Kenyan whistleblower commemorated in a book
A Kenyan whistleblower who exposed the largest financial scandal in Kenya is the subject of the book, 'The True Story of David Munyakei,' which will be showcased next week in the US.
Last year, I wrote about a new book on a Kenyan whistleblower, written by a British journalist. A reader pointed me to Kenyan writer Billy Kahora, who'd also just published a book, locally, about a Kenyan whistleblower – in fact, the man who, as Kahora tells it, exposed Kenya's biggest-ever corruption scandal. The book, The True Story of David Munyakei, is one of the few creative nonfiction books in Kenya, where media is driven by profit and investigative space hardly exists. Hmm... starting to sound familiar?Skip to next paragraph
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Kahora is a driver of Kenya's literary scene. He's the managing editor of Kwani?, home to fabulous work by African writers, and wrote the script for Soul Boy, a new film by Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer. He has degrees in journalism and was a 2007 Chevening Scholar at the University of Edinburgh.
I did a Q&A with Kahora, which got lost in the bowels of my inbox. I've just re-discovered it – and just in time to tell those of you near Minnesota (or willing to buy a plane ticket) that you can meet Kahora and other African writers on October 8 and 9 in Minneapolis. Books for Africa is having a terrific conference featuring Kahora, Nigerian writer Uwem Akpan (Say You're One of Them), Somali writer Nuruddin Farah (Sweet and Sour Milk), and Alexandra Fuller (Scribbling the Cat), who grew up in Rhodesia (though I'm told we call it Zimbabwe now).
The conference is free. (Yeah, that's right. The conference is free.) If you're feeling flush, you can donate to Books for Africa and rub elbows with these writers and hear Fuller keynote at a cocktail reception in the evening.
Okay, back to Kahora.
JM: Who is David Munyakei, and how did you discover his story? Why is he considered Kenya's "biggest" whistleblower, and why did he die in obscurity?
BK: I suppose that’s why the book was written. To deconstruct the complexity of the character. Anyway, just to give a very brief bio, Munyakei was a Central Bank Of Kenya clerk who found himself right in the middle of the largest financial scandal in Kenya and decided to tell the world about it. The best way to know who he is, is to read the book. It’s a bit too complex to give a soundbite.
He won an award and was invited by Transparency International to Nairobi to receive it – and at the same time, they decided to do a documentary of his amazing story; I was also asked to do an extended feature on the guy. I had been trying to sell him the idea of creative non-fiction, which one rarely saw in Kenya at the time and this turned out to be the perfetct story for the form.
Munyakei is Kenya’s biggest whistleblower because the scandal was worth a billion USD, the biggest even now, 15 years later, in a space of many a scandal. Nobody wants to touch a whistleblower – they are seen as an anathema to the system. Munyakei died in obscurity because we live in a society where men who do the right thing are a challenge to the status quo -- a system that, in its inherent corruption, is controlled by politicians who know that things cannot stay the way they are, undemocratic and without value, if men like Munyakei are held in high esteem and recognised as heroes. This is also the case with men who fought for Kenya’s freedom, and others who have been honest in government.
JM: You first published what is now your book as a feature for Kwani?. What was the reaction to the original feature, from your readers and from the government?