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
Pages:354.
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.

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Published in: on July 13, 2011 at 6:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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SMS Uprising: Mobile Activism in Africa, Sokari Ekine (Ed)

SMS Uprising: Mobile Activism in Africa, now available at SOMA Book Cafe.

For those who are interested in technology development and how it has contributed specifically to development issues, this is a usefully book.

SMS Uprising provides a unique insight into how activists and social change advocates are addressing Africa’s many challenges from within, and how they are using mobile telephone technologies to facilitate these changes.

This collection of essays by those engaged in using mobile phone technologies for social change provides an analysis of the socio-economic, political and media contexts faced by activists in Africa today. The essays address a broad range of issues including inequalities in access to technology based on gender, rural and urban usage, as well as offering practical examples of how activists are using mobile technology to organise and document their experiences. They provide an overview of the lessons learned in making effective use of mobile phone technologies without any of the romanticism so often associated with the use of new technologies for social change. The examples are shared in a way that makes them easy to replicate – ‘Try this idea in your campaign.’ The intention is that the experiences described within the book will lead to greater reflection about the real potential and limitations of mobile technologies.

Edited by Nigerian activist Sokari Ekine, who runs the prize-winning blog Black Looks, the book brings together some of the best known and experienced developers and users of mobile phone technologies in Africa, including Juliana Rotich from Ushahidi in Kenya, Ken Banks of Kiwanja.net, and Berna Ngolobe of WOUGNET in Uganda.

You can read more from Fahamu Books

Published in: on July 3, 2010 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Power of Reading – Insights from the Research by Krashen Stephen

It is a common to hear that; if you want to hide anything to black person put it in a book. In our particular case you will hear: Tanzanians don’t read books. In both cases there is some truth. But many don’t go further and ask question(s) why we don’t read?

The Power of Reading by Krashen provides informative research findings on literacy crisis, though based in US some findings are universal. During 1970s literacy level in Tanzania was almost 90%, now it is about 60%. It’s not uncommon to find standard seven graduates who can not read and write. In secondary and high level institutions most of the student read for academics as they must read. As the saying goes, you can only learn reading by reading. Krashen is specifically recommending, Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). FVR means reading because you want to.

The following are some of research findings which reflect on cause, effect and posible solution to the problem of reading.

  • Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) means reading because you want to: not because it’s homework, no book report, no questions at the end of chapter. FVR is one of foundation of language education more effective when combined with other techniques. Types of in-school FVR: Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), self-selective reading and extensive reading
  • Direct Instruction (DI) may be used to complement FVR. DI entails consciously skills building and error correction and learning language rules. Depending on environment, capacity of the student and availability of reading materials, optimal combination of DI and FVR will yield better results.
  • Access to quality reading materials is one of solution. Thought it is true that “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink”. But first and foremost, make sure the water is there. Access should mean good number; quality of books and other reading materials; comfortable, quite and conveniently located.
  • Children from high-income families reads more-because they have what to read. Research shows that, when children are given many optional on reading materials, they will read what is interesting to them. A family with good income is in better position of accessing and buying more reading material.
  • Creation of Print-Rich Environment (PRE) should be the way. Parents, schools, government and all stakeholders in promotion of literacy has obligation of ensuring that PRE is creation from home to public libraries. People should be exposed to environment where they can choose and read what they want not what is available. To me Print-Poor Environment (PPR) has significant contribution to the low level of literacy in Tanzania.
  • Children learn allot from reading to and see other reading. Research shows that when teachers were also reading during sustained silent reading, students read more. Also at home when their parents are reading it motivated them to red more. Secondly, reading to children, for example bedtime stories improve kids language capacities. If you think you kid is to young to read to, some parents start bedtime reading at the age of 6 month.
  • Reading contributes in improving writing and makes us smarter. From reading, sometimes unconsciously and involuntarily people learn vocabularies and writing style. Formal language is often too complex to learn one rule at a time. When people reads they encounter and learn different styles and gain command of language, which gives them advantage in writing. Reading more without writing will not improve writing skills. Another advantage of writing; it makes us think and solve the problem, in other words, can make you smarter.
  • Other reading benefits include; pleasure and cognitive development. Now days, in CVs people write that reading is one of their hobbies. I never stop to wonder how many of them understand the pleasure of reading.
  • Let’s make reading family and community activity. Let’s create Print-Rich Environment for people to access what they like reading. For parents, remember, read stories to your children and when they see you reading it motivate them.
Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 9:11 am  Comments (1)  
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A Long Way Gone- Memoirs of A Boy Soldier by Ishamel Beah

A Long Way.Gone Beah Ishamel

In A LONG WAY GONE: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Beah, now twenty-six years old, tells a powerfully gripping story: At the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. At sixteen, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation center, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and, finally, to heal.

This is an extraordinary and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

When you read this book, you may be tempted to think that it’s a fiction and not a true story. But what Beah reveals are details on how war atrocities especially children. They way which he was running from one village to another escaping the war, how he lost his family and friends is so sad for any young person to experience. In some scene the story is horrifying, on how he turned to be a soldier using drugs and force to kill as revenge. After finishing reading this book, you will know the value of peace which other countries enjoy. Also, the book gives rear story of children who participated in war, survived and was able to rehabilitate. The books re

You may read more about this book here: http://www.alongwaygone.com/

For those in Dar Es Salaam, I have one copy only and can borrow, if you promise to return it.

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer John.

Who Moved My Cheese Spencer John

Who Moved My Cheese? is the story of four characters living in a “Maze” who face unexpected change when they discover their “Cheese” has disappeared. Sniff and Scurry, who are mice, and Hem and Haw, little people the size of mice, each adapt to change in their “Maze” differently. In fact, one doesn’t adapt at all.

What I could gather from this short book is on CHANGE. The two mice Sniff and Scurry were ready for changes. When they find that Cheese is finished, they did not sit and wait for another one. Instead they were able to put on their shoes and embark on journey to look for another territory of Cheese. While their fellow little people Hem and Haw, were not ready to go and start looking for another Cheese after the first one finished. What I learned from this book is willingness to change and knowing that, success and opportunities are sometimes not where we want them to be. One of challenging moment in life is to know when is the time to change and take another step in life. To survive in this ever changing world, one needs to have capacity to analyze situation and know when it’s the right time to take a sometimes difficult position. One of the quote from the book is “Noticing Small Changes Early Helps You Adapt to Bigger Changes That Are To Come”

I will recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it, and its very short, 39 pages only.  Similar to this, there is another book: Who Moved My Ladder: The Working Woman’s Guide to Success by Fiona Coyne.

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 5:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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