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Monday, June 15, 2009

Its Our Turn to beScrewed

I completed John Githongo's book today after reading it intermittently for almost two months. I read the online version that has circulated (illegally) though the internet. So yes, guilty as charged; it was sleazy because I am complicit in robbing the author of their royalties. For no respectable reason, Kenyan bookshops are not stocking the book, purportedly because of fear of being sued, and predictably losing the lawsuits to corrupt thieves, who can hire the best lawyers in this ass-end of the world.

Michela Wrong, the author of It’s Our Turn to Eat - The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower, does a great job in chronicling the events surrounding John Githongo's resignation as Kenya's Anti Corruption chief, Corruption in the Kenyan government, Kenyan attitudes, Githongo's escape to Britain, his expose of the Anglo Leasing scam, Kenyan's reaction and his return to Kenya.

For all intents and purposes, this book is a tragedy and a sad tale of a lost war unravels before the eyes of the reader. At the end of the book, faced with the insignificant changes in the face of out-of-control and blatant grand corruption, with the whistle blowers dealt mortal blows and the fat, belching potbellied politicians strutting around freely in manicured golf lawns, my heart was broken, my spirit crippled and my insides emptied of hope and warmth. I feel mortified.

Michela is an engaging, introspective, daring and capable author who clearly did her research as far as Kenya's tribalism, attitudes, class divisions and NGO world are concerned and the book is very informative from a geo-political perspective.

Sometimes, she dares to lay bare a non-flattering character aspect of her subject (John Githongo) and even forays into his love life. Her insights in the workings of the US and UK ambassadors in Kenya are informative and reveal a lot of what happens behind the press conferences and the thinking behind the donor agencies and their frustrations with Africa and their own contradictions.

Ultimately, after reading the book, as a Kenyan, I feel trapped and royally screwed by the political class who continually tighten their boa-like grip on the minds of the majority of Kenyans. No, no, Michella's writing does not foster a feeling of helplessness or paralysis; it is just the sad, raw brutal presentation of how screwed up the Kenyan situation is that makes one sad. And it is undisputable that politicians and our chequered history of tribalism, royal land-grabbing, nepotism and corruption have contributed to our present situation. The oligarchy that occupies the top echelons of our society is getting stronger and stronger and the gap between the rich and poor widens even as jobless youth increase each year.

Unlike Michela Wrong, I don’t think the situation will explode like in the French Revolution: the rich political class will just recruit more young people into the police force and GSU to beat back the tidal wave of angry poor youth. In the final end, barring getting a reformist leader, desperate Kenyan youth will probably start leaving their own country in thousands to UAE, Canada, Australia and South Africa to seek greener pastures, just the same way youth from North Africa drown while trying to swim their way to Spain and other European countries. It is more efficient than trying to shake off rich, powerful leeches from their warm host.

After taping conversations of shameless tribal thugs conspiring to rob the country, shameless failure to prosecute them by those paid to do exactly that, and the tribal and myopic view of most Kenyan's, Githongo's efforts amount to almost naught. Naught. That is the tragic thread that runs through the book. Githongo is left a middle-aged man caught between multiple possible careers, alone after his fiancée got hitched to another man, his efforts laid to waste, the thugs he exposed rewarded with bigger positions and the person who appointed him smugly ignoring all his efforts.

Virtue is its own reward, someone once said. But after reading this story, and considering the stories of other Kenyan whistleblowers like Munyakei, one wonders whether it is worth it, and whether this is the only way to deal with corruption, given that it is almost ineffective in the current scheme of things. Yes, other anti-corruption stalwarts like Mwalimu Mati and Muthoni Wanyeki are still fighting the good fight, but in Kenya, when you push aside the cheap transitory drama that politicians throw at us daily to distract us from the real issues, and you see the ugly trail that lurks behind it, from Goldenberg, the Kroll report, Charterhouse, Anglo Leasing, Grand Regency Sale and the inane "typing errors" in the treasury, and the utter inaction and subterfuge orchestrated in handling them, your heart is broken.
Broken to a million pieces at the feet of virtue. Her hands lay limp at her side, her head is bowed and her spirit broken. And the thieves roam freely in a society blinded by tribal fear, too poor to think beyond their basic needs and too divided to act collectively.

That is the thread that runs through the story of Githongo's war against corruption. He starts out by accepting the government appointment while naive and idealistic. Then he gets royally screwed of his innocence, his life gets turned upside down, he becomes a fugitive, then he is a stigmatized pariah assigned near irrelevant status. He is ostracized by the very people he was trying to protect from the marauding hyenas that believe it is their turn to eat. And our turn to be screwed - consider the stinking GoldenBerg sale, Safaricom sale, Pyramid Schemes sanctioned by central Bank, Nyaga and Thuo stockbrockers, Discount Securities, Mobitelea, treasury "typing errors", stolen election, maize saga, Triton saga etc.
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