In Kenya, corruption probes bring 'unprecedented' government shake-up

An 'unprecedented' series of senior resignations from Kenya's government may show that the new Constitution has teeth and the president finally has the muscle to root out corruption.

Noor Khamis/Reuters
Kenya's suspended Higher Education Minister William Ruto sits in Kenya's High Court in the capital Nairobi Tuesday. Ruto and another high profile Kenyan official face corruption charges, in a further sign the war on graft in east Africa's biggest economy is gathering momentum.

Kenya’s higher education minister was first to go last week, followed by Nairobi's mayor, and now the foreign minister and his permanent secretary.

The series of senior resignations from Kenya's government may be showing that the new Constitution has teeth and the president finally has the muscle to root out corruption. Mwai Kibaki promised when elected president in 2002 to root out Kenya’s notoriously corrupt public officials, but until recently there seemed to be little momentum in that crusade.

“This is the kind of thing we are all publicly pushing for, but privately rarely think would happen,” says a Western diplomat in Kenya’s capital, who was not authorized officially to speak to the press. “It’s pretty much unprecedented, at least in recent memory, to have four very senior figures forced to stand down, and to begin what will be a long process to answer these corruption charges. It shows there's some pretty strong pressure coming from close to the very top."

Improper land deals

Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula stepped aside voluntarily shortly after the department’s permanent secretary, Thuita Mwangi, tendered his resignation Oct. 27 after being implicated in allegedly improper property deals in the country’s embassies overseas.

Both deny accusations that they are linked to a suspect deal to buy a new embassy in Tokyo, Japan, in which a parliamentary inquiry found Kenya had lost more than $14 million. The investigation raised similar concerns over contracts in the country’s missions in Pakistan, Belgium, Egypt, and Nigeria.

Mr. Wetangula and Mr. Mwangi will now join William Ruto, the former higher education minister, in trying to clear their names in a series of corruption allegations. Mr. Ruto was sacked last week over a separate land deal in 2001, in which he denies illegally earning $1.2 million.

Separately, Godfrey Majiwa, Nairobi’s mayor, was arrested last week after being accused of illegally approving the purchase of land for a new city cemetery. He refused to step aside, but his arrest forced his suspension.

More resignations to come?

There may be more to come. The new director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, Patrick Lumumba, vowed Friday that he had “four Cabinet ministers” and at least 45 other senior government officials in his sights. He is aided by a clause in the new Constitution, passed Aug. 4, which demands officials stand down if accused of corruption.

The anti-graft commission was regularly accused of dithering over investigations under its previous boss, Aaron Ringera, who resigned earlier this year. Since then, Mr. Lumumba has reopened two of Kenya’s ugliest corruption scandals.

One, the Goldenberg affair, saw millions of dollars fleeced from the national treasury in dodgy gold export deals carried out under the former president, Daniel arap Moi, who stepped down in 2002.

The other, linked to a ghost company called Anglo-Leasing and Finance, involved payments made overseas for non-existent tenders for new government security apparatus.

Neither has seen significant successful prosecutions. Lumumba added Friday that he had again contacted foreign governments, including Washington, for help tracing stolen money deposited in overseas bank accounts. The US, Switzerland, and Britain have all in the past agreed to help.

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