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Tales of State Capture: Goldenberg, Anglo Leasing, and Eurobond

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WACHIRA MAINA examines three major corruption scandals during the Moi, Kibaki and Kenyatta eras that demonstrate how state capture facilitates the massive looting of public funds, and allows the culprits to get away scot-free.

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Tales of State Capture: Goldenberg, Anglo Leasing, and Eurobond
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Corruption and politics, never the twain shall part

Politics and corruption have always been intimates in Kenya since independence. Little wonder that the first commission of inquiry appointed after independence, the 1965 Chanan Singh Maize Commission of Inquiry, was triggered by a corruption scandal involving Paul Ngei, the then Minister for Marketing and Cooperatives.

Mr Ngei had permitted his wife Emma Ngei, through her company Uhuru Millers of Kangundo (commonly referred to at the time as Emma Stores) to directly buy maize from farmers, bypassing the Maize Marketing Board, which he chaired. This was despite the fact that the law did not allow Kenyans to buy maize straight from farmers (which was cheaper than buying from the government). Worse still, Ms Ngei was permitted to buy 2,000 bags of maize, but she refused to pay for them; she wrote “return to sender” on payment demands. In addition, she refused to remit the difference between the farmers’ price and the government price to the Board, which was also against the law.

Widespread speculation in maize by well-connected individuals, coupled with the government’s failure to import more maize in time, eventually led to a national shortage. The Chanan Singh commission of inquiry was appointed by President Jomo Kenyatta to investigate the cause of the maize shortage. Because of his relationship with Uhuru Millers, Mr Ngei was briefly suspended from the cabinet but was later reinstated.

Maize, then, before and since has had a long career in both politics and corruption. That first scandal set the tone for future graft: the politically connected rigging the system to benefit themselves, their relatives and their cronies and when unmasked, resorting to inconclusive methods of investigation, such as commissions of inquiry, task forces or inept prosecutions. The difference between that early corruption and the corruption described here as state capture is that most of it involved abuse of discretion and conformed closely to Robert Klitgaard’s definition: Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability

The first corruption scandal encompassing major characteristics of state capture was the Turkwel Gorge hydroelectric power project between 1986 and 1991. Many aspects of the process of contracting for this project entailed rigging and repurposing legal processes for the benefit of President Daniel arap Moi and his cronies. According to an internal European Commission Memorandum of March 1986 written by Achim Kratz, the then Commission’s delegate to Kenya, the contract price for the project was more than double the amount Kenya’s government would have paid under a competitive international tender. The memo stated that the government knew that the price of the French contractor Spie Batignolles was extortionate, but hired them nevertheless, “because of high personal advantages”. Those “personal advantages” were millions of dollars paid to President Daniel Arap Moi and to the then Minister of Energy, Nicholas Biwott. Moreover, companies associated with people close to Moi and Moi’s family were sub-contracted to execute many elements of the Spie Batignolles contract.

The first corruption scandal encompassing major characteristics of state capture was the Turkwel Gorge hydroelectric power project between 1986 and 1991. Many aspects of the process of contracting for this project entailed rigging and repurposing legal processes for the benefit of President Daniel arap Moi and his cronies.

The effect of the combination of personal interest and inattention to geological and hydrological factors was that when the project was finally commissioned by President Moi in October 1993, the reservoir was under 25 per cent full and the project had already consumed three times the estimated cost. The knock-on effect was probably even greater: the Turkwel corruption provoked donors to cut funding to the energy sector, which would eventually generate the crippling power outages of the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.

Some of the lessons learnt from the Turkwel Gorge saga on repurposing state institutions and lawful processes to extract regime and personal gain would be applied with a vengeance to the first unambiguous case of state capture: the Goldenberg scandal.

Goldenberg: Designing the methods of state capture

In 1991 and 1992 Kenya underwent a foreign exchange crunch. The proximate cause for this was mounting pro-democracy pressure by the opposition and civil society groups, to which the government responded with violent crackdowns. Political repression and donor concern about corruption, combined with poor export performance of the leading foreign exchange earners of coffee, tea and tourism, led to a significant drop in hard currency reserves.

The government responded to this with an export promotion scheme in which exporters who deposited their hard currency earnings would not only receive the Kenya shilling equivalent of their deposits, but also an additional 20 percent “export incentive”. Goldenberg International, a company jointly owned by Kamlesh Pattni and the then director of the special branch (Kenya’s secret service), James Kanyotu, concocted a scheme to export gold and diamonds to three companies in Dubai and Switzerland on an understanding that they would be paid 35 per cent “export compensation”. The problem with this arrangement was that gold and diamonds were not covered in the Export Compensation Act and the “incentive” paid to the company was 15 per cent above the lawful limit.

The real scandal, though, was that Kenya had no diamonds and its gold mining was insignificant. In the beginning, Goldenberg International exports turned out to be entirely made up of gold smuggled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). Later, the company stopped smuggling gold altogether and merely completed export declaration forms, produced fake hard currency deposit slips and got paid, not only the coupon amount on the fake deposit slips, but also the 35 per cent export compensation.

The total cost of the scandal is unknown, but some estimates indicate that up to 10 per cent of Kenya’s GDP was lost. The 2006 Bosire Commission of Inquiry into the scandal concluded that up to Sh158.3 billion of Goldenberg money was transacted with 487 companies and individuals. This is probably a gross underestimate, as in fact Goldenberg was a series of inter-connected financial scandals rather than the phantom exports of gold and diamonds that most investigations have focused on since 1992. (The scandal was first revealed in the Controller and Auditor General’s reports for 1991 and 1992.) According to various affidavits sworn by the main suspect in Goldenberg and associated scandals, the beneficiaries of these dealings included the President, the Vice President and his business associates.

Notwithstanding revelations in the Controller’s and Auditor General’s reports, together with whistleblower accounts covered in the media, the government initially stonewalled. This prompted the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) to seek the permission of the High Court to file a private prosecution to remedy the inaction of the Attorney General (AG).

The AG, Amos Wako, suddenly bestirred himself, asking to join the LSK case as a friend of the court. He promptly opposed the LSK’s application, arguing that he had been delayed by investigation reports, and requested the LSK to hand him such evidence as they had so that he may act. Backed by an affidavit by Japhet Masya, the Clerk to the National Assembly, the AG also argued that the High Court had no jurisdiction on Goldenberg given that the issue was before a committee of Parliament.

The total cost of the scandal is unknown, but some estimates indicate that up to 10 per cent of Kenya’s GDP was lost. The 2006 Bosire Commission of Inquiry into the scandal concluded that up to Sh158.3 billion of Goldenberg money was transacted with 487 companies and individuals.

Mr Wako’s pleas were both inexplicable and disingenuous: Parliament has no criminal jurisdiction and any policy issue on Goldenberg pending before one of its committees can have no effect on an indictment for corruption. The AG sounded more like a defence attorney than the head of public prosecutions and guardian of public interest that he was.

Dr Willy Mutunga, then the chair of the LSK, feared that Mr Wako’s ruse was proof that the government was “determined to complete the Goldenberg cover-up”. Mr Wako, he predicted, would continue to act like “counsel for all the accused persons” and would engineer “protracted delays”, “mention after mention, adjournment followed by adjournment”, ending in a “dramatic withdrawal of the cases”.

So it proved. The magistrate, Uniter Kidullah, appointed the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) after her decision in this case, rendered a rude and intemperate judgment, combining otiose proceduralism with personalised insults against the LSK: Mr Mutunga’s pleadings were inadmissible because he, rather than the secretary, had signed them; the LSK had no legal standing to file a private prosecution since it could not show how its interests had been harmed by the Goldenberg scandal and, so far as she could see, the LSK had acted outside its statutory mandate. Finally, she concluded that the only knowledge LSK seemed to have was that of “stealing from . . . clients”.

There the Goldenberg scandal would have died but for the government’s continuing hard currency crisis. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank warned Kenya that no new programme would be agreed with the country until the government took credible action on corruption in general and on Goldenberg in particular. It was this threat that spurred Attorney General Amos Wako to indict Pattni and his co-accused in 1997, five years after the scandal first broke.

But the charge was not meant to result in effective prosecution. Against the advice of his DPP, Bernard Chunga, the AG framed more than 90 counts in one charge in the face of clear precedent that so many counts would invalidate the charges. Knowing this, in July 1997, Kamlesh Pattni challenged the charges as illegal and was granted an order of prohibition by the High Court, stopping the trial. Donors, aghast at this turn of events, refused to lift the conditions they had imposed on aid to Kenya until Goldenberg was properly prosecuted.

A chastened AG filed new charges in August 1997, calculated to be good optics for an IMF mission that was expected in Nairobi in early 1998. In the meantime, Mr Pattni had concocted a new fraud to defeat any fresh charges that the AG might bring against him. Using forged papers, fake sale agreements backdated to 1992 with the connivance of the Registrar of Companies (in the Attorney General’s Chambers) Mr Pattni purported to be the owner of World Duty Free (WDF), the Isle of Man company to which he claimed to have sold the gold and diamonds. He then obtained court orders allowing him to take over management of WDF shops in Kenya.

The point of this devious scheme was that in a future prosecution Pattni could argue that as the owner of WDF he couldn’t be forced to testify against himself. Armed with this new civil suit, he challenged the fresh indictments, claiming these charges should be stopped as they were prejudicial to the WDF civil case. The court agreed with this risible claim, even though legal principle works the other way: where a criminal case raises the same issues as a civil case, the criminal case is heard first. There are two reasons for this: one, the public interest should be vindicated before the private interest and, two, given that the standard of proof in criminal cases – beyond reasonable doubt – is much higher than the standard in civil cases – on the balance of probabilities – it is more efficient to hear the criminal case first, since facts proved need not be proved again in the related civil case. This botched 1998 prosecution was the last action that the Moi government took to resolve the Goldenberg scandal.

In 2003, Mwai Kibaki succeeded Daniel arap Moi. He quickly set up a commission of inquiry into the Goldenberg scandal, ironically at just about the same time that his own cronies were busy siphoning monies out of Kenya under the Anglo Leasing scandal. The commission was chaired by Justice Samuel Bosire, who would later be declared as unfit to be a judge during the vetting of magistrates and judges mandated by the 2010 Constitution.

The point of this devious scheme was that in a future prosecution Pattni could argue that as the owner of WDF he couldn’t be forced to testify against himself. Armed with this new civil suit, he challenged the fresh indictments, claiming these charges should be stopped as they were prejudicial to the WDF civil case.

The Bosire Inquiry established what everyone always knew but could not prove, because the AG, Amos Wako, had developed feet of clay. Goldenberg, the commission concluded, involved the highest levels of President Moi’s government and Moi had personally authorised two Goldenberg-related payments. After the inquiry, the government imposed travel bans on people named by the commission as connected to Goldenberg. Bosire also recommended that retired President Moi’s role in Goldenberg be investigated. Nothing came of either the travel ban or the Moi investigation. In August 2006, the credibility of the report was seriously dented when Professor George Saitoti (formerly Vice President to Moi), who the commission had found culpable enough to warrant an indictment, got a court order expunging his name from that list of shame.

In the end, no one was ever convicted for any of the Goldenberg crimes. In 2006, six months after the release of the Goldenberg Report, David Munyakei – the man who first blew the whistle on the scandal only to be hounded into destitution for his efforts – died, a lonely and forgotten victim of the forces of state capture.

The Anglo Leasing Scandal

The Goldenberg script would be reprised in the second state capture case, the biggest scandal of the Kibaki era – the 2003 Anglo Leasing scandal. Anglo Leasing was a series of security-related scandals involving 18 state security contracts, collectively worth about $770 million (Sh55 billion), in which the government entered finance lease and suppliers’ credit agreements to pay for forensic facilities, security equipment and support services for Kenya Prisons, the Police Airwing, the police force, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Administration Police, the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS), and the National Counter-Terrorism Centre. Thirteen of the eighteen contracts were made under President Daniel arap Moi, the other five after 2002 under President Mwai Kibaki. The true identities and whereabouts of the companies remained unclear. Though the immediate investigation that blew open the scandal involved the Anglo Leasing and Finance Company, in truth the scandal involved many more companies owned by the same set of individuals: Deepak Kamani; Anura Perera; Amin Juma; Merlyn Kettering and Ludmilla Katuschenko.

Within these 18 generally irregular contracts, individual contracts were even more blatantly so: the contract for tamper-proof passports granted to Anglo Leasing and Finance Company was described by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – ironically chaired by Uhuru Kenyatta – as “an organised, systematic and fraudulent scheme designed to fleece the government through the so-called special purpose finance vehicles for purported security contracts”. How exactly Anglo Leasing became involved in these security contracts is unclear from the records, but the pattern itself is clear.

In 2000, the Department of Immigration did a “computer needs assessment” that concluded that to eliminate fraud, forgery, inefficiencies and revenue loss it would need to procure a passport -issuing system. This was to be done by restricted tender. The Ministerial Tender Committee invited five international firms to submit bids: two British firms, De La Rue Identity Systems and AIT International PLC; South Africa’s Face Technologies; Setec OY of Finland and Johannes Enschede of the Netherlands. Three firms responded. The decision was that AIT International PLC met both the commercial and technical specifications for the award.

However, the ministry’s budget for the 2000/2001 financial year did not cover the Sh622,039,944 contractual sum that AIT International PLC gave as the cost of the system. The procurement was deferred to 2002/2003. Six international firms were now invited to bid, the initial five and GET Group of the USA. Once again, three responded: De La Rue Identity Systems; South Africa’s Face Technologies and GET Group. The previously successful group, AIT International PLC, did not submit a bid.

A technical committee of the Government Information Technology Services concluded that none of the bids were responsive and subsequently recommended that they not only be disqualified but also that, “the system be redesigned and expanded to cover other aspects of the work of the Immigration Department, such as border controls and immigration monitoring”. It was now agreed that the expanded system would have five components: 1) high security new generation passports; 2) a secure passport issuing system; 3) high security new generation visas; 4) a high security visa-issuing system; and 5) computerisation of machine-readable immigration records. One consequence of expanding the system was a spiking of costs, which would require the Treasury to seek donor funds.

That is how matters stood when on 1 August 2003, a firm named Anglo Leasing and Finance Ltd of Alpha House, 100 Upper Parliament Street, Liverpool L19 AA, UK, sent an unsolicited technical proposal to the permanent secretary (PS) in the Vice President’s Office to supply and install an “Immigration Security and Document Control System, (ISDCS)”. The installation would be done by a sub-contractor of Anglo Leasing, François-Charles Oberthur Fiduciaire SA of Paris, France. To ease the funding problem, Anglo Leasing would offer a facility of €31,890,000 (Sh2.67 billion) to be repaid at an interest of 5% (later 4%) over a 62-month period.

On review, the PAC thought this highly irregular: a financing firm had prepared a detailed proposal for a project very similar to the one recommended by the Government Information Technology Services without a request from the government and, most curiously, in a manner that strongly suggested that the firm “had fore-knowledge of the recommendation to enhance and expand the system”.

Nonetheless, a month later, on 5 September 2003, the Vice President’s Office asked the Treasury to contract Anglo Leasing. That permission came through on 25 November 2003. Also on 5 September, the Vice President’s Office sought legal clearance from the AG’s Chambers, and in a letter dated 18 September 2003, the AG advised the ministry to do due diligence. For example, how many projects of this magnitude had Anglo Leasing successfully undertaken? What was the firm’s credit rating? The PAC did not see any evidence that tests had been undertaken or that the ministry had assessed the “authenticity, capacity, experience and track record of François-Charles Oberthur Fiduciaire”.

On review, the PAC thought this highly irregular: a financing firm had prepared a detailed proposal for a project very similar to the one recommended by the Government Information Technology Services without a request from the government and, most curiously, in a manner that strongly suggested that the firm “had fore-knowledge of the recommendation to enhance and expand the system”.

Even with all these things still outstanding, the government signed the Suppliers Services and Financing Credit Agreement for the ISDCS on 4 December 2003, and two months later, on 4 February 2004, a sum of Sh91,678,169.25 (described variously as “arrangement”, “commitment” and “administration” fees) was paid out to Anglo Leasing.

According to John Githongo’s dossier to the President, all the Anglo Leasing-type shell companies were probably established by one Pritpal Singh Thethy, an accountant and engineer who was associated with Anura Perera. These companies routinely won large contracts to supply goods and services at inflated prices to the security services and were notorious for paying generous kickbacks.

The unravelling of Anglo Leasing began when Maoka Maore, the MP for Ntonyiri, tabled documents in Parliament in April 2004, showing that Anglo Leasing and Finance Company Limited had been paid a Sh91 million commitment fee, amounting to 3 per cent of a Sh2.7 billion contract to produce the tamper-proof passports. The Department of Governance and Ethics, headed by John Githongo, tried to get to the bottom of the affair.

In that same month, whilst on a visit to the United Kingdom he asked Kroll Associates to do some due diligence on Anglo Leasing and discovered that no such company existed. Githongo had begun to suspect that very senior officials in the Kibaki administration were involved. Early suspects included Vice President Moody Awori, Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Kiraitu Murungi, Minister for Finance David Mwiraria, Minister for Internal Security Chris Murungaru, Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Sylvester Mwaliko, Finance Permanent Secretary Joseph Magari, Internal Security Permanent Secretary David Mwangi, Alfred Getonga, Deepak Kamani and Jimmy Wanjigi.

From an early stage in a series of private meetings, the Vice President, as well as the ministers for justice and finance, assiduously tried to stop the investigation, partly based on the theory that “the Vice President had already given a parliamentary statement”. The scale of Anglo Leasing and the depth of its penetration into the inner sanctum of power would become much clearer over the next few months. It turned out that even as investigations kicked off, additional payments and commitment fees were being processed.

When these stories hit the media, the then Secretary to the Cabinet, Francis Muthaura, said that Anglo Leasing had contacted him and promised to repay the monies they had already received. Shortly thereafter, on 14 May 2004, Anglo Leasing and Finance Ltd wired back €956,700 from Schroder & Co Bank AG in Zurich.

Investigations would reveal even more dirt. By early June, inquiries had established that Anglo Leasing had been paid $5 million for a forensic laboratories contract for which they had done no work. The brains behind the revival of this Moi-era contract were Deepak Kamani, Jimmy Wanjigi, Chris Murungaru, Dave Mwangi, Alfred Getonga, and C. Oyula, the Financial Secretary. It was clear that there were many more Anglo Leasing type contracts, and eventually 16 of them would become public.

From an early stage in a series of private meetings, the Vice President, as well as the ministers for justice and finance, assiduously tried to stop the investigation, partly based on the theory that “the Vice President had already given a parliamentary statement”. The scale of Anglo Leasing and the depth of its penetration into the inner sanctum of power would become much clearer over the next few months.

The case of two of these Anglo Leasing-type companies – Sound Day Corporation and Apex Finance Corporation – closely followed the conspiratorial modus operandi of the contracts for the tamper-proof passports. The two companies, which were managed by Brian Mills, a US national, had signed four contracts, cumulatively worth more than $145 million. According to newspaper accounts, the three Kamanis – Chamanlal Kamani, Deepak Kamani and Rashmi Kamani – became directors of Sound Day in April 1990. Sound Day, like other Anglo Leasing companies, was to provide credit, as well as supply the equipment to be financed through that credit. However, the contract terms were that the equipment would not be supplied until the government paid the first instalment. Sound Day provided no credit, but charged 3 per cent interest on this “financing” whilst, in fact, the financing was the money that had been advanced by the Kenyan government in the first place. This Byzantine arrangement was later described in court as a “classic case of reverse financing”.

As Anglo Leasing unravelled, the attempts to stop investigations became both frantic and menacing. The Minister for Finance, David Mwiraria, indicated that he would not lay before Parliament a damning special audit report compiled by the Controller and Auditor-General until the Treasury had made some “major changes”. The Minister for Justice, Kiraitu Murungi, weighed in with the caution that Mr Githongo should be careful not to “knock out key political people” like Alfie (Alfred Gitonga) and Murungaru given that both were “key players at the very heart of government”. He would later add that, “if Chris [Murungaru] is dropped and Alfie [Gitonga] is dropped we are in trouble, the enemy will have won”. According to him, people were concerned that John Githongo “did not appreciate the political costs of his work”.

A different politician was later to emphasise these warnings, saying that if Githongo’s investigations threatened the “stability of the regime” then the President would stop backing him. Both Mwiraria and Kiraitu said that they hoped that the investigations would stop as soon as Anglo Leasing repaid the money. Over time, the cover-up efforts would turn bizarre: Francis Muthaura even questioned the legal authority of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) to conduct the investigation and implied that the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act was not reasonable legislation, ostensibly because of the broad powers it gave to the KACC.

What the pressure on Githongo and the repayment of the money on the publicly known contracts revealed was a clever ploy to head off investigators from the other numerous yet to be known contracts by issuing a mea culpa on what was then publicly known.

One issue surrounding the scandal is what President Kibaki knew and when he knew it. For instance, on the forensic labs contract, the Secretary to the Cabinet had indicated to Githongo that he had briefed the President on this contract, but when Githongo met the President on 29 May 2004 Kibaki said that no one had briefed him and asked to be furnished with a copy of the contract. Two days later, Muthaura would insist that the President had been fully briefed and that it had been agreed that all payments were to be stopped and that the authorities must establish who Anglo Leasing were.

Later still, Mwiraria would claim that the President had requested that they “go easy” on Anglo Leasing given that the money had now been returned. Mwiraria and Kiraitu would argue that if the public were to know that there were other corrupt deals of this magnitude, “our government would fall”. Had the President in fact said this or were Mwiraria and Kiraitu using the authority of the Presidency to smother inquiries? Had the President lied when he told Githongo that he had not been briefed?

From the determined opposition to his inquiries, the lukewarm support he received from the President and the threatening messages that he received throughout this early phase of the investigation, Githongo feared for his life and went into self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom in 2005. His conclusion was that the Anglo Leasing scandal went all the way to the top and that its baseline was a scheme to finance the 2007 election.

One issue surrounding the scandal is what President Kibaki knew and when he knew it. For instance, on the forensic labs contract, the Secretary to the Cabinet had indicated to Githongo that he had briefed the President on this contract, but when Githongo met the President on 29 May 2004 Kibaki said that no one had briefed him and asked to be furnished with a copy of the contract.

In November 2005, President Mwai Kibaki finally acted. He dropped Chris Murungaru from the Cabinet. On 1 February, he dropped David Mwiraria and a fortnight later he had “accepted” Kiraitu Murungi’s resignation. Although 80 MPs demanded that the President fire his Vice President, Moody Awori, the President demurred. As with Goldenberg, the government imposed the usual travel bans on the principals and announced that it would also freeze their assets. Whether this happened or not is unclear; there is no official indication that it did.

In 2007, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office tried to get to the bottom of a $30 million transfer made by Apex Finance, one of the Anglo Leasing companies, between April 2002 and February 2004 through the Channel Island tax havens of Jersey and Guernsey. But by 2009 this effort had petered out, partly due to obstruction by Kenya. That same year, authorities in Switzerland launched investigations into Swiss companies named in the scam and froze their bank accounts. It, too, came to naught. By the time President Kibaki had served out his two terms in 2013, no action had been taken on Anglo Leasing.

The next time Anglo Leasing would be in the news was in early 2014, ahead of the country’s debut launch of a $2 billion sovereign bond, half of which would disappear into thin air in the biggest scandal of the Uhuru Kenyatta presidency. The facts were as follows. Kenya had lost a lawsuit in Geneva filed by two Anglo Leasing companies linked to Anura Perera – First Mercantile Securities Corporation and Universal Satspace. (Perera was one of the suspects named in the 2006 special audit of Anglo Leasing.) It then turned out that the country had to pay Sh1.4 billion to improve its credibility with international markets by clearing its (ostensible) debts in preparation for the launch of its debut in the foreign sovereign bond market, the Eurobond.

This was odd for two reasons. First, there was also a contrary judgment from the High Court in Kenya. Justice Mathew Anyara Emukule had ruled in 2012 that the two companies were non-existent entities that could not sue. Second, the government had claimed that the contract was vitiated by bribery and there was a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) audit showing that the goods were over-priced and some had never been delivered, even though payments had been made. The Geneva court rejected these PWC findings.

As a matter of Kenyan law, the government had paid this large sum to non-existent parties. According to Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, it was necessary to pay out this amount lest the country suffer huge interest penalties. The Deputy Solicitor General, Muthoni Kimani, buttressed the Treasury’s argument with the claim that the Anura Perera litigation in Switzerland had adversely affected the issuing of the sovereign bond. Hot on the heels of this payment, National Treasury Permanent Secretary Kamau Thugge told the Public Accounts Committee that Mr Perera was now demanding an additional Sh3.05 billion for services given to the National Security Intelligence Service, now known as the NIS. (According to Thugge, Perera’s new demand related to another project, Flagstaff National Counter Terrorism Centre,that the government had contracted in 2004 at a cost of $41,800,000.)

A payment of $16.4 million to Deepak Kamani in 2014, also purportedly to facilitate the launch of the Eurobond, seems to have triggered the government’s interest in prosecuting the Anglo Leasing principals. In March 2015, 11 years after the scandal broke, 13 people connected to Anglo Leasing, including businessman Deepak Kamani and former minister Chris Obure, now a senator, were indicted.

The prosecution might be explained by President Kenyatta’s fury at the $16.4 million (Sh1.6 billion) Kamani payment and the extra Sh3.05 billion being demanded by Perera. In addition, some pressure seems to have come from Switzerland. Jacques Pitteloud, the Swiss ambassador to Kenya, told the Financial Times that Switzerland was tired of suffering reputational loss as a safe haven for stolen money. But the real political reason could well be that prosecuting Anglo Leasing deflected attention from scandals involving the friends and relatives of Mr Kenyatta. None of the targets of the Anglo Leasing indictments were connected to the Kenyattas.

As with Goldenberg, none of the arrests and indictments have so far led to convictions. This script of never holding to account those involved in state capture scandals would be replayed by Uhuru Kenyatta, as President, when he was himself caught up in the Eurobond scandal.

The Eurobond Scandal

Less than a year after the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in March 2013, Kenya went to the international money markets to issue Kenya’s first sovereign bond worth $2.75 billion. This was done in two tranches. The first issue raised $2 billion (Sh176 billion at the time) and the second $815 million (Sh74 billion) for a total of $2.8 billion (Sh250 billion). The government said that the money would be used to reduce official borrowing from the domestic market, which would spur private investment by lowering interest rates.

According to an analysis by economist David Ndii, the government executed two transactions from the offshore account into which the $2 billion had been credited. It paid off a pending loan of $604 million (Sh53 billion) and then transferred $394 million (Sh35 billion) to the exchequer, leaving $1.002 billion (Sh88 billion) in that account. The government has never accounted for this money.

When inconsistencies were pointed out, the government responded with both lies and insults. The lies were that up to Sh120 billion had been used partly to pay pending bills to road contractors and for budget support. But as Ndii points out, the recurrent budget for the 2014/2015 financial year was funded by domestic revenues: the government raised Sh1.106 trillion in revenues, of which Sh229 billion was transferred to the counties. That left Sh877 billion for national government functions. The national government’s recurrent budget for that year was Sh897 billion, a mere Sh20 billion more than the revenue, reflecting no inflow of the Sh120 billion as claimed. According to this logic, the national government required only Sh20 billion more than what it had earned through revenue, so there was no way it could have used the Sh88 billion from the bond.

In its first public statement on the matter, the Treasury promised to give information on the projects that the Eurobond money had funded. It subsequently gave ministries three weeks to furnish the relevant information. Five weeks later, in an interview with Business Daily, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance lamented that “the ministries cannot differentiate whether the money they have received from the Exchequer came from VAT, income taxes, customs duties, excise taxes, domestic borrowing or the Eurobond”. This is true but irrelevant to the issue. Treasury should have been able to provide the answer. As Ndii points out, the government has a monitoring and evaluation responsibility. “For the Treasury to disburse a huge external loan, the biggest ever, without expenditure tracking seems downright irresponsible,” he commented.

In the following months, the government would “torture” the figures to show that the missing Eurobond money had indeed financed development projects. This was done by “wildly” (Ndii’s word) inflating the cost of nine projects in the energy sector that showed overruns of nearly Sh67 billion. Rural electrification of primary schools was said to have cost Sh34 billion rather than the Sh9.9 billion that had been budgeted. An unbudgeted item for the financial year, military modernisation, gobbled up another Sh62.8 billion. The point of cooking the figures, Ndii surmised, was to create a plausible storyline to explain the missing Eurobond money. “How high up does this fraud go?” he asked.

The government couldn’t – or rather wouldn’t – answer this question directly but its conduct in the coming years had the guilty air of an adulterer caught in flagrante delicto. As David Ndii explained, the government’s real problem was that it could not account for the Eurobond money that it had not spent and still manage to balance its accounts. In the 2014/15 financial year, it partially pulled off this miracle by reducing domestic borrowing for the year from Sh251 billion to Sh110 billion. The Sh140 billion reduction covered the exact amount of Eurobond money that it claimed to have carried forward from 2013/14. Unfortunately, this voodoo accounting was undone by the Central Bank accounts on domestic borrowing and was flatly contradicted by the interest that the government reported having paid on domestic borrowing for the year.

In the following months, the government would “torture” the figures to show that the missing Eurobond money had indeed financed development projects. This was done by “wildly” (Ndii’s word) inflating the cost of nine projects in the energy sector that showed overruns of nearly Sh67 billion.

In 2016 the Auditor General, Edward Ouko, tried to get to the bottom of the affair by conducting a forensic audit of Eurobond transfers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As part of his preparations, he told Parliament that he had already made appointments with top US and UK financial institutions involved in the transactions. Mr Ouko promised to send forensic auditors to scrutinise transaction data at JP Morgan, the Federal Reserve Bank, City Transaction Services New York, JP Securities, Barclays Bank, ICB Standard Bank, Qatar National Bank and other banks that had handled the $2 billion Eurobond transactions.

Mr Kenyatta promptly blocked the investigation, arguing, implausibly, that by saying that “the Eurobond money was stolen and stashed in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York”, Mr Ouko was implying that the Kenyan government and the United States had colluded. “Who is stupid here?” the President scornfully asked.

In the next few years, the government became cockier and more belligerent. With the Auditor General not allowed to follow the international money trail, he was reduced to informing Parliament at the end of each audit year that “investigations into the receipts, accounting and use of funds related to the Sovereign/Eurobond are still ongoing and the accuracy of the net proceeds of Kshs 215,469,626,035.75 is yet to be ascertained”.

As Ndii’s analysis pointed out, unravelling this mystery should not have been as complicated as the Auditor General’s laconic conclusion might suggest and the Treasury’s effort to explain the mystery only compounded it, even with the IMF weighing in to support the official explanation. But as the Mozambique Eurobond story shows, the IMF has been criminally negligent in these matters.

In this case, the IMF’s attempt to aid the government was unavailing. The Fund showed that Eurobond money was received and spent in the 2013/14 financial year. But given that the Eurobond money was received in the last week of that financial year, it would not have been possible for it to be spent in that year. There was no drawdown until the first week of July, which was the start of the 2014/15 financial year. The difference between the Fund’s fiddling and the Treasury’s fiddling was that the IMF reported a domestic borrowing figure of Sh251 billion for 2014/15 domestic borrowing, whilst the Treasury showed one of Sh110 billion. As Ndii noted, “The IMF cooks the books one way, and the Treasury, the other”.

Mr Kenyatta promptly blocked the investigation, arguing, implausibly, that by saying that “the Eurobond money was stolen and stashed in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York”, Mr Ouko was implying that the Kenyan government and the United States had colluded. “Who is stupid here?” the President scornfully asked.

But the Treasury’s lies were also compounded by the mandarins’ poor memory. By 2015/2016, they seemed to have forgotten the 2014/2015 numbers. Now the Treasury reported Sh251 billion as the correct domestic borrowing figure. With Sh251 billion confirmed as the correct amount, the only way to account for the Eurobond Sh140 billion was to show the projects in which it was invested. That no such projects have been named implies that at least $1 billion of the Eurobond money has disappeared into thin air. The conclusion that it has most likely been stolen by some very senior untouchables is compelling.

With investigations never having been started, the Auditor General, beaten down by the President, and the marked lack of enthusiasm from the United States (particularly the New York Federal Reserve), it is unlikely that we will know who stole nearly $1billion of taxpayers’ money.

This is Part 3 of an abridged version of State Capture: Inside Kenya’s Inability to Fight Corruption, a report published by the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) in May 2019.

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Wachira Maina is a constitutional lawyer based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Hijacking Kenya’s Health Spending: Companies Linked to Powerful MP Received Suspicious Procurement Contracts

Two obscure companies linked to Kitui South MP Rachael Kaki Nyamai were paid at least KSh24.2 million to deliver medical supplies under single-source agreements at the time the MP was chair of the National Assembly’s Health Committee.

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Hijacking Kenya’s Health Spending: Companies Linked to Powerful MP Received Suspicious Procurement Contracts
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Two obscure companies linked to Kitui South MP Rachael Kaki Nyamai were paid at least KSh24.2 million to deliver medical supplies under single-source agreements at the time the MP was chair of the National Assembly’s Health Committee, an investigation by Africa Uncensored and The Elephant has uncovered.

One of the companies was also awarded a mysterious Ksh 4.3 billion agreement to supply 8 million bottles of hand sanitizer, according to the government’s procurement system.

The contracts were awarded in 2015 as authorities moved to contain the threat from the Ebola outbreak that was ravaging West Africa and threatening to spread across the continent as well as from flooding related to the El-Nino weather phenomenon.

The investigation found that between 2014 and 2016, the Ministry of Health handed out hundreds of questionable non-compete tenders related to impending disasters, with a total value of KSh176 billion including three no-bid contracts to two firms, Tira Southshore Holdings Limited and Ameken Minewest Company Limited, linked to Mrs Nyamai, whose committee oversaw the ministry’s funding – a clear conflict of interest.

Number of Suppliers Allocated BPAAlthough authorities have since scrutinized some of the suspicious contracts and misappropriated health funds, the investigation revealed a handful of contracts that were not made public, nor questioned by the health committee.

Mrs Nyamai declined to comment for the story.

Nyamai has been accused by fellow members of parliament of thwarting an investigation of a separate alleged fraud. In 2016, a leaked internal audit report accused the Ministry of Health — colloquially referred to for its location at Afya House — of misappropriating funds in excess of nearly $60 million during the 2015/2016 financial year. Media stories described unauthorized suppliers, fraudulent transactions, and duplicate payments, citing the leaked document.

Members of the National Assembly’s Health Committee threatened to investigate by bringing the suppliers in for questioning, and then accused Nyamai, the committee chairperson, of blocking their probe. Members of the committee signed a petition calling for the removal of Nyamai and her deputy, but the petition reportedly went missing. Nyamai now heads the National Assembly’s Committee on Lands.

Transactions for companies owned by Mrs Nyamai’s relatives were among 25,727 leaked procurement records reviewed by reporters from Africa Uncensored, Finance Uncovered, The Elephant, and OCCRP. The data includes transactions by eight government agencies between August 2014 and January 2018, and reveals both questionable contracts as well as problems that continue to plague the government’s accounting tool, IFMIS.

The Integrated Financial Management Information System was adopted to improve efficiency and accountability. Instead, it has been used to fast-track corruption.

Hand sanitizer was an important tool in fighting transmission of Ebola, according to a WHO health expert. In one transaction, the Ministry of Health paid Sh5.4 million for “the supply of Ebola reagents for hand sanitizer” to a company owned by a niece of the MP who chaired the parliamentary health committee. However, it’s unclear what Ebola reagents, which are meant for Ebola testing, have to do with hand sanitizer. Kenya’s Ministry of Health made 84 other transactions to various vendors during this period, earmarked specifically for Ebola-related spending. These included:

  • Public awareness campaigns and adverts paid to print, radio and tv media platforms, totalling at least KSh122 million.
  • Printed materials totalling at least KSh214 million for Ebola prevention and information posters, contact tracing forms, technical guideline and point-of-entry forms, brochures and decision charts, etc. Most of the payments were made to six obscure companies.
  • Ebola-related pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical supplies, including hand sanitizer
  • Ebola-related conferences, catering, and travel expenses
  • At least KSh15 millions paid to a single vendor for isolation beds

Hacking the System

Tira Southshore Holdings Limited and Ameken Minewest Company Limited, appear to have no history of dealing in hygiene or medical supplies. Yet they were awarded three blanket purchase agreements, which are usually reserved for trusted vendors who provide recurring supplies such as newspapers and tea, or services such as office cleaning.

“A blanket agreement is something which should be exceptional, in my view,” says former Auditor-General, Edward Ouko.

But the leaked data show more than 2,000 such agreements, marked as approved by the heads of procurement in various ministries. About KSh176 billion (about $1.7 billion) was committed under such contracts over 42 months.

“Any other method of procurement, there must be competition. And in this one there is no competition,” explained a procurement officer, who spoke generally about blanket purchase agreements on background. “You have avoided sourcing.”

The Ministry of Health did not respond to detailed questions, while Mrs Nyamai declined to comment on the contracts in question.

Procurement experts say blanket purchase agreements are used in Kenya to short-circuit the competitive process. A ministry’s head of procurement can request authority from the National Treasury to create blanket agreements for certain vendors. Those companies can then be asked by procurement employees to deliver supplies and services without competing for a tender.

Once in the system, these single-source contracts are prone to corruption, as orders and payments can simply be made without the detailed documentation required under standard procurements. With limited time and resources, government auditors say they struggle especially with reconciling purchases made under blanket agreements.

The agreements were almost always followed by standard purchase orders that indicated the same vendor and the same amount which is unusual and raises fears of duplication. Some of these transactions were generated days or weeks after the blanket agreements, many with missing or mismatched explanations. It’s unclear whether any of these actually constituted duplicate payments.

For example, the leaked data show two transactions for Ameken Minewest for Sh6.9 million each — a blanket purchase order for El Nino mitigation supplies and a standard order for the supply of chlorine tablets eight days later. Tira Southshore also had two transactions of Sh12 million each — a blanket purchase for the “supply of lab reagents for cholera,” and six days later a standard order for the supply of chlorine powder.

Auditors say both the amounts and the timing of such payments are suspicious because blanket agreements should be paid in installments.

“It could well be a duplicate, using the same information, to get through the process. Because you make a blanket [agreement], then the intention is to do duplicates, so that it can pass through the cash payee phase several times without delivering more,” said Ouko upon reviewing some of the transactions for Tira Southshore. This weakness makes the IFMIS system prone to abuse, he added.

In addition, a KSh4 billion contract for hand sanitizer between the Health Ministry’s Preventive and Promotive Health Department and Tira Southshore was approved as a blanket purchase agreement in April 2015. The following month, a standard purchase order was generated for the same amount but without a description of services — this transaction is marked in the system as incomplete. A third transaction — this one for 0 shillings — was generated 10 days later by the same procurement employee, using the original order description: “please supply hand sanitizers 5oomls as per contract Moh/dpphs/dsru/008/14-15-MTC/17/14-15(min.no.6).

Reporters were unable to confirm whether KSh4 billion was paid by the ministry. The leaked data doesn’t include payment disbursement details, and the MOH has not responded to requests for information.

“I can assure you there’s no 4 billion, not even 1 billion. Not even 10 million that I have ever done, that has ever gone through Tira’s account, through that bank account,” said the co-owner of the company, Abigael Mukeli. She insisted that Tira Southshore never had a contract to deliver hand sanitizer, but declined to answer specific questions. It is unclear how a company without a contract would appear as a vendor in IFMIS, alongside contract details.

It is possible that payments could end up in bank accounts other than the ones associated with the supplier. That is because IFMIS also allowed for the creation of duplicate suppliers, according to a 2016 audit of the procurement system. That audit found almost 50 cases of duplication of the same vendor.

“Presence of active duplicate supplier master records increases the possibility of potential duplicate payments, misuse of bank account information, [and] reconciliation issues,” the auditors warned.

They also found such blatant security vulnerabilities as ghost and duplicate login IDs, deactivated requirements for password resets, and remote access for some procurement employees.

Credit: Edin Pasovic/OCCRP

Credit: Edin Pasovic/OCCRP

IFMIS was promoted as a solution for a faster procurement process and more transparent management of public funds. But the way the system was installed and used in Kenya compromised its extolled safeguards, according to auditors.

“There is a human element in the system,” said Ouko. “So if the human element is also not working as expected then the system cannot be perfect.”

The former head of the internal audit unit at the health ministry, Bernard Muchere, confirmed in an interview that IFMIS can be manipulated.

Masking the Setup

Ms Mukeli, the co-owner of Tira Southshore and Ameken Minewest, is the niece of Mrs Nyamai, according to local sources and social media investigation, although she denied the relationship to reporters. According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms Mukeli works at Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, a medical logistics agency under the Ministry of Health, now embroiled in a COVID procurement scandal.

Ms Mukeli’s mother, who is the MP’s elder sister, co-owns Icpher Consultants Company Ltd., which shares a post office box with Tira Southshore and Mematira Holdings Limited, which was opened in 2018, is co-owned by Mrs Nyamai’s husband and daughter, and is currently the majority shareholder of Ameken Minewest. Documents also show that a company called Icpher Consultants was originally registered to the MP, who was listed as the beneficial owner.

Co-owner of Tira Southshore Holdings Limited, Abigael Mukeli, described the company to reporters as a health consulting firm. However Tira Southshore also holds an active exploration license for the industrial mining in a 27-square-kilometer area in Kitui County, including in the restricted South Kitui National Reserve. According to government records, the application for mining limestone in Mutomo sub-county — Nyamai’s hometown — was initiated in 2015 and granted in 2018.

Mukeli is also a minority owner of Ameken Minewest Company Limited, which also holds an active mining license in Mutomo sub-county of Kitui, in an area covering 135.5 square kilometers. Government records show that the application for the mining of limestone, magnesite, and manganese was initiated in 2015 and granted in 2018. Two weeks after the license was granted, Mematira Holdings Limited was incorporated, with Nyamai’s husband and daughter as directors. Today, Mematira Holdings is the majority shareholder of Ameken Minewest, which is now in the process of obtaining another mining license in Kitui County.

According to public documents, Ameken also dabbles in road works and the transport of liquefied petroleum gas. And it’s been named by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations in a fuel fraud scheme.

Yet another company, Wet Blue Proprietors Logistics Ltd., shares a phone number with Tira Southshore and another post office box with Icpher Consultants Company Ltd., according to a Kenya National Highway Authority list of pre-qualified vendors.

Family LinksMrs Nyamai and her husband co-own Wet Blue. The consulting company was opened in 2010, the same year that the lawmaker completed her PhD work in HIV/AIDS education in Denmark.

Wet Blue was licenced in 2014 as a dam contractor and supplier of water, sewerage, irrigation and electromechanical works. It’s also listed by KENHA as a vetted consultant for HIV/AIDS mitigation services, together with Icpher Consultants.

It is unclear why these companies are qualified to deliver all these services simultaneously.

“Shell companies receiving contracts in the public sector in Kenya have enabled corruption, fraud and tax evasion in the country. They are literally special purpose vehicles to conduct ‘heists’ and with no track record to deliver the public goods, works or services procured,” said Sheila Masinde, executive director of Transparency International-Kenya.

Both MOH and Ms Mukeli refused to confirm whether the ordered supplies were delivered.

Mrs Nyamai also co-owns Ameken Petroleum Limited together with Alfred Agoi Masadia and Allan Sila Kithome.

Mr Agoi is an ANC Party MP for Sabatia Constituency in Vihiga County, and was on the same Health Committee as Mrs Nyamai, a Jubilee Party legislator. Mr Sila is a philanthropist who is campaigning for the Kitui County senate seat in the 2022 election.

Juliet Atellah at The Elephant and Finance Uncovered in the UK contributed reporting.

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Speak of Me as I Am: Reflections on Aid and Regime Change in Ethiopia

We can call the kind of intrusive donor clientelism that Cheeseman is recommending Good Governance 2.0. His advocacy for strengthening patron-client relations between western donors and African governments, and his urging that donors use crises as a way of forcing regime change and policy conditionalities, is ahistorical, counterproductive and morally indefensible.

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Speak of Me as I Am: Reflections on Aid and Regime Change in Ethiopia
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In a piece, published on 22 December 2020, that he describes as the most important thing he wrote in 2020, Nick Cheeseman penned a strong criticism of what he calls the ‘model of authoritarian development’ in Africa. This phrase refers specifically to Ethiopia and Rwanda, the only two countries that fit the model, which is otherwise not generalisable to the rest of the continent. His argument, in a nutshell, is that donors have been increasingly enamoured with these two countries because they are seen as producing results. Yet the recent conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia shows that this argument needs to be questioned and discarded. He calls for supporting democracy in Africa, which he claims performs better in the long run than authoritarian regimes, especially in light of the conflicts and repression that inevitably emerge under authoritarianism. His argument could also be read as an implicit call for regime change, stoking donors to intensify political conditionalities on these countries before things get even worse.

Cheeseman’s argument rests on a number of misleading empirical assertions which have important implications for the conclusions that he draws. In clarifying these, our point is not to defend authoritarianism. Instead, we hope to inject a measure of interpretative caution and to guard against opportunistically using crises to fan the disciplinary zeal of donors, particularly in a context of increasingly militarised aid regimes that have been associated with disastrous ventures into regime change.

We make two points. First, his story of aid dynamics in Ethiopia is not supported by the data he cites, which instead reflect the rise of economic ‘reform’ programmes pushed by the World Bank and IMF. The country’s current economic difficulties also need to be placed in the context of the systemic financial crisis currently slamming the continent, in which both authoritarian and (nominally) democratic regimes are faring poorly.

Second, we reflect on Cheeseman’s vision of aid as a lever of regime change. Within already stringent economic adjustment programmes, his call for intensifying political conditionalities amounts to a Good Governance Agenda 2.0. It ignores the legacy of the structural adjustment programmes in subverting deliberative governance on the continent during the 1980s and 1990s.

Misleading aid narratives distract from rebranded structural adjustment 

On the first point, Cheeseman establishes his argument early on by stating ‘that international donors have become increasingly willing to fund authoritarian regimes in Africa on the basis that they deliver on development’. In support of this assertion, he cites a table from the World Bank that shows net Official Development Assistance (ODA) received by Ethiopia surging to USD 4.93 billion in 2018, up from just over USD 4 billion in 2016 and 2017, and from a plateau oscillating around USD 3.5 billion from 2008 to 2015.

Cheeseman’s argument rests on a number of misleading empirical assertions which have important implications for the conclusions that he draws. In clarifying these, our point is not to defend authoritarianism. Instead, we hope to inject a measure of interpretative caution and to guard against opportunistically using crises to fan the disciplinary zeal of donors, particularly in a context of increasingly militarised aid regimes that have been associated with disastrous ventures into regime change.

These aggregated data are misleading because ODA received by Ethiopia from western bilateral donors in fact fell in 2018 (and probably continued falling in 2019 and 2020). The World Bank data that he cites are actually from the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) statistics, which refer to all official donors (but not including countries such as China). If we restrict donor assistance to DAC countries – which is relevant given that Cheeseman only refers to the US, the UK and the EU in his piece – disbursed ODA to Ethiopia fell from USD 2.26 billion in 2017 to USD 2.06 billion in 2018 (see the red line in the figure below).

 

Figure: ODA to Ethiopia (millions USD), 2000-2019

Figure: ODA to Ethiopia (millions USD), 2000-2019Source: OECD.stat, last accessed 30 December 2020.

There was a brief moderate increase in DAC country ODA starting in 2015 and peaking in 2017. Cheeseman might have been referring to this. However, contrary to his argument, it was likely that the reason for this increase in aid was primarily humanitarian, responding to the refugee influx from South Sudan that began in 2015 and to the severe drought and famine risk in 2016-17. It was also probably related to attempts to induce incipient political reform following the major protests in Oromia in 2014, which Cheeseman would presumably condone given that conventional measures of democracy and freedom improved in 2018. Indeed, it is notable that committed ODA from DAC donor countries fell even more sharply than disbursed aid in 2018, from USD 2.49 billion in 2017 to USD 2.07 billion, reflecting the context in which these countries were negotiating hard with the Ethiopian government at the time.

Instead, the sharp increase in ODA in 2018 came entirely from the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank Group, which increased its mixture of grants and loans to the country from USD 1.1 billion in 2017 to USD 2.1 billion in 2018. This subsequently fell to USD 1.8 billion in 2019 (the dashed green line in the figure).

Such ODA has been explicitly tied to the World Bank’s long-standing goal of liberalising, privatising and deregulating the Ethiopian economy, thereby ‘reforming’ (or disassembling) many of the attributes that have allowed the Ethiopian state to act in a developmentalist manner. These attributes include state-owned enterprises, state control over the financial sector, and relatively closed capital accounts, in strong distinction to most other countries in Africa (including Rwanda).

For instance, in October 2018 it approved USD 1.2 billion from the IDA in support of ‘a range of economic reforms designed to revitalize the economy by expanding the role of the private sector… to gradually open up the economy and introduce competition to and liberalize sectors that have been dominated by key state-owned enterprises (SOEs)’. The support aimed to promote public-private partnerships in key state-owned sectors such as telecoms, power and trade logistics as key mechanisms to restructure these sectors, as well as broader deregulation and financial liberalisation. It is also notable that the World Bank prefaced this justification by emphasising the political reforms that had already been embarked upon, and the promotion of ‘citizen engagement social accountability’ in Ethiopia.

In other words, contra the idea that western donors have been increasing their support for an authoritarian development model, they have been gradually withdrawing aid since 2017. The World Bank pulled up the slack in 2018, and in December 2019 both the World Bank and IMF promised more funding in support of ongoing economic reforms. The economic liberalisation has in turn undermined political liberalisation and has been a key source of political destabilization.

The bargaining hand of these donors has been reinforced by the economic difficulties faced by the Ethiopian economy – in particular, a hard tightening of external foreign-exchange constraints. Balance of payments statistics reveal that the government had effectively stopped external borrowing after 2015, a policy that it was advised to adopt in its Article IV consultations with the IMF in 2016 and 2017 as its external debt distress levels were rising. As a result, the government became excessively reliant on donor grant money as a principal source of foreign financing. Yet the country continued to run deep trade deficits, in large part because its development strategies, as elsewhere in Africa, have been very import and foreign-exchange intensive (e.g. think of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, requiring more than USD 4.6 billion to build, the bulk in foreign exchange). Significant capital flight appears to have taken place as well; for example, errors and omissions reported on the balance of payments were -USD 2.14 billion in 2018. In order to keep the ship afloat, the central bank burnt through over USD 1 billion of its reserves in 2018 alone.

Contra the idea that western donors have been increasing their support for an authoritarian development model, they have been gradually withdrawing aid since 2017

This severe tightening of foreign-exchange constraints needs to be understood as a critical structural factor in causing the development strategy to stall. Along with non-economic factors, this in turn put considerable strain on the government’s ability to stabilise political factions through the deployment of scarce resources, of which foreign exchange remains among the most important, especially in the current setting. Again, the point is not to apologise for authoritarianism, but rather to emphasise that the current situation is rooted deeper within a conjuncture of systemic crises that go far beyond any particular form of political administration.

Indeed, Cheeseman commits a similar oversight in ignoring the previous systemic crisis that the present is in many ways repeating. Later in his piece, he asserts: ‘The vast majority of African states were authoritarian in the 1970s and 1980s, and almost all had poor economic growth.’ This is an ahistorical misrepresentation of the profound global crisis that crippled Africa from the late 1970s for about two decades and which was the source of the poor growth he mentions. Then, as now, economic crisis was triggered throughout the continent by the severe tightening of external constraints, which neoliberal structural adjustment programmes exacerbated in a pro-cyclical manner despite being justified in the name of growth. The combination crippled developmentalist strategies across the continent regardless of political variations and despite the fact that many countries were performing quite well before the onset of the crisis. Such historical contextualisation is crucial for a correct assessment of the present.

Along with non-economic factors, this in turn put considerable strain on the government’s ability to stabilise political factions through the deployment of scarce resources, of which foreign exchange remains among the most important, especially in the current setting.

In this respect, there is a danger of putting the cart before the horse. Most countries that descend into deep protracted crises (economic or political) generally stop being nominally democratic, and yet this result becomes attributed as a cause, as if authoritarianism results in crisis or poor performance. Cheeseman cherry-picks two papers (one a working paper) on democracy and development performance in Africa (which like all cross-country regressions, are highly sensitive to model specification and open to interpretation). However, drawing any causality from such studies is problematic given that states tended to become more authoritarian after the global economic crisis and subsequent structural adjustments of the late 1970s and 1980s, not the other way around. For instance, 16 countries were under military rule in 1972, compared with 21 countries in 1989 during the height of adjustment. Faced with crippled capacity under the weight of severe austerity and dwindling legitimacy as living standards collapsed, many states responded to mass protests against the harsh conditionalities of adjustment with increasing force. As such, economic crisis and adjustment plausibly contributed to the rise of political instability and increasingly authoritarian regimes. Other factors include the Cold War destabilisation, which western countries fuelled and profited from. In other words, the political malaise across Africa at the time was driven by as much by external as internal factors.

Aid as a lever of regime change

This leads us to our second point concerning Cheeseman’s vision of aid as a lever of regime change. Cheeseman is at pains to emphasise that rigged elections and repression of opponents have contributed to the recent emergence of conflict in the Tigray region. While these are important features, Ethiopian intellectuals have also emphasised that conflicts in contemporary Ethiopia have taken place against a history of imperial state formation, slavery and debates about the ‘national question’, or what has sometimes been called ‘internal colonialism’. These conflicts are shaped by the system of ethnic federalism, in which ethnically defined states control their own revenues, social provisioning and security forces. They have been affected by foreign agricultural land grabs, which interact with older histories of semi-feudal land dispossession. Most recently, there have been concerns that regional tensions over the Renaissance Dam and agricultural land may help draw neighbouring countries into the conflict.

In the face of this highly complex and rapidly changing context, no one person can identify the optimal response. It plausibly requires regular collective deliberation by people who are deeply embedded in the context. In particular, the brief political liberalisation of 2018 was followed by a sharp uptick of political violence on all sides, rooted in fundamental tensions between different visions of statehood. Such situations cannot be solved simply by ‘adding democracy and stirring’; they require deliberative governance.

Yet, Cheeseman’s piece seeks a reimposition of the very political conditionalities that were a primary factor in subverting deliberative governance on the continent during the first wave of structural adjustment and its attendant Good Governance agendas. Such conditionalities work by constraining the open contestation of ideas and the process of informed consensus-building. They undermine the sovereignty of key institutions of the polity and the economy. And by doing so they degrade the historical meaning of development as a project of reclaiming social and economic sovereignty after colonialism.

Indeed, as Thandika Mkandawire has argued, the previous wave of political conditionalities and democratisation reduced democracies to formal structures of elections and, by wedding and subordinating them to the orthodox economic policy frameworks established under structural adjustment, led to what he called ‘choiceless democracies’. Such ‘disempowered new democracies’ are incapable of responding to the substantive macroeconomic demands of voters and thereby undermining substantive democracy, deliberative governance and policy sovereignty.

In particular, the idea of a democratic developmental state is meaningless in the absence of policy sovereignty. The institutional monocropping and monotasking of the type that Mkandawire wrote about does not merely prevent key institutions, such as central banks, from using broader policy instruments to support the developmental project. It also involves the deliberate creation of unaccountable policy vehicles, such as Monetary Policy Committees (MPCs), which operate outside of democratic oversight, but have considerable hold on the levers of economic policy. MPCs are in turn wedded to neoliberal monetarism. The message to such disempowered new democracies is that ‘you can elect any leader of your choice as long as s/he does not tamper with the economic policy that we choose for you.’ Or as Mkandawire wrote in 1994, ‘two or three IMF experts sitting in a country’s reserve bank have more to say than the national association of economists about the direction of national policy.’

As Thandika Mkandawire has argued, the previous wave of political conditionalities and democratisation reduced democracies to formal structures of elections and, by wedding and subordinating them to the orthodox economic policy frameworks established under structural adjustment, led to what he called ‘choiceless democracies’

In such contexts, the prospect of a democratic developmental state is severely diminished. Ensuring significant improvements in people’s wellbeing is important for the legitimacy of democracies. Yet the subversion of policy sovereignty significantly constrains the ability of new democracies to do so, setting them up for a crisis of legitimacy.

If democracy is to be meaningful it should involve the active engagement of citizens in a system of deliberative governance. Civil society organisations, in this context, are meaningful when they are autonomous institutions of social groupings that actively engage in boisterous debate and public policymaking in articulating the interest of their members. Yet, donor clientelism in Africa has wrought civil society and advocacy organisations that are manufactured and funded by, and accountable to, donors, not the citizens. This is a substantive subversion of democracy as a system of deliberative governance.

In this respect, we can call the kind of intrusive donor clientelism that Cheeseman is recommending Good Governance 2.0. His advocacy for strengthening patron-client relations between western donors and African governments, and his urging that donors use crises as a way of forcing regime change and policy conditionalities, is ahistorical, counterproductive and morally indefensible. In particular, it does not take into account the destructive, anti-democratic role of western-backed regime change and policy conditionality across the Global South during the era of flag independence. Even recently, these donor countries have disastrous human rights records when pushing for regime change in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Their support for military dictatorships, such as in Egypt, has been a central pillar of foreign policy for decades. And several of these donor countries worked hard to uphold apartheid in South Africa. They have no moral high ground to push for regime change, and little record to ensure that they could do so without causing more harm than good.

Moreover, external actors attempting to enforce their narrow view of democratisation in contexts of deeply polarised and competing visions of statehood, and in the midst of economic instability reinforced by already burdensome economic conditionalities, austerity and reforms, could well be a recipe for disaster. As a collective of intellectuals from across the Horn has emphasised, the people of Ethiopia in particular and the Horn in general must be at the forefront of developing a lasting peace. This would likely require a developmental commitment to supporting state capacity and deliberative governance, not undermining it through external interference and conditionalities.

This article was first published in CODESRIA Bulletin Online, No. 2, January 2021 Page 1

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Mohamed Bouazizi and Tunisia: 10 Years On

Last year marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, who on 17 December 2010 set himself alight at Sidi Bouzid in an act of self-immolation that made him the iconic martyr of the Tunisian revolution.

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Mohamed Bouazizi’s name is familiar to all; less so is his background, although the facts of his story are well known and documented. This article will explore the links between the different sequences of ‘protest’ processes in Tunisia, from the 2008 strikes in the minefields, to the most recent (2017-20) El Kamour protests in the country’s south-east. It will also consider the concept of socio-spatial class solidarity, both in turning an individual suicide into the spark for a major uprising, and in facilitating collective resistance and its role in long revolutionary processes.

Two key questions arise: what in Bouazizi’s profile, life and circumstances was of such significance that his suicide sparked a huge popular uprising whose impact, direct and indirect, was felt worldwide. And what can he teach us about the origin, scale and longevity of the Tunisian revolution?

We must therefore examine the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi within its familial and personal context, but also within the more general context of the political protests against the Ben Ali dictatorship, and especially against the processes of dispossession, impoverishment and exclusion. Sidi Bouzid was clearly a focus of the protests and resistance then spreading throughout Tunisia’s marginalised regions. The prolonged mining strikes of 2008 were a key stage in the actions.

Born into poverty, Mohamed Bouazizi was raised by his mother after he lost his father at the age of three. As the eldest son he grew up with a moral ‘obligation’ to support his mother, to the detriment of his education, and he left school without qualifications. Some time before his dramatic act, he acquired a barrow and scales and started selling vegetables but his informal business attracted endless administrative hassles and police harassment. Finally, on 17 December 2010, the police seized his meagre equipment to put a stop to his trading. Angry, frustrated and desperate, he turned to the only act of resistance that still appeared open to him and thereby unwittingly triggered the countdown to Ben Ali’s fall, scarcely one month later, on 14 January 2011.

‘Individual’ suicide and class solidarity

Between the prolonged mining strike of 2008 and the shows of solidarity unleashed by Bouazizi’s self-immolation, many social movements were active across Tunisia. Among them were the protests made in Sidi Bouzid in June and July 2010 by peasant farmers whose demands focused on a number of issues: access to natural resources such as agricultural land, and water for drinking and irrigation purposes, state aid, and the complex problem of indebtedness.

According to several witnesses interviewed in Sidi Bouzid, as well as two family members, Mohamed Bouazizi took an active part in these demonstrations. Whether or not this is so, I would identify a clear link between the peasant ‘protests’ of summer 2010 and those that followed Bouazizi’s desperate act – a link that explains why this particular case, in contrast to other suicides, sparked a popular uprising across the country. First to take to the streets after Bouazizi’s self-immolation were other peasant farmers’ children identifying with his fatal act of resistance and despair.

Here was a clear example of ‘class solidarity’ among local populations directly affected by the region’s multiple social and economic problems. Over the next few days that same class solidarity also found expression nationwide, moving from the ‘rural’ zones (including ‘rural towns’), to the popular quarters of larger towns, and finally to the big urban centres, including Tunis. The progress of the protests suggests the existence of a distinct class-consciousness embracing all the ‘popular’ classes, rural and urban.

Since the early 1980s, the governorate of Sidi Bouzid has been the site of a rapid, state-initiated intensification of farming, designed to create a modern, export-oriented agricultural hub based on exploiting deep underground water reserves and attracting private and public capital. Over the past four decades Sidi Bouzid has been transformed: from a semi-arid desert fringe with an extensive agriculture based on olives, almonds, pasture and winter cereals, it has become Tunisia’s leading agricultural region, producing over a quarter of the nation’s total output of fruit and vegetables.

But behind this undoubted technical success lies a real social and ecological failure. Socially Sidi Bouzid remains one of Tunisia’s four poorest regions (of 26 in total), while ecologically the level of the water table is plummeting, water for irrigation is increasingly saline, and soil damage is visible, even to non-specialist eyes.

Since the early 1980s, the governorate of Sidi Bouzid has been the site of a rapid, state-initiated intensification of farming, designed to create a modern, export-oriented agricultural hub based on exploiting deep underground water reserves and attracting private and public capital

Here investors – who are mostly outsiders, often called ‘settlers’ by the local population – accrue capital and profits; meanwhile peasant farmers accumulate losses, tragedies and suicides. Without this huge socio-spatial fault, which divides Tunisia between a dominant centre and dependant periphery, Mohamed Bouazizi’s death would scarcely have merited a mention. And that same divide also lies at the heart of several other shocks which will be discussed below.

After the Sidi Bouzid uprising ended with the fall of the Ben Ali dictatorship, several more protest movements arose, all forming part of the same resistance processes in the social and spatial periphery.

The Jemna oasis movement began in 2011 and concerned rights to land and resources, while the El Kamour movement (2017-20) also involves rights to local resources and in particular to ‘development’: two different struggles each of which constitutes a key moment/sequence in the same process of dissent.

At Jemna and El Kamour, as in other cases, the key to mass mobilisation lies in the processes and dynamics of socio-spatial class solidarity: ‘This is where I come from, I belong to this region and this social group, I am being deprived of resources materially and/or symbolically, so I support those who dare to say “no” and resist’. In summary, this is what you can hear in Kebili-Jemna, Tataouine-El Kamour and elsewhere; what you can read in the media reports of declarations made by local populations. And underlying it all, ‘driving’ resistance and ‘cementing’ solidarity, lie profound feelings of injustice and demands for dignity.

Jemna: rights versus law; a disruptive legitimacy

Following the Sidi Bouzid episode and the fall of the dictator, in 2011 an oasis was ‘discovered’ that was probably new to the majority of Tunisians. Situated in the desert, midway between Kebili and Douz, the Jemna oasis owed its sudden appearance on the map to a significant new collective action, stemming directly from specific elements of colonial history that resurfaced after the wall of silence placed around them had been breached.

While most French colonists chose to settle in north or north-west Tunisia and created big cereal farms and/or stock-raising enterprises, and even vineyards and orchards, others preferred to head south and specialise in date farming – in particular the Degla variety, whose export market in France and Europe was virtually guaranteed. Among this latter group was one Maus De Rolley, who in 1937 created a new date-palm plantation around the core of the ancient Jemna oasis. The plantation today covers some 306 hectares, including 185 hectares planted with approximately 10,000 date palms.

Although local populations had held these lands as common and indivisible (tribal) property, they were dispossessed without compensation on the pretext that nomadic herding (pastoralism) was not a genuine productive activity, and that the land therefore was uncultivated. At independence, these populations – who had battled against the occupiers – held great expectations that the new authorities would return their stolen lands.

The Jemna oasis movement began in 2011 and concerned rights to land and resources, while the El Kamour movement (2017-20) also involves rights to local resources and in particular to ‘development’

When the colonial lands were nationalised in 1964, however, the government decided to place them under state control, confiding their management to the body that administered the state’s agricultural land, the Office des Terres Domaniales (OTD), which thereby became Tunisia’s biggest agricultural landowner. Bolstering this strategy was the collectivisation policy of the 1960s, which aimed to reorganise agricultural land and create state ‘socialist’ cooperatives.

Yet the real argument against the redistribution of the nationalised lands lay elsewhere: small peasant farmers were judged too ignorant and archaic, too lacking in the necessary financial and technical means, to develop a modern intensive agricultural sector – a stigmatisation that still recurs today whenever discussion returns to this subject and/or to questions of agricultural models and political choices related to farming and food.

Over the following decades, the heirs made some efforts to reclaim these lands, but it was not until early 2011 that the first organised occupations of OTD lands were launched by local populations describing themselves as the legitimate successors. Among them was Jemna’s local population, who occupied the former De Rolley plantation, claiming rights of property and of exploitation. The authorities demanded an end to the occupation, and the resulting impasse lasted for several years. The government argued that the occupation was illegal, while the occupiers countered that they held a legitimate right to resources and especially to community assets, including the indivisible and inalienable commons.

After a long period of tension a compromise was reached. By mutual agreement, the state ceded full management of the palm plantation to the local population while retaining ownership of the land. Might the latter have believed this negotiated settlement to be the only viable compromise?

Underlying the government position was the fear that any solution implying the grant of freehold to the legitimate heirs might create a legal precedent and set an example that would unleash a torrent of other land claims, all drawing on the same colonial and post-colonial past. But the occupation alone had set that example already, inciting other local populations to reclaim – with some attempts at occupation – the lands snatched from their grandparents during colonisation. Furthermore, I would argue that the Jemna case also served to fuel claims of a legitimate right to other local ‘natural’ resources such as water, minerals (for example, phosphates) and oil that mobilised populations in the Tatouine region.

El Kamour: the ‘will of the people’

Resistance entered another phase, not without success, at El Kamour – a locality situated in the barren steppes of south-eastern Tunisia, south of the town of Tatouine, on the tarmac road leading to the oil-fields in the extreme south of the country. The ‘dispossession pipeline’ carrying crude oil to the port of Skhira, 50 kilometres north of Gabes, runs through here, and this geographical position close to the pipeline is the immediate reason for El Kamour’s sudden appearance on political maps of Tunisia, as well as in the media.

Behind El Kamour, however, lies the governorate and town of Tataouine (Tataouine is the capital of the governorate of the same name), with over 180,000 inhabitants. Arid and barren, this region contains most of Tunisia’s oil reserves, producing 40 per cent of its petrol and 20 per cent of its gas. Yet Tataouine also records some of the nation’s highest levels of poverty: in 2017, for example, 28.7 per cent of its active population were unemployed (compared with a national average of 15.3 per cent), while for graduates the rate rose as high as 58 per cent.

Events in El-Kamour, 2017-2020: a brief chronology

The El Kamour movement began on 25 March 2017, with protests in various localities in the governorate, all converging on the town centre of Tataouine. The protesters were demanding a share of local resources, particularly oil, as well as greater employment opportunities and infrastructure development. Met by silence from the government, on 23 April they organised a sit-in at El Kamour. Tensions mounted on both sides, and an escalation became inevitable after the prime minister visited Tataouine and met the protesters. His plans to calm the situation with a few token promises came to naught and the discussions ended in deadlock. On 20 May the pumping station was occupied for two days before being cleared by the army, and tensions remained high.

Eventually, on 16 June 2017, an agreement was signed with the government through the mediation of the Union générale tunisienne du travail (UGTT), which acted to guarantee its implementation. The terms of the agreement promised the creation of 3,000 new jobs in the environmental sector by 2019, and 1,500 jobs in the oil industry by the end of 2017. A budget of 80 million dinars was also earmarked for regional development. But, to the frustration of the local population, the agreement was never implemented. The government simply bided its time, gambling that the militants would tire and the movement run out of steam.

‘This is where I come from, I belong to this region and this social group, I am being deprived of resources materially and/or symbolically, so I support those who dare to say “no” and resist’. In summary, this is what you can hear in Kebili-Jemna, Tataouine-El Kamour and elsewhere.

On 20 May 2020, however, the El Kamour activists resumed their protests and sit-ins in several places, piling on the pressure and blockading several routes to bar them to oil-industry vehicles. On 3 July they organised a new general strike throughout the public services and the oilfields, and on 16 July they closed the pumping station, blocking the pipelines carrying petroleum products north. But the El Kamour militants had to wait until 7 November 2020 before they could reach an agreement with the government’s representatives, in return for which petrol producers and other oil-sector enterprises were to resume operations immediately.

Signed by the head of government on 8 November 2020, the agreement contains a number of key points, including several that had previously featured in the 2017 accord but had not been implemented. These included, dedicated 80-million-dinar development and investment fund for the governorate of Tataouine; credit finance for 1,000 projects before the end of 2020; 215 jobs created in the oil industry in 2020, plus a further 70 in 2021; 2.6 million dinars for local municipalities and 1.2 million dinars for the Union Sportive de Tataouine.

The big social movements discussed above all have several points in common. Firstly, they are very largely located in southern, central, western and north-western Tunisia, the same marginalised and impoverished regions that between 17 December 2010 and early January 2011 saw huge protests in support of Bouazizi and against current social and economic policies. Secondly, while differing in detail, the principal demands of these movements all relate essentially to the right to resources, services and a decent income. None, or virtually none, are linked to ‘political’ demands (political rights, individual freedom). Thirdly, in their choice of language, and of several ‘spectacular’ actions, these social movements display a radicalism that marks a clear break with the political games played in and around the centres of power. Finally, almost all these movements are denounced and accused of regionalism and tribalism, sometimes even of separatism and treachery. Protesters are suspected of being manipulated, of being puppets in the hands of a political party or foreign power.

Yet these movements have enjoyed some, albeit relative, success – a success impossible without the class solidarity shown in the three examples discussed above, and the ties of domination and dependency that for decades have characterised the relationship between Tunisia’s centre of power (the east coast) and its deprived and impoverished periphery. Finay, these same examples, and other more recent cases, demonstrate that the ‘revolutionary’ processes launched in early 2008 are still active in Tunisia and will probably remain so for many years to come.

This article was first published in The Review of Africa Political Economy journal

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