Book Review: It’s Our Turn to Eat: A Story of Kenyan Whistle Blower

Book Review by Adam Jackson Foya.
Title: It’s Our Turn to Eat: A Story of Kenyan Whistle Blower
Author: Michela Wrong.
Publisher: Fourth Estate, UK
Year of Publication: 2009.

In her book It’s Our Turn To Eat, Michela Wrong explores the political history of corruption in Kenya including the multifaceted features of ethnic (tribal) division. Wrong delivers vivid, raw details about mechanism of corruption in goverment. Her restrained use of embellishments make for a candid, insightful read. Wrong tells the story of John Githongo, a former head of anti-corruption in Kenya, who turns out to be a whistle blower and one of Africa’s success stories in fighting corruption. .

The book gives a primer on tribalism in Kenya, and sparingly provides the reader with the necessary tedium to access the nuances that divide one tribe from another. When a certain tribe is in power, it becomes their “Turn to Eat’’. Wrong has done a good job in tracing change of power and tribal division from pre to post colonialism. After Kenya’s independence from Britain, Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu became the first president. During his presidency, Wrong uses Githong’s recounts to describe how it was the Kikuyu’s “time to eat”. Kenyatta was followed by ‘Professor of Politics’, Daniel Arap Moi, a Kalenjeen who was president of Kenya for too long-more nearly for 30 years. The account given shows all of the pertinent details relevant to decades of corruption under Moi’s leadership, and methodically calculates the audacious and absurd indulgences of his (the Kalenjeen’s) administration. It was indeed the Kalenjeen’s time to eat, and Wrong gives a matter of fact account of how they feasted at the expense of Western investers and ultimately of the Kenyan people.

In 2002, Kibaki with the Kikuyu-led NARC government came into power, with high promises and people expectations that “corruption will cease to be a way of life in Kenya”. It did not took longer before the same government was involved in procurement scandal of $ 751 million, involving Anglo Leasing and Finance Ltd which remain to be a ‘ghost firm’. Tanzanian readers may be interested to find out how Richmond scandal is almost ‘copy and paste’ of Anglo Leasing ghost company. On his appointment Githongo was very optimistic with the regime and hoped for better change. He made it very clear to the President: “we can set up all the anti-corruption authorities we want, spend all the money we want, pass all the laws on anticorruption, but it all depends on you. If people believe the president is ‘eating’, the battle is lost. If you are steady on this thing, if the leadership is there, we will succeed.”It was not too long that, he came to realise those who he trusted were now involved in the scandals and even the President was also ‘eating’. Evidence from the network of informant whom he had to setup was implicating ministers, Permanent Secretaries, famous business people and probably the President. All these evidences secretly collected, like voice recording and documents from the network of informant in his payroll, were his insurance and base for blowing the whistle.

The book shows the systematic corruption which involves people on power and business. For instance, Anglo Leasing which involved eighteen contracts classified as ‘sensitive’, military – or security in nature. They included among others; a digital multi-channel communications network for prison service, new helicopters, a building a forensic laboratory, state-of-the-art frigate, a top-secret military surveillance dubbed ‘Project Nexus’. The value for 18 contracts amounted to 5% of gross domestic product, over 16% of the government’s gross expenditure in 2003-04 and the money was outstripping the country’s total aid ($521) and were enough to supply every HIV-positive Kenyan with anti-retroviral for the next ten years.

The role of development partner in corruption is well demonstrated in the book. It reminded what Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemy, but the silence of our friends”. Four days after John Githongo released his dossier, World Bank announced $145 million loans to Kenya. The same was done by DfID Britain’s Department for International Development, when announced a £ 58 million grant few days before John’s leak. Its only IMF which refused to follow the schedule of lending and it was only Netherlands which stopped aid in grounds of corruption. The most vocal ‘friend’ who Kenyans will remember the most is Sir Edward Clay, British High Commissioner to Kenya from 2001-05. In one of his speeches against corruption, he aptly said: “Those in government were now eating ‘like gluttons’ out of combination of arrogance, greed and panic. They may expect we shall not see, or notice, or will forgive them a bit of gluttons, but they can hardly expect us not to care when their gluttony causes them to vomit all over our shoes”.

From the book, one can see some similarities between Kenya and Tanzania. Systematic corruption, where dubious high value contracts with ‘ghost’ and dubious companies are signed by the government to siphon public funds. For instance, corruption scandal at Bank of Tanzania (BoT). Where several ‘ghost’ companies were paid large sum of public money under External Payment Arrears (EPA). Disappointingly funds from EPA and Anglo Leasing are alleged to have been used to finance elections.

But are whistle blowers enough to fight corruption in Africa? Yes we need whistle blower, but what we need the most as the author is quoting Hussein Were: “You don’t need any more bodies, you don’t need more laws, you need good people and the will”. Lack of political will to remains to be the challenge in fighting corruption in African countries. A need for good people who have political will to establish institution and take actions against corruption and not just paying some lips services. Moreover we need informed citizens to hold the government accountable on public funds.

Published in: on July 13, 2011 at 6:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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