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WikiLeaks documents roil Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa

Embarrassing US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks have put leaders in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa in the hot seat.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / December 9, 2010

View of the WikiLeaks homepage taken in Washington on November 28.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP Photo/Newscom


Johannesburg, South Africa

(Editor's Note: The original version of this blog of Dec. 7, 2010, misstated the nature of the extradition request for Julian Assange. Mr. Assange was arrested by British authorities to make him available for questioning to Swedish judicial authorities on allegations of rape and sexual assault against Assange.)

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Africa’s newspapers are full of the latest leaked US diplomatic cables, focusing especially on those about the political leaders of their own countries and regions. As with other leaks, these came courtesy of the embattled web organization, WikiLeaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, was recently arrested in London to answer questions over allegations of rape and sexual assault in Sweden. 

Some of the cables are crucial for piecing together parts of very well-known public events while others give almost novelistic detail about the cocktail-chatter world of US diplomacy, and the personalities of the political allies and rivals living in the countries where the diplomats were posted.

Some of these cables will be acutely embarrassing for host governments and US diplomats alike, like an all-too-frank best-man’s speech at a wedding. But for that very reason, these cables are likely to be widely read and unlikely forgotten.

Kenya arming South Sudan?

Consider the analysis in a cable dated Oct. 2, 2008, regarding the hijacking of a ship carrying 33 Ukrainian T-72 tanks, captured by (who else) Somali pirates off the coast of Kenya.

Since the ship was bound for the Kenyan port of Mombasa, the Kenyan government claimed that the ships were meant for the Kenyan military, even though Kenya uses NATO equipment, not Warsaw Pact equipment. The Oct. 2 cable says, “It is a poorly kept secret that the tanks are bound for the Government of South Sudan and that the Government of Kenya has been facilitating shipments from Ukraine to the Government of South Sudan since 2007.”

As for motives on why Kenya would allow arms shipments to South Sudan, and lie about it, the cable considers three possibilities. 1) Kenya has decided to support South Sudan in its bid to secede from the Islamist-led government in Khartoum, but doesn’t want to anger Khartoum. 2) It doesn’t want to appear to be doing something illegal. 3) It is deeply corrupt.


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