Magazine article New African

Kenya: Sir Edward's Crusade Has Clay Feet

Magazine article New African

Kenya: Sir Edward's Crusade Has Clay Feet

Article excerpt

Sir Edward Clay is the British high commissioner to Kenya. His high profile crusade against alleged corruption in Kenya has won him plaudits all over. But there is a dark side. His crusade has finally been shown to stem from the fact that British suppliers have lost their monopoly privileges in Kenya to competitors in the Far East, Spain and Germany. This has greatly upset the British. And they are not lying down quietly. Wanjohi Kabukuru reports from Nairobi.


It all started as corruption chatter. Two years after President Mwai Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government swept into power, talk has been rife that the new government, like its predecessor, is mired in high-level corruption.


Leading the onslaught is none other than the British high commissioner to Kenya, Sir Edward Clay. He started his crusade in July last year when he addressed a British Business Association luncheon in Nairobi. Then, as now, Clay used strong language to condemn the vice. He even branded Kenya's highest-ranking civil servant, Francis Muthaura (a former ambassador like himself) as "suffering from selective amnesia".

From his vitriol, Clay expected action from Kibaki's government. But he did not get the kind of action he wanted. Instead, Kenya's health minister, Charity Ngilu, hit back at him.

"Who is Clay to talk about corruption here when just the other day he had tried to persuade me to bend the drugs procurement procedures in order to allow GlaxoSmithKline, a British pharmaceutical firm, to continue supplying us as in the past, without facing any competition.

"I want most Kenyans who are poor even from the remote villages to benefit [from our health service]. We are not going to do that if we pump the little money we have in the procurement of drugs from expensive and exploitative Western multinationals. If we can get quality and more affordable drugs from India, so be it! We will go for them," an angry Ngilu vowed. To add insult to injury, Kibaki's government asked Clay and any other person who knew about corruption in high places to "table the evidence".

In a tough statement from State House, President Kibaki himself asserted: "The fight against corruption will not be won by making allegations, and expecting that this will form the basis of decision making. But let me assure you that once anybody is found guilty, he will be dealt with and not be spared. The institutions of government charged with the responsibility of fighting corruption are currently undertaking investigations into alleged corruption and anyone who has evidence on corruption is encouraged to forward the evidence to enable us facilitate and conclude the investigations." This, however, did not please Clay. In February this year, he was at it again hitting the government under the belt when he unleashed a hefty dossier of what he termed as the "20 dodgy and shady deals" within the government. Included in the dossier were multi-billion military contracts, involving the Kenya Navy's acquisition of warships.

Clay unveiled the dossier at the annual "Journalists of the Year Awards" held in Nairobi. "I am curious as I expect you are, about the recent procurement, for many more millions, of one or two civilian ships," he told his attentive audience. "This is a deal unofficially denied by the Department of Defence here. Kenya buys civilian ships and converts them into warships. The Kenya Navy has four such hybrids in service and is buying one or two more. Questions needing asking include: Why are these ships being bought? Why are the Kenyan authorities following this seemingly secretive and roundabout way of acquiring warships for its navy?"

Before Clay uttered these words, only a privileged few Kenyans were in the know on defence contracts. How then did he get classified information?

Six days after his outbursts, Kenya's permanent secretary in charge of ethics and governance, John Githongo (referred to by the media as the "anti corruption czar" and who allegedly was accused of leaking government secrets) resigned while in London. …

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