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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The Evolving Language of Corruption in Kenya
A cabal of politicos has appropriated the everyday language of hardworking Kenyans to camouflage their intentions to perpetuate corruption and state capture.
Andrew Ngumba had a curious way of explaining away institutionalized corruption every time he was accused of engaging in it. “In the days gone by, before the village elders arbitrated any pressing or thorny issue, they would be offered libation just before the deliberations and then thanked with a goat thereafter, as an appreciation for a job well done.”
Those who are old enough will remember Ngumba, who died in 1997, as the mayor of Nairobi from 1977–1980. He later became the MP for Mathare constituency, renamed Kasarani, from 1983–1986. Ngumba estate, off Thika highway, next to East African Breweries, is named after the canny entrepreneur-politician, who founded Rural Urban Credit Finance Limited, dubbed the “ghetto bank”. The finance house collapsed in 1984 and Ngumba sought political refuge in Sweden.
Just like your archetypal politician, the wily Ngumba would with characteristic panache then ask, “Was the libation and the goat a form of saying ‘thank you for your time’ to the elders, or was it just plain corruption?” His cheekiness aside, which Kenyan society was Ngumba describing? Pre-colonial, before the advent of British settlers and missionaries? Or was he referring to a pre-urban, rural-setting Kenya, before it was contaminated by colonialism, modern capitalism and corruption?
We can imagine what his answer to his own rhetorical question was. Of greater interest, is the way he chose to re-tell the socio-cultural anecdote, with the obvious intention of exonerating himself and like-minded politicians, when caught engaging in bribery and institutional corruption: he implicitly gave a nod to the nefarious activity by normalizing bribery, a vice previously unknown and unexperienced in the very society he was describing.
“Political elites [also] appropriate moral language and social norms to ‘conventionalise’ corruption, fashioning a vocabulary that takes the moral sting from opprobrium, corruption and its various forms,” says Wachira Maina in his report, State Capture – Inside Kenya’s Inability to Fight Corruption. “Corruption is ‘traditionalised’ and reframed as gift-giving or as a form of socially recognizable reciprocity. Corrupt practices are then expressed in the language of moral obligation. No moral wrong is involved when an official or politician from one’s village violates conflict of interest rules or other laws to provide some ‘token benefit’.”
But when is a gift a bribe and a bribe a gift? Let us take the example of the chief – village or otherwise. Until very recently, up to the late 1990s, the chief was a powerful creature bestowed with the powers of “life and death” over his subjects. Until just before the December 1997 general elections, the statutory powers of the chief were many times greater than those of any elected official that you can think of. With the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) reforms, some of their powers were supposedly clipped.
Picture this: Two parties are squabbling over a land boundary. They must go to the chief for arbitration. On the eve of the arbitration, one of the parties, most probably the one who has encroached on his neighbour’s land, gets a brainwave and pays the chief a visit in advance, ostensibly to remind him of their big day. Because of the unwritten law that it is “culturally rude” to visit a chief “empty-handed”, the visiting party decides to “gift” the chief with whatever, as has happened from time immemorial. One can, without too much effort, imagine the possible outcome of the land tussle the following day.
Chiefs were not only very powerful, they happened to be some of the richest people wherever they reigned. Should we wonder why chiefs as public officials, for example, own some of the biggest chunks of land in their area of jurisdiction? At the grassroots level, a socio-cultural norm was deliberately subverted to allow open bribery and the establishment of institutionalized corruption.
As currently constituted in the country, chiefs are an invention of British colonial rule. They are part of the indirect rule that the colonial government imposed on Kenyans. When Kenya gained independence from the British in 1963, the post-independent government inherited the colonial indirect system of government — the whole kit and caboodle. With their “illegitimacy” and corruption networks carried over and sanctioned by the new African government, chiefs entrenched themselves even further by extending their corrupt patronage networks within the government bureaucratic structures.
During their “reign of terror”, which continues today, chiefs interpreted bribes as “gifts” that had to be given by “force of law”; any person with matters arising at the chief’s court knew that a “gift” had to be carried along. So, even though this form of corruption was covert and not dangerous to the existence of the state, it impoverished and terrorized the poor peasants.
Chiefs were not only very powerful, they happened to be some of the richest people wherever they reigned.
Corruption, as an evolving concept, was introduced into Kenya society by the British colonial government and, the civil service has been known to be the home of institutionalized state corruption since pre-independence Kenya. Think about it, the word corruption does not exist in the lexicons of Kenya’s ethnic communities. In the Kikuyu community, for instance, there is a specific lexicon that describes a thief and theft, but there is no word for corruption per se, because in African societies, corruption, a Western concept (and as defined today), was unknown in many African traditional societies.
Indeed, as Wachira observes in his report released in 2019, “corruption has been a persistent problem in Kenya since before independence, but it has flourished and put down robust roots since the country’s return to multiparty politics in 1992.”
What is corruption? For the longest time, corruption has been defined in the binary fashion of either petty or grand corruption. Political scientists have variously described corruption as an act in which the power of public office is used for personal gain. In other words, the misuse of public resources by state officials for private gain. Corruption has also been described as behaviour that deviates from the formal rules of conduct governing the actions of someone in a position of public authority or trust.
The benefits of corruption are either economic — when an exchange of cash occurs — or social, in the case of favouritism or nepotism. Hence, grand corruption, sometimes referred to as political corruption, involves top government officials and political decision makers who engage in exchanges of large sums of illegally acquired money. Petty corruption involves mid- or low-level state officials, who are often underpaid and who interact with the public on a daily basis.
In his concise report, Wachira notes that “a generation of reforms has not dented the corruption edifice or undone its rhizome-like penetration into the body politic of Kenya.” Why? “Part of the problem is conceptual: How we name corruption and how we understand its character,” points out the constitutional lawyer.
These simple but loaded terms of “petty” and “grand” corruption present a false dichotomy, says Wachira. “Petty” suggests that the corruption is merely an irritant, something people do to speed up things or evade a long queue — a way of “lubricating the system. “The term suggests an expedient with trivial effect, considered case by case. In fact, that characterization is deeply mistaken. . . . Most important, it becomes a fee, because it guarantees that what was initially a free service is no longer so. From a macro-economic perspective, its distortionary effect could be as at least as impactful as grand corruption,” writes Wachira.
That is why petty corruption in Kenya has long been baptized chai, meaning tea, or kitu kidogo, which means something small. It is daily language that is used to camouflage an illegal act by likening it to one of Kenya’s best-known pastimes — drinking tea. Civil servants demand chai from the public in order, they argue, to grease the bureaucratic wheel, which oftentimes revolves very, very slowly and needs to be lubricated for it to move. Chai and Kitu Kidogo have become interchangeable, because “something small” also connotes a kind of “lubricant” that “hastens” service delivery.
The police, especially traffic cops, who are synonymous with petty corruption, have perfected the language of chai-taking more than any other state official such that when Kenyans conjure bribe giving, the first person who immediately comes to mind is the policeman.
The State Capture report says, “Indeed language is in a parlous condition when the bribe a judge takes to free a dangerous criminal is named chai, like a nice ‘cuppa’ tea between intimates.”
During their “reign of terror”, which continues today, chiefs interpreted bribes as “gifts” that had to be given by “force of law”.
The report further states that, “the term ‘grand’ on the other hand can also be misleading if grand suggests debilitating to the state. Implicit in the term is the notion of a corrupt deal of significant size, involving senior officials and high-ranking politicians. Such corruption involves large-scale stealing of state resources and, the theory goes, it erodes confidence in government, undermines the rule of law and spawns economic instability.”
In Kenya, grand corruption has involved such mindboggling money schemes as the Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing scandals and more recently, the Eurobond scandal. These mega-scams are a result of collusion between state officials and politicians, who over time have formed powerful corruption cartels that have proved inextinguishable.
Why does this corruption on a massive scale not cause moral outrage or shock in the public? Why is it not obvious to all? “There are cases in which the term ‘grand’ corruption fails to communicate the moral shock and magnitude that seems implicit. ‘Grand’ then becomes merely an audit term that simply describes financial scale,” says Wachira. “If that conclusion is right, it would then explain the frequent lack of moral outrage about widespread theft in government, with the result that there will be cases in which characterising corruption as petty or grand implies nothing about its impact or the social and political levers one can push to eliminate it.”
“Grand corruption” in Kenya today has evidently surpassed the current nomenclature; the staggering sums of money stolen have numbed the people’s sensibilities to shock and have refused to register in their psyche. How, for example, can the president have the audacity of treating Kenyans to shock therapy by telling them that KSh2 billion is stolen from the state coffers every 24 hours? That kind of pillage can no longer be termed as corruption, let alone grand corruption. A more appropriate language has to be found; and there can be no other word for it other than theft.
The State Capture report problematizes the matter of the naming of state plunder and discusses at length what could be the problem with language that seeks to explain the massive haemorrhage of state resources orchestrated by unscrupulous individuals. The report notes that corruption in Kenya has been described as a malignant tumour that hampers the government from governing properly “The problem of naming [corruption] is then compounded by medical or sociological language that pathologises corruption. . . . Therein lies the problem: Anti-corruption programmes ‘pathologise’ the relationship between corruption and the state, deploying medical terms like ‘cancer on the body politic,’ ‘a disease that we must cure’ or ‘a pervasive ill’ potentially responsive to curative interventions.
Even when the language used is sociological rather medical, the pathological dimension stays. Corruption is ‘a perverse culture’ or ‘negative norm’. Both the medical and the sociological language mobilise a deep-seated ‘conviction that there is something pathological – an illness – within [Kenya] politics and culture’. This suggests that what the reformers must do is ‘to identify this pathology’ and formulate a diagnosis that examines the Kenyan society and brings to the surface the ‘fissures and contradictions’ that explain the graft.
In his report, Wachira goes on to say, “The medical perspective that implies that the state has gone awry and can be put to rights with an appropriate intervention is pervasive. Implicit in the diagnosis and the proposed cure is the thought that the state is constructed for some legitimate — or benign — purpose that has been perverted by corruption.”
Joseph G. Kibe, a Permanent Secretary in six different ministries in the 1970s, was once interviewed about his experience working as a top government bureaucrat, many years after his retirement in 1979. Said Kibe, “In those days, I could see some kind of low-level corruption starting to creep in, especially involving clerks. For instance, in the Lands Office, they would remove one file and hide it away from where the index shows it is and wait until the owners of the land wanted to conduct a transaction at which point they would ask for a bribe.”
The same low-level corruption has been rampant in the corridors of justice. The low-paid court clerk in the magistrate’s court “disappears” a case file so that he can solicit a bribe to enable the miraculous re-appearance of the “lost” file.
“A generation of reforms has not dented the corruption edifice or undone its rhizome-like penetration into the body politic of Kenya.”
The former PS, who went on to work for Transparency International (TI) Kenya Chapter, said in 2004, “Corruption had crept into ministries, departments and government corporations and was likely to entrench itself unless it was stopped. With corruption you give up development because all resources you have, only a little will do good. A lot will be taken away for personal use.”
Because the patronage networks created by the civil service and the political class have ensured that corruption is profitable and has high returns, it has become extremely difficult to fight the vice. “The difficulties of fighting corruption lie in the union of corruption and politics; a union in which, at least since Goldenberg scandal, a power elite has captured the state, especially the Presidency and the Treasury and repurposed the machinery of the government into a ‘temporary zone for personalised appropriation’” says Wachira.
State capture is a term that was popularized in South Africa, a country that since its independence 27 years ago, has witnessed some of the biggest state scandals since the end of Apartheid. “What is at play in Kenya [today] is ‘state capture’ defined as a political project in which a well-organised elite network constructs a symbiotic relationship between the constitutional state and a parallel shadow state for its own benefit”, explains the State Capture report.
The success of the state capture rests on the ability of a small group of powerful and rich operatives to take over and pervert the institutions of democracy, while keeping the façade of a functioning democracy. Thus, oversight institutions are weakened; law enforcement is partisan and in the pockets of the politicians; civic space is asphyxiated; free elections are frustrated and are typically won by the most violent or the most corrupt, or those who are both violent and corrupt. Arrest and indictments are often the precursor of inaction, not proof of official will to fight corruption.
“Corruption eats at the moral fabric of the nation,” once said Harris Mule, one of the finest PSs to have served at Kenya’s Ministry of Finance. “Positive norms and traditions, once appropriated by the corrupt, instantly transform themselves into curses. Take the uniquely Kenyan institution of Harambee, as an example. It has been changed from what was once a positive manifestation of the culture of philanthropy and community service, into a political tool that fails to deliver what it promises.”
Mule further said, “Corruption causes poverty by promoting unfair distribution of [the] national income and inefficient use of resources. Poverty and inequality in turn breed discontent and can cause national instability. The political implications of sharp economic inequalities are potent.” The former PS was clear in his mind that corruption was the art of “transferring state assets into private hands at the expense of the public interest and purse.”
Harambee, which means, “pulling together”, was a noble idea that tapped into the egalitarian and altruistic nature of African society, that of pooling their meagre resources together for the public good. It was very popular throughout the 1970s and 1980s and to a lesser extent in the 1990s. When Mwai Kibaki came to power in 2003, his government instituted a probe into the now much-maligned popular group effort. Wachira explains that,
As the report of the Task Force on Public Collections or Harambees showed clearly, politicians are the largest donors to ‘charitable’ causes — churches, schools, higher education and funerals are firm favourites — to which they give fortunes that are many times more that their own legitimate incomes. Such charity is, in truth, a bait and switch ploy: once moral institutions buckle to the lure of corruption money, the corrupt buy absolution and are free to dip deeper into the public coffers.
Both the Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi regimes misused the Harambee spirit for self-aggrandizement. Mzee Kenyatta, who hardly gave any money towards any Harambee effort and if he did, it was a symbolic sum, expected Kenyans to contribute to his Harambee causes, which were baptized all manner of noteworthy names. The monies were not accounted for and nobody would dare ask how the funds raised were spent, whether they were spent on the causes for which they had been contributed. In many instances, the money collected went to line the pockets of Mzee’s friends.
During Moi’s time, Harambee was used by civil servants, especially chiefs, to solicit bribes and favours from people calling into government offices for services that are meant to be free. A citizen visiting a chief’s office to obtain a personal identification document would be presented with a card for a Harambee by the chief and his subordinates. If you wanted to be served at the Ministry of Lands for example, you would be presented with a Harambee card by a junior officer acting on behalf of his boss. Yours was not to question the authenticity of the card, why a public office was presenting a Harambee card to and all sundry, or why it was “mandatory” to contribute before being served in a public office. If you did, you would be called an “enemy of development” and labelled anti-Nyayo.
Why does this corruption on a massive scale not cause moral outrage or shock in the public?
Just after the Narc party was swept into power in 2003, the country witnessed a “citizen’s jury” at work: it exposed and sometimes went as far as making citizens’ arrests of errant police officers caught engaging in bribery. But what happened to citizens’ arrests? It was just a matter of time before the citizens themselves caved in and returned to offering the same bribes to the very same police officers. Why? Because they realized belatedly that to fight institutionalized corruption in Kenya, there must be goodwill and concerted effort from the government: the fish rots from the head and the fight against corruption must begin at the top.
Since 2013, corruption seems to have acquired a new word to camouflage it – hustler. Under the Jubilee government, “hustler” has come to describe tenderpreneurs masquerading as the toiling masses. It is the new lexicon that has been adopted by a cabal of people intent on raiding government coffers, a cabal that has appropriated the everyday language of Kenyans who eke out a living the hard way. It is the latest socio-cultural jargon that has been unleashed on the political landscape by a network of politicos intent on acquiring state power so that, in their turn, they can perpetuate state capture.
Pan-Africanism in a Time of Pandemic
Solidarity conferences have been replaced by aid conferences called by “donors”. What we need is a Pan-African conference organised by movements and individuals committed to human development.
There was a time, in the last century, when the under-privileged of the world shared a common understanding of the causes of their condition. Today the causes manifest in vaccine Apartheid. That the COVID-19 pandemic should find most African countries with less than one doctor and less than ten beds per a thousand of their population shows the failure of the development efforts of the past 60 or so years. The same countries all struggle with unsustainable debt, which is still being paid during the pandemic and has been increased by the COVID debt. When the global emergency was declared in January 2021, development partners began to hoard personal protective equipment. When vaccines became available a year later, there was insufficient production capacity to meet world needs. The same development partners rejected the option of allowing African countries to manufacture the vaccines on the continent. They hoarded their supplies until they were nearly expired before donating them to African countries.
In the 1950s, there would have been a different reaction. By then, African and Asian countries were moving inexorably towards independence. Organised by Indonesia, Myanmar (now Burma), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, and Pakistan, African countries attended the Bandung Conference of 1955 with economic and social development in mind. Then as now, China and the United States were on opposite sides of the Cold War and each sought to influence Africa while Africa sought non-alignment in order to freely pursue her development goals.
For one week in Bandung, Indonesia, twenty-nine African and Asian heads of state and other leaders discussed the formation of an alliance based on five principles: political self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality. The ten-points in the communiqué released after the conference became the governing principles of the non-aligned movement and they included self-determination, protection of human rights, the promotion of economic and cultural cooperation, and a call for an end to racial discrimination wherever it occurred. The alliance began to disintegrate when India and Yugoslavia shunned the radical stand against Western imperialism, leading to the organisation of a rival non-aligned conference in 1965. The 1965 conference was postponed.
While there was no follow-up to Bandung, the ideals it stood for were being espoused by other formations. On the African continent, the Casablanca Group—the precursor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)—had a membership of five African states: Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Libya, and Morocco. The All-African Peoples’ Conference (AAPC) took place in Cairo in 1958 after the founder, Uganda’s John Kale, was inspired by his attendance at the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Conference the previous year. It was a meeting representing peoples and movements and not just states. The conference demanded the immediate and unconditional independence of all the African peoples, and the total evacuation of the foreign forces of aggression and oppression stationed in Africa.
The All-African People’s Conference recommended African co-operation in the interest of all the Africans, denounced racial discrimination in South, East and Central Africa, and demanded the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, the suppression of the Federation of Nyasaland (Malawi) and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and independence for the two countries.
The Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO) organised a conference in Cuba in 1957. The 500 delegates to the AAPSO conference represented national liberation movements as well as states and after a number of such gatherings, AAPSO resolved to include Cuba and Latin America in its membership. Thus was the organisation of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL) born.
The activities of OSPAAAL included financial support for the anti-colonial struggle in Palestine and for South Africa’s Africa National Congress (ANC). American aggression towards Cuba and its blockade of Vietnam were denounced and global solidarity was shown to political activists under threat of arrest. The movement solidified in the 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Havana, Cuba. The Solidarity movement established a think tank, the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research which produced educational materials in the form of newsletters, articles and the now iconic revolutionary art. This work continues to this day.
For the next decade, Cuba provided support to the armed struggle for independence in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Equatorial Guinea, and to South Africa’s ANC. Fidel Castro was a familiar face on the diplomatic circuit and received Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and other leaders, in Havana.
The United States government was caught between the expectations of its allies, the former colonial powers and those of the soon-to-be independent countries whose alliance it sought. The civil rights movement in the United States was a thorn in its side as it appealed to Africans in the Independence movement. America chose her traditional allies and neo-colonialism put down roots.
Regardless of that, leaders of African and American movements interacted, learning from each other; Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, and a number of other leaders of the day met Kwame Nkrumah at Ghana’s independence celebrations in 1957. Martin Luther King was also there. Reflecting on the cost of freedom and mentioning Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia and Kenya, King later wrote, “Ghana reminds us that freedom never comes on a silver platter. It’s never easy. . . . Ghana reminds us of that. You better get ready to go to prison.” Following a visit to Nigeria in 1960, King reported,
I just returned from Africa a little more than a month ago and I had the opportunity to talk to most of the major leaders of the new independent countries of Africa and also leaders of countries that are moving toward independence [. . .] they are saying in no uncertain terms that racism and colonialism must go for they see the two are as based on the same principle, a sort of contempt for life, and a contempt for human personality.
Today Dr King would probably have added predatory debt to that list.
Malcolm X visited Egypt and Ghana in 1959 and met Gamal Abdel Nasser and Kwame Nkrumah. In 1964, he spoke at the OAU conference in Egypt. He went to Tanzania and to Kenya where he met Oginga Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta. Back in New York Malcolm X related his experience: “As long as we think—as one of my good brothers mentioned out of the side of his mouth here a couple of Sundays ago—that we should get Mississippi straightened out before we worry about the Congo, you’ll never get Mississippi straightened out.” Prophetic words. Just this month the President of the United States warned against a “Jim Crow assault” on the voting rights of people of colour and the under-privileged that were won in 1965 after a long and hard civil rights struggle.
By the time the Bandung Conference was taking place, Frantz Fanon had already published Black Skin, White Masks and was to follow it up with A Dying Colonialism and The Wretched of the Earth. Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa would appear in 1972. There was an explosion of global awareness of Africa. Musicians like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbulu, and Caiphus Semenya and others became known in Europe and America as they raised awareness about apartheid. African fashion became the signature of the civil rights movement. On the African continent, the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (Festac77) was held in Lagos, attracting 59 countries. Exhibits ranged from David Aradeon’s African architectural technology to work by the Chicago Africobra arts collective. The welcome given to the American diaspora contingent at the venue is testament to the sense of oneness that prevailed at the time.
Yet here we are in the new millennium facing identical existential crises. Palestine has lost over half the territory it had in 1966. The televised ethnic cleansing taking place in the country is openly supported by American aid. The Republic of South Africa has found that the end of apartheid may only have been the beginning of the struggle for human development. The country is just emerging from three days of looting and burning by impoverished citizens. Cuba is still under a US embargo and there was even an attempt to blockade medical supplies being shipped to Cuba for the fight against COVID.
Cold War tensions between China and the West have been revived with the United State’s growing opposition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China has remained faithful to the non-interference principle, to the extent of transacting business with African leaders without regard to that other principle, the observance of human rights.
While most African countries are nominally independent, this has not brought development as they had envisaged it. Now, as in 1966, the main economic activity is the export of raw commodities. Africa’s Asian partners in the Bandung Communiqué have long since moved out of the realm of what used to be called “The Third World”. Malaysia, at number 62 out of 189 countries listed on the Human Development Index, is ranked as a Very High Human Development Country. Indonesia, the host of the Bandung Conference, is in the High Human Development category, with a ranking of 107. India, which abandoned the spirit of Bandung, is a medium human development country (ranked 131) while Yugoslavia ceased to exist. Only eight African countries are highly developed, while 30 fall in the Low Human Development category. Within that category, Uganda slipped down one place in 1997 and is ranked 159.
Solidarity conferences have been replaced by aid conferences called by “donors”. They are no longer organised by activists like the Moroccan Mehdi Ben Barka who, together with Chu Tzu-chi of the People’s Republic of China, organized the Tricontinental Conference (Ben Barka was abducted and “disappeared” in 1965 before the conference took place.) or John Kale. Recent conferences have been organised by European heads of state or United Nations bodies. India and China organise their own conferences for Africa, having transitioned to the ranks of developed countries. Attending delegates are the residual wretched.
The India–Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) inaugurated in 2008 is scheduled to be held once every three years. The France-Africa Finance Summit is an initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron whose various remarks about Africa on his tour of the continent were perceived as racist and disparaging.
At the Forum on China-African Cooperation (FOCAC) in Johannesburg in 2015, China offered US$60 billion in development assistance, US$5 billion in the form of grants and the rest in loans. Attendance by African heads of state was higher than for the most recent African Union Conference; only six did not turn up (but were represented).
Attending delegates are the residual wretched.
The following year FOCAC was held in Beijing. On the first day, members of the American Congress issued a statement condemning China’s predatory lending to African and Asian countries. They argued that the recipient countries eventually wound up needing to be bailed out by the IMF, mostly with American money, thereby transferring American capital to China. For his part, the beleaguered president of economically battered Zimbabwe received the offer of another US$60 billion with fulsome gratitude, saying President Xi Jinping was doing what “we expected those who colonised us yesterday to do.”
The International Development Association for Africa: Heads of State Summit held on 15 July 2021 was a World Bank exercise. The agenda, according to their website, was “to highlight the importance of an ambitious and robust 20th replenishment of the International Development Association.” In other words, it was about increasing members’ debt. These days “cooperation” means aid – with strings attached – not solidarity. This year there will also be a virtual African Economic Conference (AEC) to discuss “Financing Africa’s post COVID-19 Development”. It is organised by the United Nations Development Programme, the African Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa.
Of the original anti-colonial activist countries of the 1960s, most Asian countries are in a position to offer solutions to economic questions; they compete in the global arena manufacturing pharmaceuticals and agricultural technology. China has mastered all of the foregoing as well as dominating foreign infrastructural development investment. The African bloc stands alone in not being organised enough to participate in the global discourse except as receivers of aid.
It is true that together with Latin American countries, resource-wealthy African countries have endured Western-engineered coups d’état and other debilitating interference but the dynamism of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah and Amilcar Cabral is missing. In its place is the renewed use of the once hated colonial public order laws to quell dissent against corruption and repression.
These days “cooperation” means aid – with strings attached – not solidarity.
Two decades after Lumumba’s assassination, the less wealthy Burkina Faso lit the path to self-sufficiency before the country’s radical president, Captain Thomas Sankara, was assassinated with French connivance. Three months earlier, Sankara had called for the repudiation of debt at an Organisation of African Unity Conference. The delegates were stunned as can be seen from the expression on the late Kenneth Kaunda’s face.
The last African-Asian Conference organised by Africa may or may not be more of a memorial than the birth (re-birth?) of the solidarity movement. On the 50th anniversary of the original Bandung Conference, in 2005, Asian and African leaders met in Jakarta and Bandung to launch the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP). They pledged to promote political, economic, and cultural cooperation between the two continents. An interesting outcome was their communiqué to the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council concerning the development of Palestine. On the cultural front, there is talk of a third Festac.
Then there is Cuba, host of the 1966 Tricontinental Conference. Cuba ranks as a high human development country and has the highest doctor-patient ratio in the world—more than double the concentration in the US—and the most hospital beds per 10,000, nearly double what is available in the US. Cuba also has the highest pupil-teacher ratio in the world. Out of necessity due to the economic embargo imposed on it, and being unable to import fertilisers, Cuba pioneered vermiculture, a technique now in use globally. The country manufactures 80 per cent of its vaccines and has five COVID-19 vaccine candidates (two are being used under emergency licence like AstraZeneca, J&J and the other Western products). While Western pharmaceutical manufacturers took an early decision to bar Africa from manufacturing its vaccines on intellectual property grounds, Cuba is willing to transfer its technology to countries that need it. Funds should have been no object as the African continent is awash with COVID Emergency Response funds borrowed from the World Bank and the IMF. This is the kind of development that has been sought for the last sixty-plus years.
The dynamism of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah and Amilcar Cabral is missing.
But Africa is not talking to Cuba about developing vaccine capacity. African leaders are waiting for UNICEF, appointed by the World Bank, to procure Western-made vaccines for them with funds they shall have to repay. In Uganda, delivery is expected in six months. Meanwhile, Norway and others are donating small amounts of vaccine, hardly enough to cover the twenty-nine million Ugandans that will give us immunity. The Indian-manufactured brand, AstraZeneca, is not recognised in Europe and will prevent recipients travelling there.
The Conscious Era began to wind down with the accession of leaders of independent African states more interested in the instant gratification of cash inflows than in the principles of the past. Yoweri Museveni had the opportunity to learn from the Cuban model when he met Castro in the early months of his rule. As it turned out, he was only wasting El Comandante’s time. Despite condemning his predecessors’ SDR177,500,000 debt to the IMF during the Bush War, Museveni’s SDR49,800,000 structural adjustment facility was signed on 15 Jun 1987—he had been in power for just eighteen months. Since then he has extended his credit to SDR1,606,275 (US$2,285,199.26) from the IMF alone. New debt to the World Bank (contracted since 2020) amounts to US$468,360,000.00. A separate COVID Debt owed to the World Bank amounts to US$300 million so far while over US$31 million is owed to the African Development Bank. These funds have not been used to purchase vaccines.
The Black Lives Matter movement has echoes of the Black Power movement of the 1960s. The movement is strong on showing solidarity with persecuted activists and victims of racism through online campaigns. BLM chapters are in solidarity with Ghanaian activists. Like the Tricontinental Institute, BLM has made attempts to educate, for example via the Pan-African Activist Sunday School. What is needed is another Pan-African conference organised by movements and individuals committed to human development.
Protests, Chaos and Uprisings: Lessons from South Africa’s Past
The recent riots are an attempt to force change after years of neglect by a state that has remained aloof and uninterested in the economic and social dispossession of the African majority.
The current upheavals across South Africa are ostensibly in response to former President Jacob Zuma’s arrest (or surrender) on 8 July 2021. But contrary to the misinformation in circulation, Zuma was not arrested on charges of corruption, racketeering and for diverting state assets and resources to a circle of cronies including the Gupta family. His reluctance to appear before the Zondo Commission led Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the Chair, to issue a warrant for Zuma’s arrest for contempt of court.
Protest politics in South Africa have a long history and protests have been deployed differently at different historical moments. Whereas protests were an important vehicle during the fight against apartheid, their resurgence and propulsion to the centre of the struggles in post-apartheid South Africa has come as a surprise to many. These so-called “service delivery protests” are said to be caused by community dissatisfaction with municipal service delivery and to lack of communication between councils and councillors on the one hand, and citizens on the other.
The African National Congress-led (ANC) government has been facing growing protests associated with economic contraction, and the dual pressures of a recessionary environment and rising unemployment. But while their grievances may be valid, citizens’ protests have been perceived as having a negative impact on government programmes, businesses, investor confidence and jobs. Indeed, the ongoing service delivery protests could be regarded as a self-defeating strategy in those areas that are more susceptible to them, mostly the municipalities located in the peri-urban areas.
Historians and experts argue that these types of riots are not merely random acts of violence or people taking advantage of dire circumstances to steal and destroy property. They are, instead, a serious attempt to force change after years of neglect by politicians, media, and the general public.
This article takes a historical view of South Africa’s current upheaval and suggests that this moment has been a long time coming.
Service delivery in historical context
The pre-1994 era was prone to mass protests and defiance campaigns, some sporadic but most coordinated by social movements. They include the two defiance campaigns of 1952 and 1989, in Gauteng, the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress) defiance campaigns that led to the Sharpeville and Langa massacres in 1960 and, of course, the 1976 Soweto student uprisings. These coordinated mass protests had a clear aim — the abolition of the apartheid laws which were central to racial segregation, white supremacy and the oppression of the majority black population.
The violent service delivery protests, which are mostly prevalent at the local government level, have been associated with the results of apartheid: marginalisation of the majority black population with regard to basic needs, including housing, clean drinking water, proper sanitation, electricity, and access to healthcare and to infrastructure. After the end of apartheid, the new democratic government led by the ANC inherited an unequal society and was confronted with protests against lack of basic services and systemic corruption at local government level. Some scholars and analysts have suggested that such unrest epitomises the dispossession of African people, precluding them from complete liberation in their own land and subjecting them to continued subjugation by their white counterparts.
The ongoing service delivery protests could be regarded as a self-defeating strategy in those areas that are more susceptible to them.
Various communities throughout the country have resorted to violent riots, destroying schools, libraries and the houses of underperforming local government councillors. One opinion is that service delivery protests are exacerbated in the informal settlements where poverty and unemployment are high, and where there is a lack of technical and managerial skills within municipalities beset by corruption, poor financial management, and a lack of accountability on the part of local councillors and municipal officials.
Public protests did not feature as prominently during the initial part of the Mandela administration (1994–1999). The relative lull in public protests following the inauguration of the Mandela presidency in 1994 might have been a result of three key factors. One aspect is the negotiated settlement that gave rise to what is often characterised as a democratic dispensation, popularly and quite falsely described as a new era for South African people but which rapidly descended into mass frustration. In the neo-liberal euphoria of the “new democratic South Africa”, the strategic power of mass protest action that had helped to remove the apartheid regime struggled to find a new footing. Protests were suddenly viewed as acts against the state and were vigorously discouraged by an ANC government that was increasingly detached from the broader population. The ANC-led administration preferred to mobilise mass movements as cheerleaders of government programmes and as a result, when protests did take place, they were often state-managed to be peaceful, media-friendly events.
Another factor is that militant apartheid-era civic society formations were demobilised, which effectively weakened opposition to unpopular government policies and even brought newer NGOS into sharp disagreement with the government. Finally, the adoption of the pro-poor Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which was aimed at redistributing wealth, was well received as a pacifying measure. However, in 1996, less than 24 months after the introduction of the RDP, the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) macro-economic policy was adopted, signalling a shift to neoliberalism that prioritised the interests of big business over those of poor citizens. The adoption of GEAR led to the immediate loss of the few economic benefits citizens had received under the apartheid system.
Various social formations including the labour movement and civil society organisations accused the government of “selling out the people’s mandate”. Cost recovery was an essential part of GEAR, and this soon pitted indigent citizens against the government. While the shift to GEAR marked a radical change in how the government approached delivery of services and generated criticism from various quarters, it did not immediately trigger mass protest action mainly because the organisations championing workers’ and ordinary citizens’ rights were in alliance with the ANC. But the grounds were laid for future public protests.
In the neo-liberal euphoria of the “new democratic South Africa”, the strategic power of mass protest action that had helped to remove the apartheid regime struggled to find a new footing.
Some point to the FIFA World Cup (June–July 2010) as a tipping point. The country’s working poor came out in protest, angered by the commercialisation of municipal services and escalating poverty. Other factors that have been the cause of the so-called service delivery protests include the rising costs of basic services (clean drinking water, sanitation and electricity) as a result of the implementation of orthodox market policies, forced demolitions of informal settlements, disparities between luxury stadia and impoverished neighbourhoods and the gentrification brought on by the World Cup which has made inner-cities inaccessible to low-income informal traders.
This contradictory socio-economic policy framework has produced a highly fragmented regulatory structure, which has further compounded the socio-spatial unevenness of contemporary South Africa. The protracted low growth after the 2014 crash of commodity prices and various political scandals undermined the credibility of the ANC leadership. The national difficulties reverberated at the local level; after ruling Johannesburg for over two decades, the ANC lost the city to a coalition of opposition parties in 2016. The new mayor, Herman Mashaba, a self-styled libertarian entrepreneur, announced his commitment to “pro-poor” investments and to ending the arm’s length approach of municipal service providers.
Analysing the rationale behind the provision of basic services may help to clarify the uneasy categorisation of South African social policies and political discourse with respect to the neoliberal paradigm.
The current situation
In the first quarter of 2021, amidst the social and economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the South African Treasury announced, and subsequently defended, its decision not to increase the country’s extensive social grant payments — that now reach 18 million impoverished citizens — above inflation. Treasury officials have argued that a bigger increase in social welfare protection is simply not currently feasible given the country’s rapidly rising public debt — which has now breached the 80 per cent of debt-to-GDP ratio threshold — and investor demands for fiscal consolidation. This type of fiscal restraint is unfolding in a context of heightened wealth inequality and an official unemployment rate now above 30 per cent.
And, as is often the case — whether they have been peaceful, organised, or not — protesters have been largely viewed as looters, rioters and thugs. Feelings of righteous anger following a year of lockdown, precarious livelihoods, escalating state aggression, and hostile and often deadly policing are bound to have been co-opted by thuggish elements. But the dangerous shades of ethno-nationalism that originally seemed to fuel the riots cannot be left unexamined as they have an impact on how we think about the protests, just as terms like “uprising” and “upheaval” offer ways to think about the unrest as indications of a far deeper social, economic and political rupture.
The adoption of GEAR led to the immediate loss of the few economic benefits citizens had received under the apartheid system.
Reducing the unrest to a “looting spree” also averts attention from a state that has for 27 years been aloof and not interested in recalibrating the economic and social dispossession of the African majority. While President Ramaphosa seems lethargic and tone-deaf, he is no different from his predecessors in insisting on market-led policies, foreign-investor largesse and failed non-distributive economic policies. Add to this the small matter of the “missing” R500 billion. In April 2020, a stimulus package of 500 billion rand was announced. The money was meant to augment the existing social safety net that provides 11.3 million South Africans with monthly assistance for food and other social services. The Auditor-General has described the expenditure as irregular, noting the wrongful diversion of some of the funds to state employees through contracts. To date, the hectoring tone adopted by most public officials regarding this matter shows no sense of irony or self-awareness that their own hands are dirty.
Many analysts and observers inside and outside South Africa have predicted this moment for over fifteen years, evoking the Arab Spring as a cautionary tale. South Africa is not the only country going through a seismic shift. Haiti, Cuba, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Mozambique and Hong Kong are all facing profound upheavals. But while South Africa elicits deep sentiments across the world, it is not immune to the complexities of state formation, fractured class interests and a leadership vested in maintaining the status quo.
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