One of President Kibaki’s most trusted aides told the US ambassador that the President had lots of information about Cabinet-level corruption but was reluctant to act.
In a cable that illustrates the level of engagement between the US embassy and State House and its envoys’ access to information at the highest levels, then US ambassador to Kenya William Bellamy outlined a conversation he had with one of Mr Kibaki’s top aides, Mr Stanley Murage.
Mr Murage seemed to imply that President Kibaki had been less than candid in stating that he had no evidence implicating a senior minister and former DP stalwart in graft.
Mr Bellamy informed his superiors in Washington that after the briefing, and out of earshot of another top official, Mr Francis Muthaura, Mr Murage said “the President has plenty of evidence, he’s just not acting.”
The ambassador had visited President Kibaki to inform him that the US had issued a visa ban against one of his most senior ministers, who was suspected of corruption involving security-related contracts.
He reported that after the October 19, 2005 meeting that Mr Kibaki “appeared glum” after receiving the news and demanded evidence to support the Americans’ assertions that the minister was corrupt.
“After an initial chat about the rigours of campaigning during the referendum (on the constitution), I explained to Kibaki the decision.
“I noted that we had no plans for a public announcement or statement but would respond briefly and factually if asked whether (the minister) has been excluded from the US.”
Mr Bellamy said Mr Kibaki’s top aides maintained a keen interest in the one-on-one meeting between the ambassador and the president.
“Mr Muthaura and presidential senior adviser Stanley Murage lingered outside the President’s office during the meeting. When I debriefed them, they appeared disappointed at the President’s indecisiveness (on the possibility of sacking the minister).”
The ambassador issued an analysis of the possible cause of Mr Kibaki’s inaction, while noting that sacking the minister would provide a boost to the president’s flagging popularity ratings.
“Action against (the minister), who is widely perceived as the most obviously corrupt and corrupting of ministers, would be a politically savvy move by Kibaki. It would win accolades at home across the political spectrum.
“At a time when the Kibaki government is being battered by donors, international organisations and NGOs for its poor governance performance, sacking (the minister) would add a little lustre to Kenya’s tarnished credentials. Yet, clearly, Kibaki is reluctant to act.”
The information on the State House visit is contained in one of thousands of cables leaked by whistleblower website, Wikileaks.
The dispatches from missions across the world have illuminated the relationship between the US and other countries.
The note from Mr Bellamy was written at a time when the Kibaki administration was under severe pressure from international allies and local campaigners who complained the president had gone back on a promise that his government would fight corruption.
The picture emerges from Mr Bellamy’s cable of a president who was aware of the scale of corruption in government but was reluctant to act.
President Kibaki gave away little during the meeting and demanded that the Americans supply evidence of corruption.
“The (visa ban) decision was ‘most serious’ (Mr Kibaki) conceded,” the dispatch reads in part. “What specifically, (Mr Kibaki) asked, were those reasons?
“Beyond the (visa ban’s) general assertions on corrupt activity, what were the charges against (the minister)?
“Mr Kibaki said that were he to make a decision ‘on this man’ he would need something more specific on which to base it. Could the US ‘help him a little’ on this, he asked.”
Mr Bellamy reports he told the president he could not divulge his sources, due to the sensitivity of the matter. But he told the President a little digging “in his back garden” would reveal evidence of corruption.
The cable offered an analysis of possible reasons why Mr Kibaki was reluctant to act on Cabinet-level graft. “It may be, as some suggest, that Kibaki simply can’t bring himself to act against an old ally and fellow Kikuyu insider.
Or it may be that Kibaki, who abhors unpleasantness, just can’t stomach the idea of a one-on-one showdown with (the) tough guy.
“The worst-case scenario, and unfortunately not an implausible one, is that (the minister’s) deep pockets are needed to win the current referendum campaign and, beyond that, to provide clandestine financing for the political realignments Kibaki’s inner circle hopes to engineer in the run up to the 2007 elections.”