Kenya’s Cabinet is the most corrupt in Africa, according to the latest exposé by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
Newly-released cables say US diplomats believe nearly all members of Kenya’s cabinet are on the take.
They quote Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission director Patrick Lumumba saying he “is convinced that there is hardly a single minister in the country’s bloated, 42-member cabinet, that doesn’t use their position to line their own pockets”.
And American officials are scathing in their assessment of Attorney-General Amos Wako and former Kacc director Aaron Ringera, whom they claim have used their offices to frustrate prosecution of senior government officials.
Cabinet minister Henry Kosgey is included on the list of top officials the US wants removed from government.
They cite corruption-related investigations currently under way against him and his past record as a public official. They also claim some reports have linked him to post-election violence.
“Kosgey’s diverse corruption activities over decades have negatively impacted US foreign assistance goals in a number of ways.
His continuing ownership of illegally transferred forest lands, part of the greater Mau Forest which comprises Kenya’s largest water catchment area, has contributed to ethnic conflict over land ownership in the Rift Valley, and has also contributed to deforestation and resulting drought and hunger that currently plagues Kenya.
Donors, including the United States, have had to provide billions of dollars in emergency food aid to Kenya over the last four years of chronic drought,” the cables state.
Mr Kosgey was not available for comment on Saturday and the Sunday Nation cannot publish the full details of the cables because we could not immediately substantiate the claims levelled against him in relation to his past record.
But Mr Ringera came out fighting when reached. “My record speaks for itself. I put myself 100 per cent into anti-corruption. I know myself and the truth will one day be known even if it takes 20 years. I am on record for recommending prosecution of eight ministers, nine permanent secretaries and 61 heads of parastatals. I also investigated 16 MPs over illegal payments,” he said.
The latest batch of cables was released by German newspaper Der Spiegel, one of five publications given the package of cables containing up to 250,000 dispatches sent from US embassies around the world. The US embassy in Nairobi appears to have focused on investigation of high-level corruption in recent years.
The cables paint a positive profile of the new Kacc chief, who has won praise for the way he has set about pursuing top officials suspected of crimes. Foreign minister Moses Wetang’ula, permanent secretary Thuita Mwangi and Nairobi mayor Geophrey Majiwa were recently forced out of office due to corruption allegations.
US ambassador Michael Ranneberger reported that he was impressed by Prof Lumumba’s first few weeks in office. But he charged that Mr Wako remained a major obstacle to reform, a statement he has made publicly in the past.
In a report compiled in September 2009, the US envoy charged that “Wako is largely responsible for the fact that no politician has ever been seriously taken to task for graft-related activities. Wako was originally appointed to the position by President Moi, but he held onto his office due to his excellent relationship with the country’s current president, Mwai Kibaki. And he shouldn’t expect much in the way of favours from the US,” says the report in Der Spiegel.
Mr Ranneberger outlines a number of reasons why the US decided to ban Mr Wako from America. Mr Wako has vowed to seek legal action against the ban. “The Embassy strongly believes Mr Amos Wako has engaged in and benefited from public corruption in his capacity as Attorney General for the past 18 years by interference with judicial and other public processes.”
The US accuses Mr Wako of sabotaging efforts to pursue justice for the victims of the unrest that afflicted Kenya in early 2008. According to a US dispatch on the matter:
“One can find an Attorney General who has successfully maintained an almost perfect record of non-prosecution. He accomplishes this through the most complex of smoke and mirrors tactics, seeking to appear to desire prosecution while all along doing his utmost to protect the political elites.”
The fallout from the release of the cables continued yesterday as more ministers took up the subject. Internal Security minister Prof George Saitoti, who is also the acting Foreign minister, on Saturday said Kenya should not worry about the leaked cables since many other countries had been mentioned as well. “This is propaganda but we are not the only ones,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta said the Americans were threatened by China’s rising influence. “The Chinese have provided funds for roads, hospitals and other projects but the complainants have nothing to show in this regard,” he said.
Defence minister Yusuf Haji dismissed accusations that the defence council was populated by members of Mr Kibaki’s Kikuyu community. “Mambo ya huyu balozi ni ya sokoni na ya upuuzi (This is mere market gossip). I am the chairman of the defence council, Joseph Nkaissery is a member, David Musila is a member and the head of the army (Jeremiah Kianga) is a Kamba,” he said.
Despite the heated reaction from the Cabinet, Prime Minister and President, the release of the cables is likely to cement Kenya’s reputation as one of the most corrupt countries in the region.
The Der Spiegel report says corrupt “government (officials) often trigger famines and instigate unrest, which then must be mitigated with Western aid money. As such, diplomats have drawn up a list of the worst offenders. Fifteen high-ranking Kenyan officials have been banned from entering the US.
“During the 24 years that Daniel arap Moi was president of Kenya, between 1978 and 2002, the entire body politic was gripped by a system of personal enrichment and corruption. Despite the fact that dozens of investigative commissions have thrown light on hundreds of cases of corruption, not a single minister has ever been convicted.”
The report accuses Mr Ringera of working with Kacc officials to entrench “a system that works to discourage investigation, minimise the likelihood of prosecution, and throw out court cases that appear to have a chance of taking down senior government officials.”
“Like the Attorney General, Ringera can claim a perfect record of not investigating and convicting a single Kenyan government official. This is a remarkable tally in a country that is consistently ranked among the most corrupt in the world.”
In a teleconference conversation with reporters yesterday Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson downplayed the WikiLeaks revelations. He likened the contents of cables between US embassies in Africa and the State Department, to a married couple discussing a “mother-in-law or father-in-law, both of whom you love dearly. But you may in fact have some disagreements about the suits that they wear or the shoes that they put on in the morning”.
He characterised the documents downloaded from US government computer systems as “stolen mail” that should not be relayed.
Mr Carson, a former US ambassador in Nairobi, acknowledged that “embassies carry on candid, sensitive discussions with Washington and Washington officials.”
– Additional reporting by Lucas Barasa and Kevin Kelley Jr