Why are the World Bank and British government conspiring in top-level
fraud, spelled out in a whistleblower's dossier?
When John Githongo, Kenya's anti-corruption tsar, suddenly went to ground during
an official visit to Europe last year, the Kenyan and international media launched
a frantic man-hunt to establish why "the big man" had abandoned his
post. That interest did not die away when Githongo eventually resurfaced at
an Oxford college. It didn't take a genius, after all, to guess that when the
official responsible for policing an African government's finances flees, something
is seriously amiss.
Given that the international community each year supplies Kenya with nearly $500m
in aid, you might expect the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and western
governments to share that curiosity. As one of Kenya's three biggest donors, Britain
would surely be particularly concerned.
Not so. Githongo, as it happens, has never been debriefed by the Department for
International Development, whose boss Hilary Benn recently announced £55m
in new funding for Kenya. Benn's gesture of approval was echoed by the World Bank,
which last week shocked many by unveiling $120m in loans for the east African
The astonishment springs from the fact that in the very week the loan was unveiled,
the Kenyan press began publishing Githongo's explanation of why he resigned.
The contents of a 36-page dossier compiled in exile are being drip-fed to a
transfixed audience. His dossier accuses a clutch of key ministers, including
the finance minister, of setting up bogus contracts designed to steal hundreds
of millions of dollars in public funds. The scandal stretches to the top, for,
despite being briefed by Githongo, President Mwai Kibaki took no action. All
those named protest their innocence. But if the claims are true - and few whistleblowers
come with more credibility than Githongo - Kenya's three-year-old government
has not so much broken with the sleazy practices of Daniel arap Moi's administration
as raised them to new levels of sophistication.
Given the seriousness of the claims, the new loans have triggered apoplexy
in many quarters. Sir Edward Clay, Britain's former high commissioner to Nairobi,
has written to Paul Wolfowitz, the new World Bank head, to protest at its "blind
and offensive blundering" that makes a mockery of "the brave men and
women taking risks to ensure that the scourge of corruption is banished".
Analysts wonder what to make, now, of Wolfowitz's declarations that fighting
graft is a priority. His actions, including the suspension of a $124m loan to
Chad for reneging on a deal aimed at ensuring oil revenues reached the poor,
had suggested an era of tough engagement lay ahead. The Kenya loan smacks of
a return to the bank's traditional way of doing business in Africa, which kept
the likes of Zaire's Mobutu flush with funds.
Why are western donors effectively conspiring in top-level fraud? DfID officials,
when challenged, argue that aid cut-offs "only hurt the poorest of the
poor" and insist that on-the-ground policing ensures DfID money itself
is never filched. But this is naive. An administration bent on plunder simply
focuses its energies on parts of the budget not policed by foreign donors. The
"poorest of the poor" may end up with first-rate schools at the end
of roads too potholed to be passable: development cannot be delivered in self-contained
parcels. The notion that aid can sidestep shoddy government to reach the base
But there are pragmatic reasons why lenders are reluctant to admit as much.
In Britain's case, having pushed for a doubling of aid and less conditionality
for "progressive" African governments, London is finding it embarrassingly
difficult to disburse. In Ethiopia, it recently cut direct budgetary support
after a brutal post-election crackdown, and in Uganda it has frozen aid because
of the government's backsliding on democracy. With two African favourites already
in trouble, there's no appetite for adding Kenya, bound to London by an emotional
and historical umbilical cord, to the list of African "problem cases".
And let's not forget how the war on terror has boosted the vision in London
and Washington of Kenya as a stable ally in a stormy region.
Both DfID and the World Bank have sought to put a positive spin on their actions.
Announcing the new loan, the World Bank made much of the fact that $25m would
go on improving financial management in Kenyan ministries - a gesture described
as "hilarious" by Sir Edward Clay. DfID stresses that Benn told Kibaki
to clean up his act during their meeting. One can imagine just how seriously
that admonition went down, delivered alongside a £55m cheque.
The issues raised by this scandal stretch well beyond east Africa, going to
the heart of the more-aid-and-less-questions formula for the continent's recovery
embraced last year at Gleneagles. Donors should be asking themselves whether
their aid, rather than helping, is contributing to the decline of countries
such as Kenya. Determined to engage with the continent, western governments
seem all too ready to acquiesce in massive cons perpetrated on both western
taxpayers and African voters. Having been repeatedly asked by Kenyans why my
government insists on funding crooks, I can assure both DfID and the World Bank
that the "poorest of the poor" will not thank them for it.
· Michela Wrong is the author of In the
Footsteps of Mr Kurtz and I Didn't Do it for You