriminating documents, and then in fear of his life fled to the UK, where he arrived on the doorstep of a journalist he barely knew asking for shelter. (Thus Michela Wrong our author enters the story). He eventually released his information, and while a huge scandal did unfold, very few heads rolled.
Wrong ties this to the growth of ethnic divisions in Kenya, pointing out that Moi was a Kalenjin, and his regime mainly assisted them, while the Kibaki regime, though it did preside over a growing economy, was perceived to mainly assist his people, the Kikuyu. John Githongo's special crime was thought to lie particuarly in the fact that he was a Kikuyu, and thus 'betrayed' his own people. The book takes us up through the explosion of ethnic tensions that marked the last elections.
So, in some respects a very depressing story. Ms Wrong clearly finds it so, making much of how wasteful aid is, what a hopeless case most of Africa is, etc etc. Personally, I didn't find it to be that way. The main point I think is that John Githongo did stand. And there were those who stood with him. As we see in North Africa at the moment (viva Benghazi, viva!) there has been an old way of doing things,and Africa is currently run by old people, familiar with these old ways. But I have hope: a new generation is coming. Perhaps it is just that it is a sunny morning, but look - Kibakis is one of these geriatrics, born 1931, Mugabe, 1924, Gbagbo 1945 - while John and all those with him are young.
Ms Wrong writes with a lovely clear lucid journalist's voice, and has a lovely turn of phrase. She did get me down with her old-Africa-hand despair, and by her typical white British way of dismissing white Africans. But whatever, it was an interesting and informative book.
I only arrived in Nairobi yesterday, and on the way from the airport I already noticed one of the small businesses she mentioned. A good introduction.